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

Saturday, October 26, 2019


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”.

Quinlan said on an earlier visit the PM had explained his personal commitment to interfaith dialogue to Widodo as a major way to improve relations between the countries and “as a model of how two close neighbours can be a beacon to others”.

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

Friday, October 25, 2019


                   Rewarding a rival and damaging democracy

Maintaining harmony (rukun) is a quality embedded in Javanese culture.  This is one explanation for Joko Widodo publicly calling bitter rival Prabowo Subianto his ‘best friend’ at the Presidential inauguration.

A few days later Widodo offered Subianto the Defence portfolio.  Some interpreted this as a reconciliation gesture to heal post-poll divisions.  Others, particularly human rights activists and supporters of democracy, see Widodo’s decision as foolhardy and a threat to national cohesion.

It’s difficult to find pleasant things to write about Subianto.

The 68-year old is an ambitious mega-millionaire international businessman; he’s also a political and military thug known for his furious temper. Given a choice of lunch with the disgraced general or Kim Jong-un, it would be wise to head to Pyongyang.

Subianto was discharged from military service in 1999 for allegedly ‘misinterpreting orders’ during Jakarta riots, and the ‘disappearance’ of 13 student protestors after his father-in-law President Soeharto resigned.  He then fled to exile in Jordan.

Since his return Subianto has tried to take over the nation, standing once as vice president, and twice as president.  He’s been quoted as saying Indonesia is not ready for democracy, and till now the electors haven’t been ready for him.

Earlier this year Subianto and his followers ran a long and loathsome campaign against Widodo spreading falsehoods that POTUS might hesitate to use, albeit briefly.

During a televised debate Subianto said terrorist attacks in Indonesia were caused by non-Muslims disguised as Muslims.  He cited a 2015 US Sci-fi novel Ghost Fleet as proof of overseas plotters planning the disintegration of Indonesia by 2030.  Even Trump finds less loony sources.

In April Widodo beat the former general in a two-man direct election for the top job 55.5 to 44.5.  The loser alleged outrageous wrongs committed in the count – all rejected by the courts.  Riots followed.  At least eight died – hundreds were injured.

By forgiving Subianto it seems Widodo hopes to soften his haters.   But his actions have worked in reverse, infuriating those who voted for the incumbent because they despised Subianto and his black-uniformed fascist rants from horseback.  These made him look and sound like Indonesia’s Il Duce.

The downside of rukun is the suppression of emotions which can explode if bottled too long.  This happened in 1965 when an estimated half a million real or imagined Reds were slaughtered by fellow villagers; many used the chaos following the Jakarta anti-Communist coup to settle old scores against neighbours.

Another explanation is that Widodo wants Subianto busy working with the government so he’s not outside plotting a takeover.  Chances are he’ll still scheme to wrest power when inside as the man’s ego is gross.

To get a handle on the weirdness (to Western thinking), imagine this:  Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 election, then praising the pussy grabber as a buddy and asking him to be in her Ministry.

Plump Subianto’s grin at Widodo’s inauguration was as wide as the auditorium.  Instead of being bruised and banished, the prodigal son has been welcomed into the inner circle and given a platform to mount another challenge in 2024. Widodo can’t stand again as he’s limited to two five-year terms.

If Widodo was a Pentecostal his actions could be explained as a splendid demonstration of Christian love and forgiveness.  Instead it’s being seen as a brain fart.

Subianto spent all his life in the Army before being kicked out. Military men see an enemy making concessions and offering friendship as signs of weakness.  Leaders don’t backslap opponents unless the hand carries a knife.

There’s a famous 13th century Javanese story Widodo might do well to recall.  Ken Arok was abandoned as a babe but schemed his way into the royal family. He eventually became ruler of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Singosari in East Java by betraying friends and killing his way to the top.

The reinstatement of Subianto in public life and elevation to the Ministry have damaged the nation’s young democracy and its leader’s credibility.  Instead of entering a new era of harmony and development as a united nation, Indonesia is heading for uncertainty as a torn society.

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 25 Oct 2019:

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


If the watchman’s restrained, investors flee                                  

An Indonesian friend involved in a messy divorce was advised by colleagues not to hire a lawyer.  Instead he should bribe the judge more than his estranged wife was paying.

Being a moral person he refused, believing it’s every citizen’s duty to help purge corruption from the nation.  He paid an attorney and lost his case.

