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, April 29, 2020


                                Divorce impossible – so tolerate

Many  button lips for fear of arousing wrath, but here’s the truth: The neighbours aren’t part of the Anglosphere.  They  don’t understand or trust us nor we them.  This must change as our  great and powerful friend turns insular. As the plague retreats comes the chance to address anxieties and reboot the relationship.  As the PM says.about flattening Covid-19’s curves – we’re all in this  together.

The Lowy Institute’s 2019  survey shames still:  Almost 60 per cent of Australians polled didn’t know Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy – its status for two decades.
Before Covid-19  more than a million Aussies lazed on Bali beaches every year. Few have been James Cooks exploring  the country they’d invaded and navigating its mysteries.

Lowy’s long-term polling demonstrates ‘the wariness with which Australians and Indonesians regard each other.’  Only one per cent thinks of Indonesia as Australia’s best friend.   That place belongs to NZ.
This year the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies ran another survey.   Get ready to squirm:  Fewer than four per cent of Indonesians feel confident that  Australian leadership could ‘maintain the rules-based order and uphold international law’. 

Only ten per cent would choose Australia as a strategic partner to replace the US.  Almost a third would prefer the European Union and another third Japan – the country that brutally plundered the archipelago and starved its people during World War II.

How can ve be on the nose when we know we’re nice?  Our biggest Embassy in the world in Jakarta is full of busy bureaucrats running arts and grants galore showcasing our goodness.  Sadly few reach into the villages and kampong where most Indonesians live.  

When Covid-19 starts fading there’ll be opportunities to offer testing and tracing services, particularly in the Eastern islands where most aren’t celebrating Ramadan.  In the meantime we can stocktake the hangups and dump those past their use-by date.
The differences between us are wide, long and deep on every register from religion to rights, but as Hamlet told his old mate Rosencrantz: ‘There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’
Thinking the best has been frustrated by many small stupidities  on all sides and three big events: The 1999 East Timor referendum which ousted Indonesian control, the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2015 executions of drug runners Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.  

These wounds still weep; they need dressing and addressing, but can’t be allowed to fester, poisoning our joint future.

Decades ago Murdoch Uni’s Professor David Hill helped start the non-profit Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies.  It still puts Australian students into Indonesian unis where they savour the country and its quirks first hand.  It’s been a splendid though small success, a great model of an achievement by visionaries.

For much of this century Hill and other academics have been baying at the moon-minds  in Canberra, telling them a 40 per cent plunge in Indonesian studies enrolments is bad on every measure, including national security. Six universities closed their Indonesian programs.  The rot continues.  Maybe time for the unis and schools to DIT – do it themselves.

Hill wants Indonesian language and culture teaching restored to its 20th century level. Then we were more curious and less suspicious, encouraged by Paul Keating’s urgings to ‘live in the region ... and find our security in Asia.

No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete.’  

The credibility of the then PM’s convictions was corroded by his closeness to the despot president General Soeharto.  Yet Keating’s mantra is still chanted by his successors, though with little enthusiasm.  Here’s a product needing the marketing skills of a ScoMo.

With education and social issues too complex to handle, governments on both sides have turned to the STDs – security, trade and defence.  All valuable and necessary but not getting through to the pubs in Sydney and warung (roadside foodstalls) in Surabaya where attitudes harden.

This coming 17 August marks the 75th anniversary of founding president Soekarno’s proclamation of independence from the Netherlands.  If Covid-19 hadn’t barged into the tent the celebrations would be wild, heartfelt and prolonged.  The archipelago’s 270 million do ra-ra patriotism almost as well as the Americans.

The Embassy planned to join the cheer and remind that we (and particularly the trade unions) did much to frustrate the Dutch demanding return of their colony after WWII.  It’s a fine story; if better known on both sides of the Arafura Sea it could build a bridge.

