Smiles for now, but miles to go
It was good to see.
Edging gingerly from impartial commentator to partial citizen, the sight of Sydneysiders Scott and Jenny Morrison at the Presidential inauguration fleetingly eased one journo’s heart, corroded from witnessing too many erosions of goodwill.
What appeared to be the only white faces in the VIP rows of Asians, Arabs and Africans sent a positive signal, as the diplomats’ cliché goes. The Prime Minister’s presence said:
Australia shares the triumph of the people’s will in the world’s third largest democracy.
With the exception of China, which cares nothing for democracy but still sent Vice-President Wang Qishan, most nations outside the region didn’t bother, or made gestures, not statements. Donald Trump’s envoy was Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. She’s 14th in the Presidential line of succession.
Lots to read here.
Back home the ScoMos and the Widodos got a page-top family snap in the national daily The Australian, plus a happy-clapper crowd pic and crisp analysis from correspondent Amanda Hodge.
Not quite up to the matey 2015 coverage when Morrison’s predecessor Malcolm Turnbull shared a blusukan (walkabout) in Tanah Abang market with President Joko Widodo, but a refresher for the often volatile relationship between two vastly different cultures.
Remember PM Tony Abbott proclaiming ‘more Jakarta, less Geneva’ in 2013? Soon after everything tumbled like Humpty Dumpty off the wall of good intentions when spy agencies were caught tapping President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone
Before he left for his one-day in Jakarta, Morrison said the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement was about to get the green light in Canberra, so hoped Jakarta was also clear to go.
Widodo reportedly replied ‘no issues’, though that’s still uncertain as Indonesia has a new parliament.
Although free trade topped Morrison’s list he has another agenda, according to Ambassador Gary Quinlan (right). He told The Jakarta Post that the PM wants his nation’s citizens to “see Islam through Indonesian eyes.”
Morrison plans to tell Australians that the Islam practised by almost 90 per cent of Indonesia’s 270 million people is “moderate, tolerant and inclusive”.
If Morrison follows through and uses the PM pulpit to talk about Islam, the Liberal Party leader will be finding turnoffs. In last year’s Australian census more than 30 per cent said they had no religion; the number increases with every national stocktake.
A ‘Worldviews of Generation Z’ study last year by Australian academics found that although teens generally accepted religious diversity, many were concerned about the impact of religion on life in Australia.
Just 2.3 per cent of Australia’s 25 million people say they’re Muslims. Islam tends to get a bad press as extremists draw the flashlights. This has distorted understanding of the complexities and riches of a religion followed by a quarter of the world’s population.
Almost 90 per cent of the people next door are Muslims – a fact Australians need to accept and understand if the neighbors are going to go beyond trading goods and develop friendships.
Australian politicians tend to mute their religious views for fear of alienating advocates for separation of State and faith. Morrison may be the ideal advocate for Islam; he’s upfront about his evangelical Pentecostal Christian beliefs so mud thrown by Islamophobes alleging he’s a covert Muslim won’t stick.
During the Federal election this year, Morrison broke with long-standing political wisdom that prayer should be private. Instead he invited the media to witness him vigorously proclaiming the Gospel in his local Horizon church in suburban Sydney.
He said he prayed for victory – and got his present.Quinlan said Government-to-Government relations were “very good with a new level of maturity on the political calculus. Both countries are heavily involved in solving problems and having a strategic sense of each other.
“However improving people-to-people relationships is a big challenge because it depends ultimately on the attitudes of Australians and Indonesians to each other, not just on government policy.”
His concerns are underpinned by this year’s Lowy Institute survey of Australian public attitudes. The poll asked Australians about their country’s ‘best friend in the world’. New Zealand topped the list ahead of the US and UK. Four per cent of respondents said ‘China’, just one per cent ‘Indonesia’.
Despite more than a million antipodeans breasting Bali’s bars and beaches every year, the Institute says its long-term polling ‘has demonstrated the wariness with which Australians and Indonesians regard each other.’“We have to move on - there’s too much ignorance among many Australians about Indonesia, often based on out-of-date images,” Quinlan said. “Indonesia is growing so quickly and developing so fast, there’s widespread creative energy among young Indonesians. We need to tap more of this potential, especially for young Australians.”
Quinlan urged more Australians and Indonesians to experience each other’s countries and to speak out about the success of contemporary Indonesia, but recognized many were media shy.
“I hope having the PM explain Indonesian Islam will help dispel the ignorance.”
First published in The Jakarta Post 26 October 2019