A local personal pain but one indicating a national ill making investors quake.  Surreptitiously sliding an envelope across a desk anywhere in the Archipelago is risky business for Australians – home and away.

Bribing a public official is a crime here in the Republic and over there in the Commonwealth; the dirty deal may have been done any place between Sabang and Merauke, but a prosecution can be launched anywhere between Perth and Sydney.

The penalties are harsh: Up to ten years in an Ozzie prison, or a fine of AUD 1.78 million – or both.  Drug runners get less.

President Joko Widodo frequently says he wants funds from foreigners to help boost the economy. So who to dial should a joint venture turn to custard through corruption?

Not the

 Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK - the Corruption Eradication Commission) if its authority gets weakened by lawmakers.  Even if the proposers deny changes will neuter the Commission’s powers, the view from afar is likely to be negative.
As the seers say, perception is reality.
Access to the rule of law delivered impartially is important to overseas entrepreneurs; if the scene’s not clean they just trouser (or handbag) their wallets and head to international departures.

Giving evidence to the Australian Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in Perth earlier this month Louise McGrath, national manager of the Australian Industry Group said:

“When companies aren't sure of the risk they simply don't invest. If we look at the numbers, I think New Zealand is the beneficiary of our greatest investment overseas because it's very low risk.

“We're not taking the high-risk and potentially high-rewards investments into places like Indonesia … (when) the environment seems risky, companies simply don't invest in that market.”

The committee is examining the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) signed in March though yet to be ratified by legislatures in both nations.

Other witnesses stressed that the Indonesian government will have to tackle corruption and the “regulatory chill” of excess red tape seriously if it wants to entice Australian dollars.
Last year the Badan Koordinasi Penanaman Modal (BPKM - Investment Coordinating Board) fell short of its investment target of Rp 765 trillion by nine per cent.
Phil Turtle, National President of the Australia Indonesia Business Council, told the committee:  “The elephant in the room is corruption.

“When I'm talking to Australian businesses about contemplating Indonesia, it's a bit like the real estate saying —location, location, location —it's corruption, corruption, corruption.”
Two years ago research by Transparency International Indonesia suggested corruption added about ten per cent to production costs. It also claimed that 17 per cent of businesses collapsed because competitors bribed officials.
TII’s Corruption Perception Index puts Indonesia in 79th place, a marked improvement since 2014 when President Widodo was first elected.  In that year it ranked 107.  As teacher report cards say about bright laggards:  ‘Improving, but could do better if he tried harder.’
The TII added: ‘Corruption is present in all three branches of government in Indonesia and is one of the major constraints on the political leadership’s capacity to govern effectively.
‘Political corruption is particularly pervasive, and Parliament is widely considered the most corrupt institution. Similarly, bureaucratic corruption is rampant and a large part of the population reports paying bribes for services.’
It also noted the KPK’s ‘stellar performance’ and society’s ‘positive view of the government’s efforts to fight corruption.’  That was before law changes were proposed.
At present Indonesia doesn’t feature in the top 20 nations where Australian investors feel comfy about depositing cash and assets.
According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, while the US and the UK remain the most favored places for Australians to park dollars, pledges to Asia have increased dramatically over the past decade.

Recipients include China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea and Taiwan; investment in this cohort has more than tripled from AUD 108 billion to AUD 395 billion.

Though not Indonesia;   Southeast Asia’s largest economy gets only AUD 10.7 billion from its southern neighbor.  That’s less than half of one per cent of the AUD 2. 5 trillion posted abroad.
If the keen but concerned traders like Mr Turtle are correct, Indonesia needs a clean place to lure dollars from Down Under. That means maintaining a watchman ready and able to keep the environment corruption-free.

First published in The Jakarta Post 15 October 2019


Monday, October 14, 2019


How not to engage with Asia.

Every decade or so a Western Australian watcher from the cast-iron balconies of the State’s Parliament glances outwards.  Looking away from the Darling Range rippling in the heat rising from the Swan Coastal Plain, the beholder wonders: What lies North West?

Maybe adolescent markets hungry for the abundance of minerals and foods coming from the State’s hinterland?  Just seeing neighbours as consumers is a bit crass, so policies need to be packaged with ribbons labeled ‘relationships’ and ‘friendship’.  The latest is ‘engagement’.  Unwrapping reveals a mostly empty box.

