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

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Sanctuary for prowlers and yowlers        

Too much clutter in the house?  No problem: Indonesia’s roving rombeng (junk collectors) will buy your discards.  But suppose they meow? That signals a catastrophe. 
Britain and Australia have the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals The US has a similar outfit minus the prefix. Malang in East Java has Asri Rahayu Agustina (Leotina). (above)

Some cat lovers get a little unhinged, preferring felines to humans, even starting to smell and look like them.  But the former fitness-center owner giving sanctuary to fourpaw refugees is no soft-touch eccentric.

Although some anti-socials among the 16 dogs are chained most of the 80 cats doze in spacious cages  or wander outside and there are no odors to annoy.

“As a child I always loved animals and couldn’t stand to see them ill-treated,” she said.  “I’m a Muslim and we should be caring. There’s a famous story of the Prophet preparing to pray but finding his favorite cat Muezza asleep on his clothes.  Rather than disturb his pet he cut off the robe’s sleeve.

“Unfortunately few are so kind.  They see a lovely cat in the market and pay thousands of rupiah - maybe up to a million (US$74) and then find looking after the animal is boring.”

In the rich character mix of Indonesian kampongs and villages there’s often a carer. Usually a woman, the pussy protector scatters scraps for the strays who soon discover Cat Cafe and call their mates.  

Some see this as a humane gesture - others a curse because it encourages the beasties to stay and breed. Which they do in great numbers.  Then the less sympathetic seek to cull.

The problem of controlling semi-ferals without resorting to brutal means like trapping and poisoning challenges most societies.  

If someone doesn’t drown the moggy they drive to somewhere secluded far from home, then dump and flee.  If they have a smidgen of compassion they offer it to Leotina.

“I usually refuse because if they took on a responsibility they should see it through,” she said.  “Only if they say they’ll throw it away will I take it in and hope to find a foster home.”

Not all her charges are purrfect. There are some saber-tooth tabbies who’d be licking their chops on the sofa while the foolish family which offered refuge search for their toddlers.

Cute kittens transmogrify into ferocious toms and fecund queens. Two months after a raucous night on the tiles one becomes eight.  Cats can live for up to two decades.

Abandoning unwanted pets isn’t an exclusive Indonesian issue, but elsewhere it’s taken seriously. Offenders in Western countries face fines, jail and the wrath of society.  

In New Zealand ditched furballs become ruthless wildlife killers, slashing numbers of rare bush creatures and flightless kiwis - nocturnal feeders and easy prey.  

In 2011 Australian live cattle exports to Indonesia were suddenly halted after a film showing abattoir workers deliberately mistreating stock was leaked to the media by activists.

Breeders claim they lost AUD $600 million and are now chasing compensation.  Indonesian importers also saw their businesses slaughtered. Beef buyers faced higher prices and diplomatic dramas erupted. And all because some poorly supervised butchers saw no harm in bashing beasts that were about to be killed.

Leotina, 52, has lived in the US so knows how foreigners get angered by cruelty.
Strays handed in to shelters overseas get restored to health and microchipped before offered for sale.  They are also sterilized, a practice that Leotina wants all owners to follow unless they are professional breeders.

“The offput is the cost,” she said. “Vets can charge Rp 600,000 (US $44) for a male and double for a female.  I’ve had help from students training to be animal surgeons but they aren’t always reliable.  It’s the same with volunteers offering assistance.  Sometimes they come, oftentimes not.”

So she ends up doing much of the feeding and cleaning herself along with one worker, Suhartono to walk the dogs.  His chores include carting water because the old building she uses rent-free hasn’t been connected to a supply.

The dogs have been rescued from backyard butchers. Malang is an education city with thousands of students from eastern islands where canine cutlets are a favorite.

Man’s best friends aren’t much loved in Muslim-majority Java where they’re judged unclean.  So anyone dispatching a stray won’t worry the village - unless Leotina happens to be passing. Her particular gripe is with breeders who keep the trade alive.

She relies on kindhearts supplying bulk foods.  She believes President Joko Widodo is a friend of animals; when Jakarta Governor he supported a ban on topeng monyet, the dancing monkeys used to entertain children.

“God sent animals to test us,” said Leotina. “We must love them all and not discriminate.”

Adopt, don’t buy

The non-profit Jakarta Animal Aid Network also urges pet shoppers to adopt, not buy.

