FAITH IN INDONESIA

FAITH IN INDONESIA
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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

AFTER THREE DAYS - THEN WHAT?

The art of seeing faith through art


Burial of the artist Henkus' father



Edwin Koamesah had a great idea.  That’s his assessment and maybe it will all turn out OK.
But maybe not and the news pages of The Jakarta Post and other dailies will have tales of real or confected outrage as protestors misinterpret motives and try to trash his dream.
For the record the Surabaya engineer, art collector and businessman says:  “Of course I’m confident it will work.  Why not?”  Others have their private doubts and mutter “it’s risky.” Which is probably correct.
So here’s the plan: To hold a travelling art exhibition called After Three Days.  It will open later this year in Surabaya and feature 20 large canvasses painted by artist Slamet Hendro Kusumo (Henkus).  These are being created in his studio called Omah Budaya Slamet (Slamet’s Cultural Home) in the East Java hilltown of Batu.
So far so good.  Now to the tricky part: Koamesah (right) is a Protestant, Henkus a Muslim; the pictures focus on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and what the Bible says happens next.  However there’s little in common with the art that features in churches across the archipelago.
A canvas of the Last Supper has the disciples ready to slice the top off a tumpeng, the yellow rice mountain served for special events.  In another Jesus seems to be a T-shirted preman (street thug) while his followers are more hoodlums than holies.
Thomas the kissing betrayer wears glasses. Features are Arabic, Indian, European, Chinese, Javanese and a mix. As there are no known portraits of Jesus made during his life, artists have developed their own images.  These usually show a slender, handsome bearded man who looks more Caucasian than Jewish.
Henkus rejects that standard, making the man republican, not regal.  He’s a bit plump but certainly human and ordinary, though the events are extraordinary.  The pictures may be cursed as sacrilegious by the orthodox who want trumpeting angel choirs and sunbeams shafting through clouds.
In the West this would be a yawn. The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar broke the blasphemy barriers 47 years ago. But Indonesia is different.
Some Muslims will be upset that a man of their faith is interpreting Christianity (Islam forbids portraits of Mohammad) – but that strengthens the impact, according to Koamesah who commissioned the works.  
 “We want these pictures to appeal to the young,” he said “We’ve developed the themes together, but these are Henkus’ paintings – and they go far beyond my expectations.
“It’s the strength of his interpretations that’s important. His art is powerful, it makes you think, and it stimulates discussions.”
It certainly did during three open-studio days.  Among those coming to peer and ponder was Anik Lailatul Muniroh, 21, (left) studying English at a local Islamic university.

“I’m a pluralist and like the idea,” she said before stating her position firmly:  “But don’t call me a liberal.”  When told the ruling group in Australian politics is called the Liberal Party and its supporters button-down conservatives she was even more confused.
“’Liberal’ in Indonesian means things like free sex and a bad lifestyle. But no-one is perfect in any religion.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  We should be searching for goodness.”
Many find the idea of valuing other religions difficult if it means diluting her own commitment. Henkus had no such concerns:
“Before starting work I had to research the life of Christ.  That included reading the Bible, Stamford Raffles’ History of Java and scholarly texts on Christianity.  I’ve questioned much, learned a lot and respected what I’ve read.  But Islam remains my path to God.
“It hurts me to hear people saying their belief is the only one. Every religion teaches the same thing – love.  Humans invented religion and we should keep open minds about other people’s beliefs and opinions.”



The artist (right) was born and raised in Batu which is the weekend refresher for weary Malangites as Bandung is for jaded Jakartans. But Henkus looks beyond the hotels and hedonism:
“You see the traffic and the crowds seeking fun but away from the roads is a community of artists sustained by the collective values of Indonesian village life.
“It’s the ideal location for anyone concerned with spirituality; it’s surrounded by the ancient kingdoms of Kediri, Singasari and Majapahit.”
When reminded that most of the known temples are in Malang’s flatlands he responded: “Those are only the ones known so far. There are more to be discovered, and they are here.”
This suggests Henkus, 58, has his head in the saturated clouds that drop onto the peaks in the afternoons but the man is well educated with a higher degree in sociology.  His mother was Chinese and his father from Java; they had no known artistic talent. Likewise his three children.
His parents let their son extend his inquiries into philosophy.  He’s assembled a complex set of ideas exploiting the paradoxes of religions where no-one knows the certainty of any statement said or written centuries ago, but instead mold texts to fit their outlook.
He populates his canvases with faces that look startled, dismayed, confused, never triumphant but not defeated. Sadly most are men, which fits the time-toughened narrative that women belong in the background as supporters not activists.
 Sometimes he adds words like Democracy Zero; these tend to diminish the effect by disallowing viewers the chance to make their own interpretations of the ambiguities. But these are minor gripes.
Henkus is a humanist not confined to religious art. His secular pictures are social commentaries - a group of mourning men burying his father knowing they will follow - a cluster of bemused middle-aged workers realising that the old ways of farming can no longer sustain their families.
“We can find our own faith through art,” he said. “Mixing the modern with tradition in subtle ways makes the point that some messages are valid whatever the place and time.  I hope that my work can lead to better understanding of the mysteries.”
##

