The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Hundreds perish while politicians bicker     

'The not so good Samaritans', by Fiona Katauskas                  

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

By US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior’s definition of leadership, the politicians of Australia and Southeast Asia have failed appallingly.

They’ve failed because they haven’t found a humanitarian solution to the issue of asylum seekers moving through the region and dying on their way to Australia. 

If the leaders were public servants they’d be prosecuted for gross negligence, for lack of duty of care.  Because they are politicians     they blame others.

The latest proof of their inability to meet the challenge is the loss during World Refugee Week (w/end 23 June) of maybe 90 souls in the seas south of Java. In the two years before this latest tragedy at least 250 people drowned trying to get to Australia.

There may well be more.  Journalists from the ABC TV program Four Corners claim a boat with 97 people on board disappeared in November 2010, unrecorded by authorities.
Added to the horror of death at sea is the appalling anguish suffered by the victims’ families, desperate people who gambled their relatives for a better future and lost.  They’ll be crippled by grief for the rest of their lives for making that flawed decision.
Before this latest catastrophe more than 4,000 people had made it to Australian territory this year, usually landing at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, just 360 kilometers south of Jakarta.
Asylum seekers who come from Sri Lanka allege government persecution through links with the secessionist Tamil Tigers.  Middle Eastern refugees have been fleeing war or religious persecution.  Persian-speaking Hazaras, mainly Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring nations have featured prominently.
Most refugee boats set off from Indonesia.  People smuggling is illegal.  However the number who openly use the Republic as a transit lounge between their homeland and Australia indicate the police aren’t doing their job properly and their political masters are unconcerned.
Others are setting sail from India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.  The Australian Federal Police are supposed to be working with regional authorities to detect the asylum seekers before they embark.
Though police seldom catch the evildoers, journalists have found the people traffickers who openly organize the boats, charging thousands of dollars for the risky trip.
Domestic politics in the countries along the route taken by the distressed seeking safety and a better life, plus a few devious criminals and economic refugees, have maintained the tragedy.
The comment most commonly heard among Indonesians is that this is an Australian problem. Indonesia hasn’t signed the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocols, so is perceived to have no responsibility beyond pointing asylum seekers towards their destination.
To his credit Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has been pushing for a regional solution.  Doubtless to his dismay, no one seems to have given serious ear to his suggestion, although the Australian government has been toying with new policies.
One was to send 800 fresh arrivals to Malaysian refugee camps in return for 4,000 people deemed genuine refugees and deserving of third country settlement.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard (who was born overseas like one-in-four Australians) said this would break the smugglers’ business model.  They’d run out of customers if the boat people knew they’d spend years in Malaysia waiting to be processed
However the plan was scuttled by the High Court.  It ruled that Malaysia was an inappropriate destination because refugee rights could not be guaranteed. 
The Australian government might be able to legislate around the Court’s decision.  But it would need a clear majority in Parliament.
‘Border Security’ is a major issue in Australian politics. The Liberal Party Opposition wants asylum seekers sent to Nauru in the South Pacific, or Manus Island off Papua New Guinea. 
Those proved to be genuine refugees would be given three-year temporary protection visas so they could return home once the threats and dangers had passed.
According to the UNHCR there are there are 15.4 million refugees worldwide, with 837,500 seeking asylum. Last year Australia took close to 14,000 under its humanitarian program. The majority were selected by Australian officials working with the UNHCR in refugee camps around the world.
But almost 5,000 came by boat – in other words they were self-selected, able to make the hazardous journey on rickety Indonesian fishing boats.  They had the money to pay the people smugglers, disadvantaging the patient and maybe more deserving poor waiting in camps overseas.
Left-wing Australians who previously supported a more liberal refugee program and used the courts to cripple government plans for offshore processing are rethinking their position as the boats keep coming – and sinking.
Revelations that people smugglers have masqueraded as asylum seekers, cleared by immigration and given permanent residence, have also polluted earlier beliefs that all boat people are genuine refugees.
Former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser has savaged Government and Opposition for the way they’re mishandling the situation.

In a major speech this month (June) he said: “Our treatment of refugees, and the poisonous debate engaged in by our major political parties has done Australia much harm throughout our region.”

His comments come when Australia is trying to reposition itself in Asia as a friend, trader and security partner. Though not a moral leader. What would Martin Luther King Junior have said?

Cartoon:  Eureka Street

(First published in The Jakarta Post 28 June 2012)


Wednesday, June 27, 2012



A passion for slips and spouts                                     

It was a Saturday dawn no one living in Yogyakarta on 27 May 2006 will ever forget.  Six years ago at six minutes to six people in the Central Java city were waking.  Among them was Dwikorita Karnawati who knew what was happening when her house started to shudder.