Co-founder Femke de Haas said the network was cooperating with the national government through the Agriculture Ministry to improve animal welfare.

“There are more shelters opening, usually started by individuals,” she said.  “They mean well but we need regulations and oversight on issues like cage sizes, hygiene and premises.  There was a shocking situation recently when 180 dogs died in a fire.

“There can be cultural problems when people see animals as being less than humans but the situation is improving.  (She has lived in Indonesia since 2002).

“Government officials agree that there should be protocols but they don’t know how these can be implemented”.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 24 January 2018)


Monday, January 22, 2018


No-deal neighbours

The end-of-year deadline to conclude the Australia-Indonesia free trade talks has come and gone.  Now the ambition is ‘early next year’ according to Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita.  That will clash with the lead up to the 2019 Presidential election when parochial concerns will be more pressing than the contentious issue of concluding business with the folks next door.

It’s a pity Donald Trump didn’t lend his talents to the negotiations. The self-appointed master deal maker might have come up with the ‘most tremendously exciting best agreement ever, wonderful and big.’

But even with the hyperbolic American leader’s skills any Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) would have been revealed as fractured once Air Force One had left the tarmac.

To say that negotiating the IA-CEPA was always going to be difficult is several fathoms below understatement so applause for those who tried hard.

Their reasoning was sound even if their understanding of the subtleties of Indonesian thinking and culture was flawed.  Two countries right alongside each other.  One has a growing population and shrinking farmland, the other has ample space and massive supplies of grain, beef and milk.

‘Partners in Prosperity’ sang the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry but few Indonesians joined the chorus.  They need imports but buy reluctantly.  Apart from the shame of having to rely on outsiders to supply the daily needs of the world’s fourth largest nation, Indonesians fear that buying essentials from afar will diminish their jingoistic claim to be an international independent power.

Kutukan means curse, now a relic word in English but throbbing in Indonesia where it’s regularly used, even in the mainstream media. It explains why things expected to come to pass fail despite propitious signs.  

The IA-CEPA was doomed largely because Australia wanted the agreement more than its neighbour, even though President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo was reported to be keen to have all documents signed by year’s end. The Javanese are skilled in telling foreigners what they want to hear, while Australians have been naive to think ‘yes’ always means what it says.

Indonesia is gripped by nationalism and its sibling protectionism. So is Australia: In April and in the midst of the negotiations Canberra slapped a tariff on A4 paper imports from Indonesia (and other countries) after the sole manufacturer alleged dumping.  The company is called Australian Paper, but it’s owned by the Nippon Paper Group.

Australia also got greedy assuming that proximity gave an unassailable edge.  Indonesia is now importing wheat from the Black Sea at USD 100 a tonne less than the Fremantle price, and bringing in buffalo meat from India.

There have been other neon signs flashing caution. Talks started in 2010, hibernated when the two countries were quarreling over capital punishment, then woke last year.

While Jokowi was apparently agreeing with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about urgency during a visit to Sydney in early 2017, back in Jakarta he was talking about ‘food sovereignity’.

The rhetoric is at odds with reality; even staples like salt and rice (Indonesia used to be an exporter) are now being elevated from bulk carriers into silos at Tanjung Priok (Jakarta) and Tanjung Perak (Surabaya). Source nations include Thailand and Vietnam.

The IA-CEPA negotiators kept smiling in public, sometimes overdoing the grins when they called a media conference in September to announce minor gains that had already been trumpeted in February.

The language also failed to connect: Turnbull spoke of a ‘high quality’ agreement while Indonesia’s lead negotiator Deddy Saleh chose the adjective ‘good’.

Australian universities want to open campuses in the archipelago - an ambition that frightens Indonesian educators who fear students will migrate to quality teaching.

What Indonesia really wants Australia can’t deliver - massive capital investments to keep Jokowi’s infrastructure projects moving. Australia is not within coo-ee of China and Japan in supplying materials and loans.  

Australians also rightly fear much would be lost in a country noted for corruption and bureaucratic quagmires, and where the rule of law can be elusive.

Australians are bound by rules that don’t always bother other traders.  It’s illegal for Aussies to bribe public officials anywhere.

The World Bank lists New Zealand as the number one country for doing business (Indonesia ranks 72nd) so it’s no surprise Australian investors head across the Tasman Sea rather than the much narrower Arafura Sea.  