This August’s flag-waving will enthuse them and bemuse us.   We know little of the Merdeka!  (freedom) ideology and the emotions that power policies in Jakarta.  Among them is a determination to maintain the ‘unitary state’ and a suspicion of foreigners’ intentions with aid and trade.

Indonesia must also cop blame for the distrusts that foul confidence.  Soeharto could have created another Singapore after he ripped power from the Reds’ friend Soekarno.  He had the chance to be a statesman and nation-builder.  Instead he turned kleptocrat, allegedly stealing an estimated US$35 billion.  

If that was OK for the first family, which still enjoys the fruits of his plunder, then why not the rest?  For the 32-years of Soeharto’s rule KKN – (Korupsi, Kolusi, Nepotisme) thrived and does so today, negating the positives.  

As Australia-Indonesia Business Council President Phil Turtle told a Parliamentary inquiry, the deterrent for Australian investors is “corruption, corruption, corruption.”  Some NGOs argue graft undermines human rights.  They need support.  .

Trade still follows the flag. Turtle’s lobby group has been cheering the completion – after ten years of G-to-G negotiations - of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
Corporates saw the agreement providing profit from an expanding middle class and little else. This free trade deal includes visas for Indonesians similar to those given to European backpackers. Now there’s a chance to try altruism.

Like David Hill, historian Dr Frank Palmos a former foreign correspondent in Jakarta, believes that along with education the best way to stamp out xenophobia is through personal contacts. 

He wants Javanese farmers on work permits to show us how to get the best from our northern waters and soils.  The naysayers will ultimately admit Indonesians are wonderful workers and accept the merger of humour and hard work for which they’re famous,” he said.

Before the pandemic which has so far killed 720 and probably hundreds more as there’s minimal testing, Indonesia – like the US - had the opportunity to boost its health services. It dropped the ball.
Stand back from Covid-19 stats for a moment and glance here: WHO figures show every day about 180 Indonesians die from TB – a preventable disease – and a further 300 from diabetes which can be controlled.  Sicknesses linked to smoking reportedly kill more than a thousand a day.
In these public health areas Australia has an excess of expertise to share.  Some projects are already underway.  There’s room for hundreds more.
When the borders are eventually opened we need floods of Indonesians coming to Australia as visitors, students and backpackers, unconstrained by onerous visa rules not imposed on Malaysians and Singaporeans.  This discrimination  has been attacked long and hard  by Perth’s Indonesia Instutute and its president, Ross Taylor.
And when Australians start flying into Denpasar‘s Ngurah Rai airport again we can use that hub to explore far beyond Bali, discovering strikingly different worlds where we can spread our swags of mateship.  
First published in Pearls 7 Irritations 29 April 2020:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020



Witless vandals defacing the odd Zoom chat room have given repressive states (think Singapore) another excuse to stomp on a development they dread: Technology that’s letting a hundred schools of thought contend. 

Zoom says it has fixed the intruder problem, though this isn’t praising a brand but a system. Whatever platform is used the blessings beat the condemnations, particularly for those outside big cities.

Sure, we’ll miss the occasional drinkies, nibbles and the chance to swap clich├ęd greetings with alleged friends, though not the airfares, hotel bookings, taxis and a score of other wallet drainers.  On-line conferencing will maul the events business but it will save participants a packet and exponentially expand exposure to ideas.

After taking part in several webinars since the lockdown began some nuggets have been gleaned.  Borrowing a clickbaiter trick to lure the naive, here are the Five Top Tips To Zoom Ahead!!!

One – don’t fear the science.  It’s rewarding. Watching aloof academics reveal their keyboard incompetence delivers extreme schadenfreude, or as Greeks say, epicaricacy.

This base emotion gets engorged when the mouse fumblers are the same men (almost always) who sneer at sound guys when mikes fail during the old-fashioned stage events. 

In the sight of the webinar all are equal.  The custodians of exclusive insights aren’t up there staring down like royals; they’re on the same level as the plebs.

Two – abandon PowerPoints.  Or if necessary make them so simple even arts grads can follow.  That means one short headline and a crisp statement.  For guidance watch how the ABC and other TV channels put text on screen.