 First published in The Jakarta Post 14 November 2017
   

Monday, November 13, 2017

GURU INSPIRASI



Getting to know you – through a pendopo   
   
             
Dr Anton Lucas has spent much of his rich life trying to improve Indonesian-Australian relationships.  He’s studied and taught in Yogyakarta and Makassar, run an Asian Studies Centre in Australia, written well and widely, and inspired seekers of truths about Indonesia.
He’s earnest enough to look like an austere academic but sufficiently inquiring to prove a student’s life goes beyond 70.  Though powered by faith he doesn’t proselytize.  Schooled as a Protestant, Lucas now calls himself a Christian-Buddhist.    
His rare collection of documents from the post-proclamation period has been given to Flinders University library and will eventually go on line.  The papers were gathered during interviews with 324 survivors of the 1945 ‘Revolution within the Revolution’ around Pekalongan in north Central Java.
 Peristiwa Tiga Daerah (The Three Regions Affair) tells of the violent clash between ruling elites and farmers during the chaos following collapse of the Japanese occupation.
 Lucas regards his book, published in Australia as One Soul, One Struggle and likely to be re-released, as a significant accomplishment.  But his master stroke has been donating a hut.
Though not any old humpy.  This is a pendopo – a splendid four-post Javanese pavilion on the Flinders University campus in Adelaide.
The cube of Indonesian culture was built to create a sense of calm and unity despite gulfs of difference in lifestyles, world views and local customs. It’s a communal place for visitors and locals to find common cause and set signposts for others.
The pendopo has a Sekar Laris gamelan from Central Java used by students, teachers and the Indonesian diaspora.  The glass walls fold back in summer so the metallic music from a lush land drifts among the eucalyptus roots clawing arid soils.
 “It was the best thing I ever did,” Lucas said firmly before heading to Yogyakarta where he and his Indonesian wife Kadar have an extended family. The couple’s $150,000 philanthropy was revealed only after Lucas retired in 2010.
“Indonesians can feel at home here while Australians can encounter their neighbours,” Lucas added.  “It’s not just a tangible symbol for coming together; it also has an emotional dimension and a unique ambience.”
Lucas had a privileged education.  Though never gentry his Greek heritage family had property and sent their gifted son to the Anglican Geelong Grammar, famed for nurturing achievers and leaders.  
“Yet I always thought of myself as a square peg in a round hole,” he said. Set for a career as an agricultural economist or broadacre farmer he won a scholarship to the East West Centre in Hawaii.
The education and research organization opened in 1960 to ‘strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the US’.
Astonishingly his Asia Pacific origin meant he was exempted from studying a regional tongue after passing an English test.  Like most Australians he’d seen his country as a European outpost.
Another revelation came on meeting members of the Peace Corps, a US government volunteer aid program. They seemed at ease with difference, spoke Asian languages and were driven to better the world. Said Lucas: “They were not ugly Americans.”
Instead of becoming an apoplectic conservative ranting against reason the Australian turned left towards history, social justice and human rights.