The other demand has been for jobs in Australia for nurses, maids and construction crews - extending the Republic’s people exports beyond Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.  

Indonesian workers are often multi-skilled, willing and prepared to live in remote areas, but few have good English or understand Australia’s rigid health and safety laws. Bali holidaymakers would have seen bare-head labourers wearing thongs scrambling up bamboo scaffolding and across work sites littered with hazards.

The work culture obstacles could be overcome with intensive training, but selling this idea in Australian states with high unemployment would generate a political firestorm. Australians will probably go to the polls in late 2018 or early 2019.

If trade talks restart next year there’s little chance much energy will be applied.  Indonesia will continue to buy primary produce from Down Under, though only if it can’t get cheaper from elsewhere, and Australian traders will still complain about tariffs and other imposts suddenly levied.  

This market potential is everything its boosters claim - expanding and close.  What they don’t say is that it’s damnably difficult to achieve when the two sides have different expectations, agendas and cultures.

(First published in Strategic Review 22 January 2018:


Friday, January 12, 2018


      Visit Down Under and pay up              

Indonesians will not be getting cheap and easy-to-obtain Australian visas available to Malaysians and Singaporeans. Australian campaigners seeking better access for Indonesian tourists have been officially told there will be no changes. This is despite the Republic giving Australians free visas-on-arrival and the Australian government claiming it wants more Indonesian visitors.

The AUD $20 (Rp 211,000) on-line visas known as Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) are used by citizens of a dozen countries including the Republic’s near neighbors. However Indonesians have to pay seven times more for permission to visit the Great South Land.

They also have to complete a complex form with more than 50 questions and provide references and bank statements.

The Perth-based Indonesia Institute (II) has been urging a relaxation of entry requirements so Indonesians wanting to holiday Down Under can use ETAs.

The Institute believes more visitors will improve people-to-people relationships but that high-cost visas inhibit travel. However at the start of 2018 the II has been told that Indonesians won’t get ETAs.  No reason has been given.

Acting Assistant Secretary Ben Meagher of the Department of Home Affairs wrote to II President Ross Taylor saying Australia was “currently taking steps to transform Australia’s visa system to make it easier to understand (and) navigate.”  However “expanding access to the ETA program is not being considered.”

Till recently Indonesians had to seek Australian visas through approved fee-charging agents but can now apply directly on-line. Tourists can normally stay for up to three months at a time. The visas are valid for three years.

Apart from Malaysia and Singapore, Asian countries whose citizens can use ETAs include Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.  Decisions are usually given the same day, often while the applicant is on-line.

Taylor said he recently encountered a family of 21 from East Java visiting Perth.  While welcoming he apologised for them having to complete 357 pages of forms and pay AUD $2,940 (Rp 31 million) to enter the country.

“I just wonder when our Federal Government will put aside the secret fear of Indonesia - despite the people being respectful, easy-going and polite - and welcome our neighbours as friends,” he said.

Australia is losing a large and expanding market driven by young people seeking overseas holidays through special on-line ‘last minute’ airfare deals.

 ”Indonesians who want to take a long-weekend break can’t chose Australia as it’s too expensive and too slow to comply with the Australian visa requirements. And that’s a major loss to the Australian economy.

“Air Asia proudly boasts on the side of its aircraft: 'Now everyone can fly’. Maybe they need to add…'except to Australia’.”
According to Immigration and Border Protection figures, last year Indonesians represented about four per cent of the 64,000 visa overstayers.  Most defaulters were from Britain, the US, China and Malaysia.
Australia has been attempting to lure more Indonesian visitors. Last year the Jakarta Embassy launched its Aussie Banget (Real Australia) strategy to dispel stereotypes about beaches and barbecues.
Former Ambassador Paul Grigson said the Embassy was “trying to encourage Indonesians and Australians to think of what we have in common.  Clearly that encouragement does not extend to matching immigration rules..
Although numbers have risen the imbalance is huge. About 200,000 Indonesian tourists visit Australia every year but seven times more Australians enter Indonesia, most to holiday in Bali.
Taylor said: “When Indonesia scrapped the US $35 (Rp 470,000) Visa-On-Arrival fee for Australians (in March 2016) the Republic lost about US $30 million revenue. 
The next 12 months saw arrivals from Australia rise by over 16 per cent. This delivers around US $165 million annually to the local economy. Is there a lesson here for Australia?
(First published in Pearls and Irritations 12 January 2017.