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake centered 25 kilometers south had thumped nearby Bantul Regency with colossal force. The damage was obviously widespread and it was clear there’d be many casualties as badly built houses crashed.  (Almost 6,000 died and more than 36,000 were injured.)

Once the first shock had passed panic followed. Many thought the quake was linked to the eruption of nearby Mount Merapi.  It wasn’t, but the terrified fled south.

Flooding and great jets of water, some up to four meters high were being reported. Signs of a tsunami?  Unlikely because Yogyakarta is more than 100 meters above sea level and far from the ocean.  But people weren’t stopping to reason - they rushed north, colliding with those heading in the other direction

In her shaken but little damaged home, Dwikorita heard listeners to a radio program reporting water spouts and realised what was happening.  Not a tsunami but liquefaction, where the quivering earth squeezes wet ground, forcing water to the surface.

“I called the radio station and explained the situation,” she said.  “Even my Rector at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and other colleagues rang me seeking information.

“Scientists have a duty to talk publicly about natural events. I tried to calm people down - no tsunami, no need to flee.

“It was a lesson I learned when I was studying for a PhD at Leeds University (in Britain) where my lecturer used the media to warn about landslides in the area and help people prepare.

“It’s different in Indonesia.  I once had to visit a distant village devastated by landslips, accessible part way by motorbike, and the rest on foot.  The people didn’t speak Indonesian and many were superstitious about the cause of the disaster.

“I had to use pictures and comics to explain the situation.  Since then we’ve developed simple, attractive and accessible materials, including a calendar showing the seasons and conditions when landslips are most likely.

“Risks can be estimated by hazard mapping and reduced so damage is lessened.  We can help improve society’s resilience.”

The ability to relate to everyone from remote villagers to the center of power (she once briefed President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her Cabinet on a devastating debris flood in Sumatra) has been a valuable extra skill for the UGM professor of geology.

If she’d been thin-skinned Dwikorita would have never made it as a scientist.  She was one of only two girls studying geology in a class of sixty – and her friend has since moved to another discipline.

“The boys joked about me a lot at first but later became protective,” Dwikorita said.  “Things have improved since, though could be better.  Around ten per cent of enrolments are female.

“A third of my staff were women when I was head of the Geological Engineering Department between 2003 and 2011. (She stepped down to concentrate on research.)

“I was attracted to geology when I was a Scout and we went exploring rivers and mountains. I wanted to know more about the natural world. My father was an agricultural scientist, but I followed the example of my grandmother who was an outdoor woman adventurer.

“In my career I’ve had little discrimination.  The problem isn’t gender but age.  (She’s 48.)  Only a few men are jealous when women take the lead.

“At home I want to be clean, but when I’m in the field I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.”  Commented her colleague Iman Satyarno:  “She’s a tomboy.”

Along with three other UGM academics, Professors Iman and Dwikorita have accompanied two teams of lecturers and government officials from Padang (West Sumatra) and Palu (Central Sulawesi) on a training course in New Zealand.

After graduating Dwikorita did further research in Japan, Sweden and the UK.  In 1997 she won the World Bank’s Young Academic Award.  Other prizes have followed and she now has a formidable publishing record of books and papers in scholarly journals.

Earlier this year she was a Fulbright Visiting Professor in Geological Sciences at San Diego State University, and guest lecturer at the University of California.

Somehow the disaster reduction expert has also found time to marry and produce two children.  Her husband, Professor Sigit Priyanto, is a civil engineer who inadvertently taught Dwikorita about the difficulties of changing people’s mindsets.

The family’s house is less than 20 kilometers from Mount Merapi and 100 meters from a river flowing from the volcano.  When it started to erupt Dwikorita wanted to leave – but her husband didn’t.  (They evacuated.)

“We almost had a fight over it,” she said.  “He didn’t want to move because he had an emotional attachment to our home.  It taught me how difficult it is to change the minds of even well educated people.

“Out of that I’ve developed a new approach to research.  We have to include issues like culture, sociology and religion.

“There are earthquake codes for buildings, though often badly administered.  However there are no laws relating to land use hazards.  This is very sensitive – restrictions can lead to land prices going down, but people have the right to know the risks they face and be prepared.

“In NZ homeowners insure their houses, but not Indonesia where people look to the government for compensation.  They struggle for life, not insurance.   There have to be controls in place because some insurance companies have gone bankrupt.

“We need to persuade the government, not directly but through the media.”

Would she recommend geology to girls?

“If that’s your interest, do it,” Dwikorita said.  “You need to be fit. Geologists find it easier to accept women than other sciences - just as long as you work with passion.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 27 June 2012)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Diennaryati Tjokrosuprihatono: GOLDEN YEARS, GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES

Mum on a mission                                                         
If passion can drive policy – then here’s a parent alert:  the whirlwind Diennaryati Tjokrosuprihatono is on her way with plans for your little ones. 