In 1990 Education Minister Dr Geoff Gallop (later Labor Premier and now director of Sydney University’s Graduate School of Government) pushed the State towards Southeast Asia and Indonesia in particular.

After the government changed so did priorities. Liberal Premier Colin Barnett (2008 – 17) tossed aside suggestions of promoting Asian language studies.

'There are very few parts of the world where meetings aren't conducted in English and they are generally not with interpreters,' he told AAP when visiting Jakarta.

This was wrist-slashing news for Australian academics and educators campaigning to boost Indonesian in schools as enrolments had tumbled by a third following the 2002 Bali bombings.  They reckoned monolingualism threatens security, defence, trade and personal relationships.

Murdoch Uni Professor David Hill was commissioned to report by the Federal government; he stressed the ‘need to act decisively and urgently to rebuild Indonesian skills in Australia’. 

Barnett didn’t see needs.  No votes here.  But when Labor went to the polls in March 2017 it promised another try at sending cheerios towards the people next door who are not like us.  A policy to ‘engage’ would be devised.

In proper administrations details precede policies. Here it’s the reverse. Premier Mark McGowan’s pledge has become a case study in implementation stuff ups.  

It took almost 30 months to produce the 56-page Asian Engagement Strategy 2019-2030 Our Future with Asia, with acres of splendid pictures and dazzling charts.

The public launch at the end of August carried a price tag - $320; this is steep for a coffee and choc muffin even in Perth.  When a politician’s speech is the appetizer only the truly famished on corporate expense accounts would have bothered.

Indonesian Institute president Ross Taylor, a long-standing and vigorous advocate for closer personal and business ties, took the surprising step of warning members to stay away from the “exclusive and price-prohibitive function …The Strategy is a public document and should be made widely available, and not be held captive to those who can afford this price.”

Attendees were addressed by Peter Tinley.  In January he won the Asian Engagement portfolio off Bill Johnston whose claim to the job was based on some language skills garnered as an exchange student in Bandung, West Java.

Tinley, a former major in the SAS, spent time in Iraq but has no known connections with Asia.  He highlighted WA’s closeness to the expanding Asian markets and the State’s importance as a producer of minerals, grains, beef and other foods.

Such stale statements are distasteful to anyone who has ever read a map and a newspaper, which presumably includes corporates.  Curiously Tinley didn’t startle his audience by letting slip that Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere and not betwixt the UK and the US.  My God! Why hadn’t we been told before?

His speech was thinner on details than the serviettes, so we inquired.

 It took Tinley’s office three weeks to produce these Yes Minister jewels:  ‘The six priorities match global economic trends with the State’s unique strengths and resources, with an overall aim to strengthen and diversify the State economy, and create future-proofed jobs for Western Australians.’ Translation app couldn’t cope.

‘The Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation has commenced work on the next phase of the Asian Engagement Strategy, which involves scheduling activities that deliver on the ‘Government actions’ outlined in the Strategy. An implementation plan is in development and will include annual analysis and reporting of progress and outcomes.

‘The Minister … has been undertaking work to activate businesses and communities around the actions of the Strategy.’  Translation:  Dithering in progress.

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of a Sister State Agreement with the province of East Java, signed during the despotic regime of President Soeharto.  In the early days it started well with several exchange programmes.  

One of the most lasting was bringing Indonesians to visit dairy and potato farms resulting in the Republic importing pregnant Friesian heifers and seed spuds, significantly boosting yields.

Tinley’s office said ‘a number of projects to mark the 30th anniversary are under discussion including  cultural/arts exchange,  bilateral visits involving senior officials and a possible visit by East Java youth delegation.’  Translation: Head scratching continues.

Small positives from the strategy and in place are Access Asia Business Grants.  These should help small-to-medium size shows explore opportunities.  Grants to $10,000, but the pool has only $1.2 million available till June 2021.

Otherwise the ‘engagement’ lacks the essentials for moving into a successful marriage.   Determination on all sides to make it work, and commitment of ample resources.  Translation:  Political will. 

(Disclosure:  The author received two research grants from the Sister State Agreement in the 1990s.)

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 14 October 2019

Saturday, October 12, 2019


BTW: Message to ad execs:  Please Quit                            

As a nipper I knew about baddies.  They were paunchy bald men wearing sloppy trousers and horizontal striped T-shirts who squinted through eye masks.

Now it’s cyber crims. Clip-art shows a hooded figure hunched over a laptop in a darkened cell, an image as silly as childhood’s imaginary villains.