Trying to decode graphs wrapped with strings of sentences and colored lines forking like frozen lightning across a monitor is a misuse of space.  So are pie charts.  Leave them in the oven.

Likewise reading aloud the info on the slide, a habit dropped by smart users shortly after PP appeared in 1987 and got embraced by lecturers everywhere. Explaining pictures is best done in the nursery teaching toddlers.  Assume participants are adults, particularly if they’re adolescents.  They live on the upside of the digital divide.

Webinars demand attitude upgrades to be effective.  These are evolving, but here’s a certainty for an uncertain world:  Presenters need to be as professional as they were before our assumptions and hopes were shoveled into the Covid-19 cement mixer.

There’s a tendency to treat the technology casually.  Because the star turns are sitting at home unshaved in Rudd-era cardies doesn’t mean they can abandon lucidity for ums and errs.  Wear what you like, but treat the audience as though you’d spruced up physically and mentally for a speech at a five-star shindig or an appearance on Q & A.

Three – watch your back and background.  Press photographers are sly snappers, seeking to frame speakers near EXIT signs, handy when there’s a coup underway.

Another favourite is the halo effect by including a light behind the speaker’s head – a delight to deflate lovers of the bully pulpit. 

In media conferences the pros get below newsmakers to snare the scorn shot.  If peering down at your device you’ll produce the same effect.  The wary put computers atop a box; a bit awkward for keyboarding but they get to eyeball direct.

Laptop cameras can also make the learned who normally feature in book-lined libraries look unlearned at home.  If the show gets tedious, viewers will scan furniture, wall hangings and shelves with the same ferocity reserved for TV hosts’ dress and make-up:   

‘Did you see that couch and those cushions?  No taste, and she’s supposed to be a prof.’

If sitting before a window the lens will respond to the light so a face becomes a dark blob.  No problem if that’s the image you cultivate.

Tell other members of the household you’re online so they don’t burst into the scene in dishabille.  Correction:  Don’t warn others. There’s nothing like a streaker to brighten a boring conference.

Four – start on time.  The punctual are put in a ‘waiting room’ while the organisers scramble to get their act together.  As tech masters they’re supposed to radiate confidence.  If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound then who will to the browser?

Five - Feedback.  Presenters whinge about not feeling the mood of on-line meetings, to draw energy.  Nonsense.  Click on the multiple image button and there we are, hundred of watchers in our lounges and kitchens. 

The protocols of politeness, staying awake and concentrating no longer apply. 
Is the audience riveted or distracted, stroking pussies, picking noses, wandering out for a cuppa, scratching their crutches, doing things they’d never do in public – forgetting they’re in public?  

If that’s what you witness you’re getting feedback in digital spades.  The message says:  Update.

The CHAT feature allows comments while the preachers are waffling so we can tell them they’re spouting nonsense – or revealing wisdoms.  The button marked LEAVE can be clicked without guilt.  Asking others to squash up while muttering apologies about babysitters or parking meters is yesterweek.

Webinars let us speak truth to each other in forums that are democratic.  We’re no longer onlookers but inlookers, pondering the great issues of our troubled times with like minds.


First published in Pearls & Irritations, 21 April 2020:

Monday, April 20, 2020


    Mobocracy rules

The videos are ghastly.  Young men stripped to the waist, roped together in a line, shuffling forward on their knees.  Their bodies are bruised and bloodied, their smashed faces creased with fear.  They’re not just the victims of kampong rough justice – they’re also casualties of the Indonesian government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis.

President Joko Widodo and his Cabinet should have known the consequences of freeing 50,000 prisoners.  The idea was to ease congestion during the Covid-19 crisis and reduce chances of disease clusters forming.  The result has been the release of community fear.

It’s widely WhatsApped that ex-cons have used their unexpected freedom to reprise careers of crime, though years hence sociologists will be testing the veracity of that belief.