He dropped ag-ec and picked up Indonesian. Through a series of curious happenings – including an encounter over a lost camera – he was steered by Australian Herb Feith.
Through this world-renowned scholar Lucas researched the Pekalongan revolusi sosial also labelled ‘struggle’ and ‘movement’, which “had never been clearly and coherently depicted”.  Some saw it as a communist revival.
The survivors’ stories opened Lucas to Indonesia’s complex past and expanded his empathies.  The square peg found the right hole, or as he said:  “Indonesia fitted me like a glove.”  
Yet much was discomforting. In a Yogyakarta jail he saw political activists broken by a brutal system during Soeharto’s Red Paranoia era.  “With a Catholic priest I tried to help a boy reconcile with his long jailed father,” Lucas said.  “We failed. This had a huge effect on me.”
At Flinders as an associate professor Lucas was also in demand as a consultant.  He worked on the documentary series Riding the Tiger about authoritarian rule in Indonesia, and with Australian funded projects on land use, social capital and local government.
He taught Indonesian culture and society, religion and social change and identities.  He also privately funded this magazine when it was staggering as a print journal. He remains treasurer.
Adding a Catholic nunnery in Java to Inside Indonesia’s subscriptions seemed a good idea.  It wasn’t. The nuns were then accused of spreading Marxism.
Despite fumbles and stumbles, relationships improved. In 1992 Prime Minister Paul Keating, who was close to Soeharto, declared Australia part of Asia. Enrolments at Flinders rose enough to support four full-time academic positions. (Now the jobs are shared and limited.)
Five years after the pendopo’s gamelan gongs first stirred the bush, Lucas and his colleagues organized a seminar on Australian-Indonesian relations. The show was packed. A book followed – Half a Century of Indonesian-Australian Interaction. 
Australians were developing a positive interest in the people next door. The feeling was mutual. The folks were getting matey and wiser.
Recalled Lucas:  “It was the pinnacle of the golden era.”  
Then the glitter dimmed.  Factors in the fade included the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, turmoil following the 1998 fall of Soeharto, and high tension during the 1999 East Timor independence referendum.
The 2002 Bali bombs killed 202, including 88 Australians.  The government shouted travel warnings. Educational visits stopped.  University administrators found computing and communications more profitable than Asian Studies.
“To turn this around we all need to do more – and that includes Indonesians studying Australia and hosting seminars,” Lucas said. “If we lose a generation of scholars we won’t get them back. The goodwill is not so strong.
“There was no background given on why Australians reject the death penalty. (Ambassadors were withdrawn in 2015 when Indonesia snubbed pleas to save drug couriers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan from execution.)
“The failure to explain the media response to the release this year of ganja queen Schapelle Corby was an opportunity missed. “We need to tell our story about our history, multiculturalism and values, such as diversity and equality.  As in the pendopo we should listen to each other and reflect on the relationship we want.
“Otherwise I despair for the future.”
## 
(First published in Inside Indonesia 13 Nov 2017.  See:   http://www.insideindonesia.org/essay-getting-to-know-you-through-a-pendopo