The 2019 evildoers wear sharp gear and work in fluro-saturated studios.  These keyboard jockeys move mice faster than a scurrying rodent; they tap like Jakarta jazzman Joey Alexander hits the ivories.

Away from their domain we’d find them fine neighbors, happy with community clean ups.  Well mannered and law-abiding, they join gyms rather than huddles of smokers’ on high-rise forecourts.

Decent folk?  Don’t be deceived. They call themselves creatives and advertising account executives, and have two jobs. 

One is to financially cripple the poor. The other is to make self-harm fun.  In brief, they sell suicide.

They use their talents to offer insecure boys dithering at masculinity’s portal a cheap way to enter manhood.  Like the Devil’s pact with Faust, they swap fantasies for souls – and internal organs.

Let’s put it more bluntly: They proffer loaded revolvers suggesting the barrel be inserted in the mouth and the trigger pulled. 

The metaphor is flawed because a bullet results in a speedy death.  Their product draws out the agony, day by day, till the victim succumbs in a mess of bloody phlegm before horrified friends and family.

There are many dreadful ways to die; preventable tobacco-caused lung and heart diseases rival the Inquisition.  They’re the biggest killers in Indonesia.

And the kids are getting hooked.  The number of under-18 smokers is rising. In 2013 it was 7.2 per cent; now its 9.1.  Were there high fives in the ad agencies when those figures came out?

Six in ten Indonesian men are addicts.  They are druggies but don’t get arrested because their drug of choice is nicotine.  And the government says that’s legal.

In those cities where the burghers care not a whit for their youngsters’ health, giant billboards on roads leading to schools show the life poor lads would love.

Most posters are arty – and artful. The adjectives are tough-guy:  Pro, strong, bold.  Slim studs sweat in boxing rings and scramble up mountains. To thrash rivals and snare coy maidens requires stamina; men must not give up.  It’s the definition of machismo.

So the slogans read:  ‘Don’t Quit’ or ‘Never Quit’.

The educated copy writers know ‘Quit’ is a magic word in the West.  It grew from an Australian doctor-led campaign which the government eventually backed.

Outdoor tobacco ads disappeared in 1996 after public protests which included defacing posters.

Shop displays are banned (packs hide in a closed cabinet), and the health warning with a ghastly graphics of rotting bodies now covers 75 per cent of the plain package.
These policies have had a thumping impact.  In the 1970s about 44 per cent of adult Australians smoked; that’s now down to 15 per cent.  What’s gone up has been the expense – from 40 cents a pack to around AUD 33 (Rp 330,000).  The government tax take is 75 per cent.
That’s 15 times dearer than the same toxin will cost in Indonesia next year when the price is likely to jump 35 per cent after a boost in excise.
To be a smoker in Australia you have to be rich or stupid – or both.  Hooked Indonesian users shrug off the government health warning Peringatan merokok membunuhmu (smoking kills you) like they ignore traffic lights.  Anecdotes trump facts:  All inhalers know a Grandpop who smokes a pack a day and still pedals a pedicab.
As the world leader in combating tobacco Australia is loathed by Big Baccy.  Philip Morris took Australia to an international tribunal to have the plan packaging laws declared illegal.
It took seven years and AUD 24 million before the government won,
Indonesian politicians who want the kid killing stopped have already been confronted by tobacco industry claims that thousands will be thrown out of work if laws are tightened, particularly women. 

That argument could be used for maintaining prostitution, but the legislators say morality is more important than money.

First published in The Jakarta Post 12 October 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Democracy – can it be improved?         


The April general election in Indonesia which saw President Joko Widodo returned for a second five-year term was a logistical megatrial for the Komisi Pemilihan Umum (General Elections Commission - KPU), and an ordeal for participants.

Around 240,000 candidates jostled for over 20,000 seats in local and national legislatures in the world’s third largest democracy.  (India is first, the US second). 

Ben Bland of Australia’s Lowy Institute called it ‘the most complicated single-day ballot in global history’. 

Although almost 600 of the seven million Indonesian election workers reportedly died from exhaustion, the event was reckoned a success, though the operation may be modified next time round in 2024. Indian parliamentary elections this year were spread across six weeks.