The counterpoint is that even if the idlers with dyed hair and tattooed torsos stayed clean once out of jail, their past misdeeds are widely known in a country where privacy is nil. Like Canaan, they are cursed forever.  

Citizens are told to follow the government’s up-down, off-on rules to crimp the pandemic, but don’t trust authorities.  With a few exceptions, the mainstream media is slapdash leaving unsourced social messages as gospel for the gullible.

Many won’t believe there’s a killer disease running amuck.  For those who do it’s a plot to thin out the elderly, devalue the rupiah and set the scene for a coup.

Sickness is obvious - viruses are invisible.  Like the US President, Indonesians need scapegoats.  Orang Tionghoa (ethnic Chinese, about 1.2 per cent of the national population of 270 million) have been targeted by xenophobes since the first traders arrived in the 13th century. 

The rich have bolt holes overseas or fortress mansions in gated suburbs.  More than 1,000 died and 168 rapes were reported during Jakarta riots following the downfall of President Soeharto in 1998.  Since then Chinese shops in unstable zones have installed steel door and window shutters.

Foreigners are also targeted on the basis that strangers bring dangers, but there aren't many left.  Fewer than 3,000 Australians remain.  They’re mostly 'short term travellers' in Bali according to the Embassy, now minus Ambassador Gary Quinlan, safe in Canberra.

Thieves, reformed or reoffending, are not so hard to spot as they’re rootless.  They can be caught and bashed to show how crime should be handled.

In a well-ordered society, the police would be called when alleged wrongdoers are snared by vigilantes.  That seldom happens. An old proverb warns:  Report the theft of a goat and lose a cow.   

Transparency International Indonesia surveys show the police rank fifth on the corruption index. Top are politicians followed by public servants, regional councillors and tax officials.

Before some prison gates were partly opened the roll call was 270,000 felons and beds for around half.  The latest jail uproar was this month in Manado (North Sulawesi) as fear of Covid-19 triggered an attempted breakout.

About 100 in every hundred thousand Indonesians are behind bars.  That’s low compared with the neighbours - Australia 170, Malaysia 230 and Singapore 200.  That doesn’t mean Indonesians are law abiding; it’s more a measure of slack policing and criminals’ ability to buy their way out of trouble.

It’s easy to criticize the world’s fourth most populous nation for appalling administration and what Westerners consider irrational behaviours, so time to give thanks for large mercies.

There are no gun shops or booze barns.  Firearms are seldom used in robberies and drunks are rare outside Bali (mainly ugly Okkers) and the small Christian-majority provinces.  If Indonesia was like weapon-mad America or grog-crazed Australia (where the sale of alcohol is deemed an ‘essential service’) then this country would be a frightful place.

Another blessing:  Science education is poorly taught and school labs primitive. Bomb makers openly buying exotic chemicals show their hands - then lose them through premature explosions.

There’s no way of knowing whether the crook-bashing videos are current or even factual.  That would be important in a rational discussion but the dark ages are returning coupled with the feral theories that swamp reason.

Think of Salem and worthies pursuing witches.  That gives some understanding of the Indonesian practice of ‘sweeping’, frequently choreographed by agents provocateurs. 

Gangs of sanctimonious hoons clad in religious garb – usually white to pretend they’re divinely driven - storm hotels, dormitories and meetings where infidels may be lurking.

Foremost among the stirrers is the hardline Front Pembela (Defenders) Islam formed in 1998 by religious leaders and military men to turn Indonesia into a sharia (Islamic law) state.  It claims seven million members though that figure is suspect.

In 2016 the FPI mustered a 500,000-strong mob howling for the elected Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama to be charged with blasphemy.  The ethnic Chinese Christian spent two years in jail.

Although sweepings are irregular, fanatics favour the holy fasting month of Ramadan, starting 23 April and climaxing with Idul Fitri on 24 May.  There have already been threats to ‘sweep’ Indians following reports of discrimination against Muslims on the subcontinent.