Friday, October 27, 2017

NZ GETS A YOUNG LEADER - WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THE OLDIES


Power to the pensioners
The rapid rise and youth of New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, 37, has drawn international attention.  Less noticed has been the role of older Kiwis in the election.  

The people of Aotearoa (the Maori name for the South Pacific nation) voted on 23 September but didn’t discover who’d rule till mid October when coalition negotiations were sealed and portfolios allocated.
National, which had been in power for nine years won 56 seats, Labour and the Greens a combined 54, leaving NZ First with nine seats to determine who’d run the nation for the next three years.  It chose to side with center-left Labour.
Although dubbed by opponents as a ’coalition of losers’ the visceral hate which infects Australian and US politics is largely absent in NZ.
NZ First leader Winston Peters said Ardern had ‘exhibited extraordinary talent’ while campaigning and that voters wanted a human face to moderate capitalism. Peters, 72, has been a politician longer than Ardern, a parliamentarian for nine years,  has been alive.
Although compared with young leaders like Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, 45, and French President Emmanuel Macron, 40, Ardern doesn’t fit the standards.  She lives with her boyfriend and quit her church when it rejected marriage equality.  She’s childless and the third woman to be PM in NZ.  
In the new Parliament 36 per cent are women.  Although Caucasians dominate, 30 per cent of are Maori and Pacific Islanders, and six per cent Asian.
Peters understands the importance of age in  politics.  Described by The Guardian as ‘cantankerous’ but by locals as ‘wily’, the former lawyer of Maori descent is the new Deputy PM and Foreign Minister.  
He’s already known in Embassies around the world from his time as FM between 2005 and 2008. He said he’d be seeking more understanding of the Asia-Pacific region.
Australia and NZ give citizens cradle-to-grave welfare, including taxpayer-funded schooling, hospital care, unemployment benefits (the ‘dole’), and pensions.  But the schemes are run differently.
Australia’s pensions are means tested so those with private incomes miss out.  In NZ paupers and millionaires all qualify at 65; Peters gets the pension on top of his annual parliamentary salary of almost NZD 200,000 (Rp 1.9 billion / USD 140,000).
Economists say this road ends at a fiscal cliff. When state pensions started in the 1900s governments planned brief payouts knowing the grim reaper would soon relieve them of the burden. Now life expectancy has risen from the mid 60s to the early 80s. Analysts say pensions are draining the national budget at the expense of infrastructure, education and health care.
Australia has partly plugged the leak by lifting the entrance age to 67 by 2023, adding compulsory superannuation paid by employers, and tightening eligibility rules. European nations, including Britain, have made similar moves.  Though not NZ.
Former National PM John Key famously promised to quit if anyone fiddled with pension eligibility, puzzling many: How could a country of just 4.7 million (smaller than Metro Surabaya) afford such a drain on its finances?  
The answer is politics of pensioner power.  
A retired Kiwi couple currently gets NZD 576 (Rp 5.5 million / USD 405) each a fortnight after tax - 65 per cent of the net average wage. Around 16 per cent of the nation’s revenue goes on pensions, and the figure ratchets up every year.
Although the two countries are often lumped together the former British colonies have separate political systems.  
Australian States and Territories send a fixed number of Senators to Canberra.  All are elected by the people.  NZ has no upper house.  Since 1996 it has had the Mixed-Member Proportional representation voting system, also used in Germany for the Bundestag election last month, and a few other states.
Kiwis get two votes, one for their local electorate candidate, and the other for a party, so can split their choice. One more crucial difference: Voting in Australia is compulsory, in NZ it’s voluntary.  
In Australia voting no-shows are around six per cent. In the NZ election more than 20 per cent didn’t exercise their democratic right.  The stay-aways tend to be youngsters more concerned with their pay tomorrow not half a century ahead.
Those diligent about their civic duty are retirees; this substantial cohort rejects any party threatening their rights.
Peters used this year’s campaign soothing seniors who see the dapper dresser as their champion against indifferent bureaucrats; last decade he forced a reluctant government to allow free off-peak public transport to pensioners through a ‘Supergold’ card.  A wee matter, as Kiwis say, but positively impacting their lives.
Also appealing to the aged were NZ First’s tough policies on law and order and what it calls ‘common sense and straight talk’. The party is usually labeled ‘nationalist’ and ‘populist’.  It wants immigration slashed to 10,000 a year from the current 70,000.
In the past Peters has spoken about the ‘Asian invasion’, resonating with those - mainly the aged - fearing their traditional lifestyles are under threat.  For ‘Asians’ read Chinese – now the third largest ethnic group behind Europeans and Maori.
Now the ever-adroit Peters says he’s not anti-Asian but wants new arrivals ‘to meet critical skills gaps’.  He knows the Chinese are also conservative and determined voters.  He even claimed during the campaign that he had Chinese ancestry citing research that Maori are descended from Taiwanese aborigines.
Victoria University of Wellington molecular bio scientist Dr Geoff Chambers reportedly commented that this seemed to be a rare instances where politics informed science’.  
In public affairs there are few certainties but here’s one: NZ pensioners have political muscle.
##  

First published in Strategic Review 27 October 2017.  See:
http://sr-indonesia.com/web-exclusives/view/pensioner-power

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

FILM REFLECTING REALITY TO INSPIRE

Learning to read film


Many Indonesians have tough lives and survive on little.  Their prospects are grim.  Yet they remain cheerful and friendly - values worth celebrating
That’s the philosophy of prize-winning film-maker Mahesa Desaga (right) .  He'd like all to know the giant republic is more than political crises and natural disasters strung into a narrative of dysfunction.