All benign and constructive, but certainly set to make a difference in the way Indonesia raises the next generation.  She’s out to get people to stop and listen – and that includes the government – but that shouldn’t be too hard for Action Woman. 

Dien, as she is known, wants everyone to grasp the importance of early childhood education, the precious, fleeting first five years when so much of our language and identity is formed.

“We need to change some mindsets,” the academic and government adviser said.  “Everything is structured. Traditionally we’ve thought that a good child is one that’s quiet and doesn’t ask questions.

“It should be the other way around. Run-around children aren’t being naughty – they’re exploring. Some parents get shocked when their children come home from kindergarten saying they’ve been singing and dancing.

“The adults ask: ‘What?  Am I paying for this? My kids should be learning how to read and write.’ That can come later.  Children learn when they’re having fun.  Enough that they know numbers and the alphabet, maybe write their name.”

If all the junked models of education theory could be converted into play equipment there’d be enough sandpits and climbing cubes to keep kiddies content forever.

At one end of the playground are the authoritarians, arms folded, wagging fingers  – at the other the laid-back lovers of free choice.  In between is sometimes a philosophy warzone.

Dien, a child psychologist and lecturer at Universitas Indonesia (UI) adroitly picks her way through the chaos with such aplomb she’s been seconded to the Education Department as a policy adviser.

Television viewers in Indonesia would have seen her earnestly advocating the advantages of early childhood education, how it helps youngsters learn the basic life skills – in particular getting on with others.

It’s a medium she wants to see better used to educate children constructively and plans to lobby stations to telecast quality, not trash.

The research is clear:  Children who have been to pre-school or kindergarten do better when they enter school even if they can’t read and write.

Mastering these skills used to be a pre-condition to school entry.  The policy has now changed – though Dien admits the word has yet to reach every hamlet in the Archipelago – or even every kampong in Jakarta.

“Children need to discover how to learn for themselves,” she said.  “We don’t always need to be told what to do.  Giving children more freedom doesn’t mean a lack of moral values.

“These can be learned without scaring the child into obeying.  Better to ask the child:  ‘How do you think he feels?’ when considering the results of their actions on others.”

Dien’s prescriptions don’t just come from her formal training that includes a master’s degree.  She is also a grandmother of five and a mother of four. (“I never indulged them”) so has the real life qualifications that give her credibility.

Her first three children were born within a year of each other so she stayed at home to nurse and rear.  Though her husband shared duties he works in the oil industry and is often overseas. 

After six housebound years and the kids at school Dien found the routine boring, so returned to UI.

Then, eight years after her last birth she became pregnant again. This time she decided to keep working, taking her little girl to assignments despite the tut-tutting of friends and relatives.  Clearly no harm was done – her daughter is now studying psychology in Australia and plans a career as a marriage counsellor.

Dien became a psychologist when the discipline was still in its infancy. She was driven by her curiosity about the world and people’s behavior – though a stimulating childhood must have been a push factor.

 Her father was a diplomat and she toyed with the idea of following his example – though at the time few women held senior positions in foreign affairs.

She was born in Paris in 1954 moved to Jeddah and then spent her formative “golden years” in Baghdad before school in Bogor.  In Iraq she went to a British Council kindergarten, a multi-cultural environment where she learned English, which she now delivers with high velocity.

For the past week (w /end  16 June) she’s been looking at early childhood education in New Zealand, a country where the government subsidizes child care.  One surprise was discovering that parents are not shooed away once they’ve dropped their kids at the kindy gate, but encouraged to join in the activities.

Another idea she’ll be carrying back to Jakarta will be to look afresh at the curriculum and ensuring carers get qualifications.

“In our culture parents have tended to rely on relatives and babysitters, often young girls with limited education,” she said.  “It would be better if they were qualified and of course parents also want this.

“So many changes are taking place.  We’re in a transition period. More women are working.  Men are beginning to share in their children’s upbringing and happy to push prams in malls.

“Quality children’s books are competing with comics though  bed-time reading is still seen as mum’s work.

“Parents should not feel guilty if they have to work, but they need to be involved with their children,” she said.    “At UI I introduced child care facilities on the campus where staff can leave their children.

“Because it takes so long to cross Jakarta from home to workplace many have become enemies of the sun, leaving their children before dawn and only seeing them again at night.

“If employers supply child care parents and children can spend travelling time together.  Think of the benefits.

“My goal is to help our children gain their full potential, to have good health and integrity, to be surrounded by love and love their surroundings, and to be able to make a contribution.”

(First puiblished in The Jakarta Post 20 June 2012)


Tuesday, June 05, 2012


A striking musician                                                                     

Public servants in the Ministry of National Education must have had links with tourism promoters when they supported musician Rupert Snook for a prestigious Indonesian government award.

For the 22-year old exuberant New Zealander has a simple philosophy:  “When you think something is really amazing then you want to tell everyone else about it.”