Although not sanctioned by police the bullies are often ignored.  Past targets have included Communism, drugs, alcohol, ‘free sex’ (unmarried couples living together) and bestiality – meaning homosexuality.  The fear now is that Covid-19 will be an excuse for new eruptions of hate.

Beyond a locked gate where this column is winding down, the Rukun Tetangga (elected community leader) has stamped his foot.  Street security cameras are being repaired, the satpam (security guard) has been told to step up patrols and all non-residents' vehicles banned.

These measures won’t do more than divert beggars for a few weeks till the satpam returns to dozing before his TV.  Crims on the loose are unlikely to be deterred.

Meanwhile in his palace, the decisively indecisive President has reversed an order to keep citizens in the dark about Covid-19 stats and told bureaucrats to be honest and open.

That’s something they haven’t done since the Republic was proclaimed, 75 years ago this coming 17 August.  Had it been otherwise the nation wouldn’t be ranked 85th on TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

First published in Pearls and Irritations 20 April 2020:

Monday, April 13, 2020


 But the dead are many

Indonesia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic makes a train wreck seem structured.  The fourth most populous nation has next to no testing, no info, no direction – and most important of all – no trust. Such is the legacy of authoritarianism.

The population of Malang is nudging Adelaide’s 1.3 million. The South Australian capital has more than 60 ‘funeral homes’ – the Central East Java city just two.  They’re quite unlike their Western equivalents – no faux solemnity, just functionality.

Yayasan Gotong Royong (Mutual Aid Foundation) caters for non-Muslims.  Islamic funerals are DIY family and community affairs using local graveyards where body-trolleys are kept on site.

YGR’s centerpiece is an octagonal warehouse, each wedge designed to be opened so up to eight viewings can take place simultaneously.  It has the tiled ambience of an old public lavatory.

The body of my wife’s friend arrived at YGR around 10 am.  She was buried three hours later. It was assumed she’d died from an ill-defined sickness which had put her in hospital.  We’ll never know because there was no autopsy.

This is the pattern across the archipelago of 6,000 inhabited islands.  In normal times around 4,800 die daily.  Now some may be victims of Covid-19.  Few facts are gathered so health authorities don’t know whether new plagues are on the loose.

Smart Reuters’ journos fossicking through cemetery stats in Jakarta found a 40 per cent boost in burials. City Governor Anies Baswedan reacted: ‘It’s extremely disturbing; I’m struggling to find another reason than unreported Covid-19 deaths.’

In the same week Indonesia R & B singer Glenn Fredly died, apparently from meningitis.  Fans swamped the open coffin jostling for space to take snaps, stopping the lid being lowered for several minutes. 

Here social distancing is measured in millimeters though the latest rule in Jakarta is a limit of five per group and – at last – a partial shutdown in the capital.  Masks are often removed because they raise sweat in the tropical heat. 

Even if it was known my wife’s friend had died from coronavirus her widower would have kept mum; gangs have been stopping burials of Covid19 victims even though religious leaders appeal for tolerance saying plastic-wrapped corpses aren’t contagious. 

The figures are 3,842 cases confirmed, 327 deaths and just 286 recoveries.  Data from the Monarchy next door exposes the grim state of health care in the Republic.  Although more than 4,500 Malaysians have the disease, just 73 have died.  Impressively almost 2,000 have pulled through. 

Testing in Indonesia is slow – more people are checked in a day in NZ than the past month in Indonesia.

With no concerted attempts to spread facts, myths have multiplied faster than the pathogens.  Top rater is the WHO-China international conspiracy theory as endorsed by Fox News commentators.  Demagogues are also doing well.  

Fermenting among the indifference and cynicism is concern the virus will ramp prices.  That’s already happening with garlic, onions and other vegetables deemed essential.  This tangible threat could rouse more anger than the invisible sickness and lead to a breakdown in social order.  The next step would be the military taking over from a weak civil administration.