“I want to reflect the lives of the marginalised,” he said. “The best way is through films showing how relationships work, how families cope.”
He does this using gentle whimsy not searing confrontation. His work is contemplative; viewers don’t leave his presentations with blood-drained faces but with a wry smile and thoughtful expression. Seeking escapism? Don’t bother this young man; head to a 21 Cineplex for Tom Cruise and American Made.
Similar emotions must have been felt by judges at the 2017 Australia-Indonesia Short-Film Festival Competition who awarded the 27-year old Malang university lecturer first prize earlier this year.
He took his film Nunggu Teka (Waiting to Arrive) to last month’s [Aug] Melbourne International Film Festival. MIFF bills itself as ‘one of the oldest film festivals in the world and the most significant screen event in Australia’.
Nunggu Teka is a poignant cameo of a lone mother (played by the late Supatemi, a neighbor of Desaga) preparing for a visit by her son during the Idul Fitri family reunions. These climax the end of the Ramadhan fasting month.
Shot in subdued tones the 15-minuter captures mood and emotion through domestic detail and limited movement. It’s more in the minimalist style of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.  
The rituals that bond ordinary life are the source of Desaga’s current work, what the British label ‘kitchen-sink drama’ and made mainstream by director Mike Leigh.  La La Land is not Desaga’s environment. Nor is the theater of envy where the tired poor watch the dopy doings of the idle rich.  
Also absent from his viewfinder are sinetron (TV soapie) stereotype characters. Audience tastes are unlikely to refine until directors get equal treatment alongside respected authors in the Indonesian school curriculum.
Desaga has a script about a family living in a house so cramped all share one bedroom.  This frustrates the parents seeking intimacy – a situation common in city kampongs and rural villages.
“Our closeness, our ability to survive, to be positive are all qualities that I want to see recognized,” he said. “This means teaching Indonesians how to read films. Cinema has been tightly controlled with only officially- approved imports allowed. Most have been from Hollywood so the choice is narrow.”
Film was hijacked for propaganda in the Soeharto era when creatives were dubbed disruptors. The government-sponsored docudrama Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Treachery of the Communists) was compulsory viewing for school children till 1998.
The idea of film as art has been led by directors like Garin Nugroho, 55, whose offerings can be more esoteric than entertaining.  Desaga is not in that generation or genre: Jumprit Singit (Hide and Seek) is a comment on kids besotted by gadgets.  It involves the chase of a thief and his contact with a lone boy excluded from Playstation so he retreats into imagination.
There’s a touch of autobiography here though the adult Desaga is funny and engaging.  The only child of working public servants he was often alone.  His destiny seems to have been set while still nurtured by the umbilical cord for his pregnant Mom took breaks in cinemas – a habit she continued after birth.
“The first film I remember was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was about three,” he said.  “Others were frightened by the scary figures - I was just interested.”  
At university he studied international relations “because I could not stand mathematics”. Instead of a career in Foreign Affairs he’s turned to being “a diplomat through my films”. After years of watching overseas dramas he’s developed a better understanding of the globe than through academic studies.
This has meant covertly sampling movies banned by authorities determined to keep progressive ideas away from the public.  This isn’t a situation unique to Indonesia – Iranian directors film abroad where there are fewer constraints on the topics they want to explore.
“Working outside Indonesia is a temptation,” Desaga said. “However I have a responsibility to society and I can’t exercise this in exile.” He suggests that “limited access screenings in an alternative exhibition space” might liberate directors – but would probably draw the killjoys suspecting subversion.
His parents saw little future for their son in celluloid though he now lectures on the subject at two universities in Malang. He started a filmophile group in 2008.
Although there are several similar clusters in Malang few have double-digit membership.  A curious situation in a city of 28 tertiary institutions drawing students from across the archipelago – and where every second lit-grad seems to have a book of published verse.
Desaga reckons too few understand how to make films using ordinary digital cameras and laptop editing programs even though all information can be Googled.  “Too lazy,” he says.
Maybe, but they’ve also been brainwashed by the ballyhoo of mega dollar productions where chopper shots, special effects and star names seem essential.
The other factor is a limited knowledge of the great offerings of cinema where the story drives the projector sprockets and the focus is on exposing character rather than the revealing dress spotted by the prurient.
Desaga draws inspiration from the past.  He names the 1977 Indonesian romance Badai Pasti Berlalu (The Storm Will Surely Pass) directed by the late Teguh Karya as essential viewing, and the Japanese drama Rashomon (director Akira Kurosawa) as the must-see film of all time.
Before his life reaches the final credits Desaga wants to tackle a feature film, a long leap from shorts.  Expect something about mudik, the mass pilgrimage to villages during Idul Fitri.  “It’s unique to Indonesia,” he said. “We should tell the world.”
##
(First published in The Jakarta Post 25 October 2017)





Monday, October 16, 2017

SHUFFLING AROUND

Still in the groove                    

In pre-digital days journalists reporting inaction on critical issues favored the metaphor of a needle stuck on a record turntable.

The revival of vinyl has kept the cliche circulating - particularly with new urgings to stop Australian-Indonesian relations from forever going round and round.

The latest wind-up comes from a well-intentioned group of 21 academics, economists, business people, NGOs and public servants; they gathered in Perth in July for a  closed-door session seeking better ways for the two nations to cooperate. This Track 2 (outside official channels) initiative was engineered by the USAsia Centre at the University of Western Australia.

The result of the one-day 'extensive in-depth discussions' is the just-released report The Power of Proximity: Enhancing Australian-Indonesian Economic Relations.   Grand title - but that's about all.