In his ‘amazing’ basket is Indonesian culture and music.  Although he’s yet to mallet a metallophone in the Republic, he’s already vacuumed up more about the country and mastered more of the language than many long-term visitors.  If all goes well he’s set to become an enthusiastic booster for the Archipelago.

“I fell in love with Indonesia as a teenager when I encountered the gamelan in Wellington,” he said.  “The music is so alive, so outrageously innovative.  It was like encountering an alien, though in a really good way.

“So I set out to learn more by reading and talking to Indonesians who’ve been helping me with Bahasa Indonesia.  Later I’ll study Balinese.”

Last year he was named by the Indonesian Embassy as the best gamelan student in NZ.  This year he graduated from Victoria University of Wellington with a degree in music.  In July 2012 he’ll head to Bali.

As NZ’s only recipient of a 2012 Darmasiswa Scholarship he’ll study gamelan music at Denpasar’s Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI – Indonesian Arts Institute) for a year. The scholarship provides tuition fees and living expenses.

The Darmasiswa is ‘to promote and increase the interest in the language and culture of Indonesia among the youth of other countries. It has also been designed to provide stronger cultural links and understanding among participating countries.’

Commented Rupert: “This is extraordinary; I’ve never heard of a government offering scholarships to foreigners so they can study the culture. I’ve had a privileged life in NZ and so fortunate to be going to Indonesia.

“I don’t really know what to expect but I like being thrown in at the deep end. As the Indonesian government has accepted me I hope it shouldn’t be too hard.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The more I know of the music the more I learn of the culture.  Through music we can bridge differences.”

Rupert started learning music when he was seven and living in the South Island city of Christchurch.  He studied classical violin and piano but suffered from asthma so spent long periods in hospital.

Others might have found this experience depressing, but Rupert enjoyed his stays.  He was so impressed by the professionals he encountered that he decided to become a doctor, following the example of an older brother and sister.

Then the family moved to Wellington where the teenager found his school grades for science were average while he was scoring 100 per cent for music.

Rupert attended Victoria University’s Young Musicians’ Program.  Here he encountered ethnomusicologist and composer Jack Body, an academic at the NZ School of Music and manager of the Gamelan Padhang Moncar.

 (The Javanese term means ‘growing brightness’ and refers to the Wellington gamelan being the first in the world to greet a new dawn every day.  NZ lies just west of the International Date Line.)
Professor Body, who lectured at the Akademi Musik Indonesia in Yogya, is another musician infected by enthusiasm for Indonesia. He insisted that although Rupert was enrolled for composition he had to include units in performance.
“Rupert is the kind of curious, intelligent young musician who will undoubtedly maximise all the opportunities he is offered,” he said.
“Today's cultures are largely dominated by the West. It’s very important that we in the West make the effort to understand the cultures and values that are different from our own.  Studying gamelan provides a perfect entry into the Indonesian world.”

There are two gamelan sets in Wellington, one Javanese, the other Balinese, called Gamelan Taniwha Jaya - a mix of Maori and Balinese words meaning a great supernatural creature. (Pictured left)

Apart from the tutors the players are Kiwis.  Not all are students – some have been playing for pleasure for more than 30 years.

The orchestra has toured Indonesia in the past startling audiences encountering foreign musicians who have mastered the nation’s traditional instruments.

Tutor Budi Putra, who lives in NZ and is a graduate of the ISI in Solo, has been directing the Javanese gamelan since 1996. “Rupert is very smart and active,” he said.  “I’m optimistic about his future.”

Balinese composer I Wayan Gde Yudane agreed:  “His ability and comprehension is backed by his determination and hard work.”

Rupert joined the orchestra and found the collegiate environment strikingly different from what he knew as a Western musician. 

“It’s a real ensemble experience and you have to go with the flow,” he said.  “This isn’t something that can be practised alone at home – you have to be with a group and aware of others.

“There’s no conductor in the European style, though someone may lead.  It’s better not to think too much about what you’re doing – let your hands do the talking.  It’s wonderful to watch players’ hands fly over the instruments.

“There’s no tempo – yet everyone plays together using their peripheral vision to get cues.  When we hit as one there’s an explosion of sound.”

When the orchestra played at the Embassy to a mainly Indonesian audience Rupert discovered an ambience different from any other venue and great appreciation.  “It was such a pleasant experience,” he said. “Everyone was so friendly and wanted to share – and the food was also interesting.”

Like many NZ university students Rupert worked to pay for his education.  For the past five years he’s been clipping tickets on the city’s trains, teaching guitar and helping a student with special needs.

“To compose you need to be totally focussed, very single-minded, and that’s how I’m approaching the language,” he said. “I want to be stretched to the limit.

“Getting the Darmasiswa is a really big thing in my life.  You won’t recognise me in twelve months time.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 4 June 2012)