Public health experts are the new prophets consulting data rather than planets and parchments, though frequently failing to explain their reasoning with clarity.  This has left many preferring the simplistic claptrap of seers wearing skullcaps to the mumbo jumbo of guys in lab coats.

Commented Endy Bayuni, former editor of The Jakarta Post: ‘The government needs professional help … on conveying messages related to Covid-19 without triggering massive panic but without misleading the public to take it easy either.  Crisis management of this scale is too big to be left to a bunch of amateurs.’

Epidemiologists’ statististque du jour is 140,000 deaths if no meaningful intervention.   This is a ghastly scenario – more than the current world-wide toll.  However it’s far less than the estimated half million Indonesians who died in the 1965-66 purge of leftists by Army-backed militias, turning the Republic away from communism and into a crooks’ playground.

Most early plague doomsayers have been foreigners so easily dismissed by bigots like Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto. He’s a Christian and retired lieutenant general Army doctor who originally prescribed prayer as a Covid-19 prophylactic.  

When Harvard public health analysts claimed Indonesia had undetected cases and should get its skates on, Putranto said the report was ‘insulting’ and the nation well prepared.  Unsurprisingly most trusted US university research.

Now local scientists are getting alarmed. Dr Pandu Riono of the University of Indonesia’s Department of Biostatistics and Population used an Australian webinar last week to publicly plead for President Joko Widodo to understand the seriousness of the situation and ‘respond as the head of the nation.’

Politicians can get stuck into their colleagues but a public institution employee bumping the president is risky in an unsteady democracy where lese majeste laws are edging closer.   

Even the ABC has been slack.  For six nights running this month its one-hour flagship 46-countries TV news program The World ignored the Southeast Asia giant’s plight while focusing on lands elsewhere.

Before the pandemic Widodo paraded a team of Gen Z luminaries he’d consult to reach the nation’s youth.  As predicted in an earlier column they’ve been elbowed away from the cameras by the gerontocracy.

Eventually Widodo admitted treating his people like mushrooms by following the father-knows-best strategy of second president Soeharto during his 32-year militaristic regime.

As few believed anything the government said they whispered scuttlebutt.  Newsmags faxed from abroad were furtively copied and passed around.  

Now platforms aren’t just for trains but cyberspaces where everyone has their own PA system to shout out facts and falsehoods.  The view that secrets can still be contained and cock-and-bulls not fill the void showed stark naivety.

Widodo confessed to the media: ‘We didn’t deliver certain (Covid-19) information to the public because we did not want to stir panic. 

“We will inform the public eventually. However, we have to think of the possibility that the public will react by panicking or worrying, as well as the effect on the recovered patients. Every country has different policies.’

Indeed – and Indonesia’s responses are among the worst. 

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 13 April 2020:

Tuesday, April 07, 2020


Not a model land

Curious about life as a sheep? Visit Incredible Indonesia, as the tourist promos once hollered.

At domestic airports passengers are herded through a full-body drenching like the spray races used by Australian cockies to kill sheep lice.  The bleaters then get scanned with a device like an ear-tag code reader.

Fortunately the authorities aren’t using arsenic plunge dips, once the standard treatment for the woolies’ parasites, or snipping lumps out of ears to mark brands.

Cars leaving cities also get a washdown.  There’s little evidence these procedures frighten Covid-19 germs but presumably comfort some into believing the government has the pandemic under control.

It doesn’t.  The latest modeling suggests the Indonesian death toll could match the US, now the most stricken nation.   Yet the Australian media has so far focused more on the Big Apple than the Big Durian.

Indonesia currently has one of the highest Case Fatality Rates in the world – nudging ten per cent.  A report in The Lancet medical journal estimates the CFR in China where the outbreak began at 1.38 per cent across all age groups.

Few Indonesians are being tested in a country where kits are limited along with facilities to accurately check results.  Only 240 of the gold standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are being performed every day according to the Health Ministry.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil told the local media: ‘I’m convinced that the number of cases is many times over the current figure. But because we haven't tested that many people the data shows only a fraction.’