The test of any think tank's effectiveness is whether it articulates practical action or is struggling for traction. The latter is the case here - only half the 12-pages have much to say and even less that's original. The words sound energising but none have driving power.

To be fair this was not the ambitious matchmakers' fault.  Their brief was worthy but flawed.  The difficulties in getting Indonesia and Australia to develop a trustful relationship after years of hot-cold wariness are formidable. Repairs require firm political will on both sides of the Arafura Sea.

Professor Tim Lindsey of Melbourne University once called the two countries the 'odd couple' of Southeast Asia. The pair live in the same location but long-term  marital tensions are too strained to share one bed.

The one politician present at the workshop and only as an observer was Bill Johnston, the West Australian Minister for Asian Engagement.  This is the smallest of his four portfolios. The two biggest names Marty Natalegawa (Foreign Affairs) and Mari Pangestu (Trade) are former ministers long out of office.

All the report's ten recommendations carry auxiliary verbs rather than imperatives. Although many participants were more mid and regional than peak and central - Indonesia’s official reps were from consulates - most had long records in the game and their voices deserve the ears of government.   

In the current climate those who get heard are inner circle ambassadors, Cabinet ministers from Jakarta and Canberra, gold star corporate tycoons and party  chessmasters with the president or prime minister's numbers on speed dial. When these giants murmur things happen.  

The report's author Kyle Springer from the USAsia Centre later commented that  'Australia simply has yet to see Indonesia as an opportunity ...There is yet a narrative of Indonesia’s rise and what it could mean for Australian businesses ... Instead of perceiving each other as a threat, they should choose to see each other as an opportunity.' The repetition suggests exasperation.
But why?  The answers get nudged out for this room is full of elephants.  The pachyderms which won't leave include the growth of fundamentalist Islam, surging nationalism, whether the Indonesian military is playing political games, and human rights concerns in West Papua.
For the Indonesians it's fear that Australia is plotting to fracture the Unitary State by supporting secessionists, and promote 'liberal lifestyles' - code for acceptance of homosexuality. Any of these beehives could be tipped over by agents provocateurs in the lead-up to the 2019 General Elections.
The closest the report's language gets to reality is this comment: 'Bilateral crises derail progress on economic issues and Australia and Indonesia lack a mechanism to manage and communicate during diplomatic crises'. That should be an all-stations alert.
To an outsider the equations look simple: One highly-efficient exporter just over the horizon from 260 million people in an economy growing at three per cent annually. Why does Australia do more trade with tiny New Zealand (population 4.5 million) than the colossus that's closer?
How come more than a million Australians every year holiday with the Balinese but Indonesians don't dart Down Under for a break?  Just 156,000 made the short trip after negotiating a 15-page visa questionnaire and paying more than AUD 150.  Australians have visa-free entry into Indonesia.
Outside the forum participant Ross Taylor, president of the Australian-based Indonesia Institute echoed exasperation: “We talk about building closer links,” he told Strategic Review. “But both governments still make it hard for young people to move between our two countries due to unnecessary red-tape”.

Why is the fourth largest country in the world desperate for infrastructure investment but Australian developers aren't building?  They see Indonesia as high-risk with a questionable legal system. Australia invested AUD 2.2 trillion overseas last year but only AUD1.9 billion in Indonesia.  
But as Springer points out, China: 'with its lack of government transparency, shaky property rights, and bureaucratic corruption, it actually falls rather close to Indonesia on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index.'
For the record China ranks 78, thirteen points better than Indonesia.
The Power of Proximity leans on the trade trends report The World in 2050 by the international financial analyst Pricewaterhouse Coopers. 
This forecasts Indonesia overtaking Russia, Mexico and Brazil to become the fourth largest economy behind China, India and the US.
Fogging the USAsia group's vision has been the awkward progress of the Indonesia – Australia Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA).  Negotiations are supposed to be finalised this year.
The laptops were opened in 2013, closed over domestic disputes, and rebooted in 2016.  Once called 'free trade talks' the term is now seldom heard suggesting the results will not meet expectations.
(In a separate forum Mari Pangestu revealed that while Trade Minister she talked of 'fair trade' to avoid antagonising economic nationalists.)
The Power of Proximity continues the trend of trade-or-fade auguries and muted responses.  The conservatives in Canberra seem more concerned with defence and security believing trade is best left to free-market entrepreneurs.
The experts who gathered in Perth are not so convinced, concluding: 'In short, despite robust diplomatic, political and military ties Australia and Indonesia have yet to fully take advantage of the power of proximity.'  
The needle stays stuck.
First published in Strategic Review 16 October 2017
##