The original Greek idea of democracy (‘demos’ - commoners, ‘kratos’ - strength) has been around for 2,500 years yet it’s still a work in progress. No nation has a mortgage on how best to represent the will of the people so ensuring voting is fair and equal is a global issue.
Now Indonesians and others have the chance to comment through a neighbor’s parliamentary inquiry. The search for definitions and better ways has spread to Australia, a self-governing democracy since 1901. 
The Senate (the upper house representing the States in the national parliament in Canberra) is holding an open inquiry into Nationhood, National Identity and Democracy and inviting submissions – including from foreign individuals and associations.
The British Economist Intelligence Unit publishes a Democracy Index.  This ranks 164 United Nations member states into ‘full democracies’, ‘flawed democracies’, ‘hybrid regimes’ and ‘authoritarian regimes’.  It does this by measuring pluralism, civil liberties and political cultures.
Indonesia is labeled a ‘flawed democracy’, along with neighbors Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. This group also includes the United States where only 55 per cent got involved in the 2016 elections.
More than 80 per cent of the 193 million eligible Indonesian voters exercised their rights though participation was voluntary.  These figures seem to show the Republic’s teenage democracy is robust and optimistic despite having the ‘flawed’ tag.

Indonesia only became a democracy this century after 32 years of the late General Soeharto’s New Order dictatorship so many questions are bubbling to the surface.

Foremost is this:  Is democracy, which comes from a Western cultural tradition, the best model for choosing leaders? The winners are happy, the losers not so, like supporters of the failed presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.

They claim it’s unfair that a villager laboring in a rice field should have the same single-vote power as a member of the educated elite debating esoteric issues in Jakarta’s high-rise offices.

As outlined in Strategic Review two years ago a hankering remains for the traditional decision-making systems like musyawarah (consensus after long discussion).  That way differences can be resolved without resorting to a binary Yes-No vote.
A decade ago US social scientist Larry Diamond’s book The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies throughout the World, argued that a renewed democratic boom needs ‘vigorous support of good governance—the rule of law, security, protection of individual rights, and shared economic prosperity—and free civic organizations.’

Why should a ‘full democracy’ nation like Australia indulge in a spate of navel gazing?  The riots in Hong Kong show political ideologies can no longer be confined by high border walls when the Internet wafts across oceans and immigration controls.

Thousands of Chinese students studying in Australia and raised to believe in the supremacy of a one-party state have been clashing with pro-democracy supporters on Australian streets and campuses.  Free-speech issues have been wrenched out of political science tutorials and onto the front pages of mainstream newspapers.

Of the 800,000 overseas students in Australia, 230,000 are from mainland China.
Submissions to the Senate inquiry are not confined to Australian citizens and agencies based Down Under, so psephologists, policy analysts, journalists and others here and elsewhere can make their own points.   They do not have to be specific to Australia.

They need to be quick as the closing date is the end of this month.  
Of interest to internationalists are three questions among the many flagged for attention:

*          What role does globalization and economic interdependence and economic development play in forming or disrupting traditional notions of national identity?

*          What are contemporary notions of cultural identity, multiculturalism and regionalism?
*          The extent to which nation states balance domestic imperatives and sovereignty and international obligations;
The inquiry’s discussion paper to aid submitters can be downloaded here:   
The paper states that ‘around the world, voters seem increasingly dissatisfied with how democratic politics works for them. Public trust in democratic institutions is declining. Notions of national identity, which can be the roots of a democratic community, are changing as our world becomes increasingly interconnected.’
Apart from disillusionment there’s growing disinterest.  This month The Guardian newspaper polled 1,075 voters, finding only 15 per cent follow events in Canberra closely.
A similar number showed no interest in politics, with the rest casual consumers of national affairs.  What Australians really like is sport.
The discussion paper adds: ‘There is a wealth of evidence showing a worrying decline in the level of public trust. In 2007, 86 per cent of Australians were satisfied with how democracy works in Australia. That figure is now 41 per cent.
‘Evidence also suggests that those with the lowest incomes are least satisfied with democracy.’
These issues aren’t limited to the Southern Hemisphere. British researchers have revealed around half of UK voters reckon the big parties and politicians don't care about the wee folk who put them into power.

A Pew Research Center study in the US disclosed that only 17 per cent of Americans said they can trust the government in Washington to do the right thing 'just about always' or 'most of the time'.
Australians won’t be the only people studying the Senate inquiry’s findings due next May. 

Whether the Australian Parliament or other legislatures will implement any recommendations is another matter.

First published in Strategic Review - 9 October 2019.  See:

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


Fifty shades of green                                                                  

There may be cleaner streets in hilltown Malang than this East Java nook, though they’d be hard to find.

But then so is the place itself - Kampong Glintung.  It’s well off a main drag, down a drab driveway, imprisoned by a high factory wall smeared by graffiti.  None of the images are artistic or original.

The clang of metal from the hidden workshop doesn’t better the ambience.  Maybe the GPS has given the wrong spot and it’s time to turn back.

Then bang!  A hit to the eyes, not to the ears.  Grim yields to charm right at the junction where ugliness ends and beauty begins.  

The house of retired driver Sukoco, 60, and his family mark the intersection.  Although their two-storey home leaves no space for a forecourt, it could still justify being named Verdant Villa.

With no room to spread out the couple have grown up, clothing their abode with a multicolored vertical garden.

“Malang is getting hotter every year,” said Sukoco’s wife Sri Winarti, 58.  “Pollution is a problem.  So is littering.  But plants make such a big difference.”

She’s not a lone voice.  Apart from the color there’s a feeling of calm though many of the residents are busy in the alleys.  The location is hard concrete urban, but the talk and activities are green.

An open drain runs alongside the asphalt.  Unlike the residents it’s in a rush so there’s no odor.  The occasional plastic bag shows not all obey the ‘Don’t Trash’ notices.  “The rubbish comes from upstream,” said Sukoco, gravity feeding culvert water onto street plants.

It’s not just individuals’ homes that are flowering.  Every flat spot on the sidewalk has a pot.

The locals call their project Glintung Go Green, or  ‘3G’, which is smart publicity as the term is widely known from wireless mobile technology. But here it signals bringing the country to the city.

The idea was first planted by agricultural advisor Bambang Trianto seven years ago when he was elected Rukun Warga (RW – community leader) for a nearby street.

When Indonesian Expat visited 3G, he was in Jakarta running seminars on how to get city dwellers to find the sweet spot in the spectrum between blue and yellow.

On the phone he said that as RW he tried to persuade residents to garden.  But his successor was not so keen and the project faltered. The family moved in 2017 and decided to lead in their new home by doing, not directing.

Going green can give warm fuzzies, what academics label ‘virtue signaling’. But sustaining moral comfort entails more than words and water.  

Laggards need encouragement.  Like marriage, nature requires regular refreshment. Some plants can survive a nuclear winter – others shrivel in a sunbeam.  Having a green thumb helps, but skills can be nurtured if there’s an abundance of enthusiasm.

“I don’t know the names of the plants but I know what they want,” said Sri Winarti.  “I’ve taught myself by watching them grow, and listening to people with more experience.”

Bambang’s wife Erni Irianto, 62, can identify some species.  Her favorites are members of the Sansevieria trifasciata family.  Also known as snakeplants they seem to withstand excesses of care or neglect, so good starters for amateurs.

“The kampong was quite dirty and polluted when we arrived,” she said. “There was also a lot of petty crime.  We wanted people to feel proud of their streets so started putting plants on top of walls.”

It was a technique also used by Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew whose government draped Vernonia elliptica over the facades of old buildings to disguise the grime. 

In Indonesia the curtain creeper now bears the late Prime Minister’s name. It’s become a trendy plant around hotel foyers, though not over-used in 3G.

That’s because the 150 households aren’t into monoculture.  If a shrub can be grown from a cutting those with abundance offer twigs to others.  Seeds and suckers get swapped.  Outsiders can buy. A bunch that plants together blooms together.

In one street is a State elementary school where the students play in a yard that was once a dustbowl.  Now the kids have shade from trees and should grow up more aware of the value of nurturing the environment.

Awards and a notice board of visitors’ compliments decorate one wall of Bambang Trianto’s house.  Among them a message from Michael Clifton, formerly of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission:

‘Privileged to witness an inspiring model of community pride in action.  Powerful proof of the power of passion and leadership to change lives.’

Bambang has a home business making tempe (soybean cake).  On the roof above the kitchen he and his wife are building a seminar room where the principles of conservation, composting, recycling and developing the green economy can be taught.

“We think this will be the only place in Indonesia where a community is educating others,” she said.  “We haven’t had any government support.

“The most effective way to explain the benefits of going green is by example.  That’s what we’re doing.”


First published in Indonesian Expat, 9 October 2019