The government has not been open with its citizens. A public health emergency was declared at the end of March.  This was four weeks after the first cases were confirmed.  People were then urged to pray to keep the plague at bay.

President Joko Widodo has rebuffed calls for a lockdown, instead urging all to stay home, an instruction widely ignored. Crowds fill markets and shops and the roads remain busy, though less jammed than a month ago.  Social distancing is rarely seen outside formal institutions like banks and government offices.

The latest figures from Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Centre show Indonesia has 2,273 confirmed cases and 198 deaths.  Most have been in Jakarta where policy conflict between Governor Anies Baswedan and Widodo has been open and acerbic. 

City prohibitions have been overturned by the national government leaving locals not knowing whether they’re Artha or Mawar.  Intercity buses were stopped – then let loose.  Toll roads were closed, and then opened.

A World Bank report claims only one in five Indonesians have enough cash to survive the crisis. Around 25 million – that’s the population of Australia – live on AUD 1.70 a day.  A just introduced ‘staple food’ programme should keep the most needy alive.

The government has allocated Rp 405.1 trillion (AUD 41 billion) to what Widodo has reportedly labeled as ‘extraordinary measures to ensure the people’s health, safeguard the national economy and (ensure) financial system stability’.  

By comparison Australia, with a population one eleventh of the Republic’s, is spending five times more - AUD 226.6 billion (including State inputs) plus AUD 105 billion from Reserve Bank loans.

The Jakarta cashflow favours ‘economic recovery’ (Rp 150 trillion) ahead of health which gets only half the handout though the need is acute.  Australia’s ambassador Gary Quinlan warned stayputs that ‘critical medical care in Indonesia is significantly below Australian standards.’

That was diplomatic.  While the fluro-saturated private clinics look much like their Western counterparts, public hospitals’ waiting rooms are ill-lit, overcrowded, chaotic and clogged by petty procedures.   Doctors ‘forgetting’ appointments are commonplace as they often work two jobs.

Massaging data can cause blindness, but these stark stats from the World Bank reveal much:  In Indonesia 25 per thousand live births never survive to pre-school.  The Singapore figure is 2.8.  It’s a 45-minute ferry ride between the two countries.

Apart from public health decision makers, when this is all over foremost among the pandemic’s casualties should be unconstrained business boosters.  Last year Indonesia was unreservedly touted as the place to sow investments and reap massive profits as the rising middle class hungered for Western foods and goods.

Now the dollars are fleeing fast says Roland Rajah. The Lowy Institute’s International Economy Program director wrote in the AFR that more than AUD 16.5 billion has departed the archipelago since late January while the rupiah has tumbled 15 per cent:

‘Indonesia’s vulnerability is its reliance on capital inflows and evaporating commodity demand, combined with $US410 billion in external debt, mostly in US dollars. 

‘Adding a failure to control the virus would create an even more dangerous cocktail – prompting capital outflows to accelerate and deepening a vicious cycle of falling growth, a plunging exchange rate, and ballooning debt.’

The figures above show the virus is not being controlled.

Then there’s the blame game. In ‘normal’ times Indonesians are friendly towards outsiders.  At times of stress we’re easy targets.  Just like Asians in Australia.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is reportedly receiving large numbers of complaints from Asians alleging racial discrimination related to Covid-19.  Scapegoating is a bastardly response to a borderless plague but at least Canberra is concerned.

There’s no HRC statutory equivalent in Indonesia so no place to protest.  Cop abuse? Cop it sweet.

North Sulawesi province is overwhelmingly Protestant and preparing for Easter, a time of hope.  That didn’t stop slurs from villagers and a furious rant from a senior minister denouncing this journalist from Java a harbinger of the plague.

The synod head had preached that Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness showed self-isolation has Biblical authority. He wasn’t prepared to discuss the story of Christ touching lepers. 

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 7 April 2020: