Australia and Indonesia: Has The Longstanding Relationship Been Compromised?

Words By: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Image Credit: ABC News

Australia’s geographical proximity to Asia has resulted in its contribution to Asia’s growing tourism industry. In the past year, international trips taken from Australia soared to a record of 8.4 million, with Indonesia sitting fairly atop on the list of countries that were visited.

Western Australia, especially, has formed a strong bond with its closest Southeast Asian neighbour, Indonesia. The island of Bali is a favourite vacation spot for Western Australians, being considerably closer and less expensive than the other Australian capital cities like Melbourne or Sydney. Bali’s Ngurah Rai International airport, more commonly known as Denpasar, welcomes hundreds of West Australians every week, most of them on their annual, bi-annual or monthly holiday. This is understandable, since Bali’s iconic rice paddies, coral reefs and beaches make for what is usually described as a tropical paradise.

In light of the recent executions of Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan at the hands of the Indonesian government, the question has arisen as to whether or not this love affair of a relationship between WA and Bali is compromised. Reactions have ranged from deeply affected to noncommittal.

The campaign to #BoycottBali exploded on social media, discouraging Australians (West Australians in particular) to cancel their vacations to Bali. #BoycottBali was initiated by a former inmate of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, Paul Conibeer, who stated that Indonesia was already a “corrupt country” and that “the only thing Indonesia understands is money, and if we start taking dollars away from them it will hurt them.”

Indonesia has since retaliated with #BoycottAustralia, wherein enraged Indonesians hit back on #BoycottBali tweets essentially saying “Go away Australians,” calling Aussies out on their drunken behaviour, a few Twitter users citing Australia’s coming first in the United Nations 2014 report for recreational drug use.

This may all perhaps be nothing more than sound and fury, but this is certainly not the first time WA has been hurt by Indonesia’s actions. The Bali bombings of 2002 in Kuta killed 202 people, 88 of whom were Australians, 16 of them West Australians. Many of the bombing victims were treated at the Royal Perth Hospital, and yet despite the threat of terrorism, there was a clear public call for Australians not to abandon Indonesia and to support its tourism trade.

Similarly, despite the initial outrage at the executions of Sukumaran and Chan, it appears that the majority of Australians are ready to move on and forget the shock of Bali Nine, as polls taken around the country show.  The practical aspects of the Australia-Indonesia relationship continue to move forward, as tourists and live cattle continue their journeys northward, unhindered by recent political matters. This week’s Essential Report reveals that Australians’ attitudes towards Indonesia remain unchanged.

Sammie Thake is a marine conservationist who spends most of her time in Bali and consequently is an authority on the mindset of the Balinese people. She believes that the act of boycotting Bali affects the lives of the Balinese people and not as much the Indonesian government, since the youth of Bali’s villages move into the city when they come of age to work to support their families.

She believes that the ire should be directed at the government, if it should be directed at all, other than the island on which the executions took place. She adds that about 87% of the Balinese people are Hindu, and several of them do not believe in the death penalty.

“I don’t think the impact of the shooting of the two drug dealers will have as great of an impact as the Bali bombings did,” she says. “I am predicting within two months, Bali will regain its normal tourism levels. The media only reminds the public of these things while they’re hot and happening, and now that it’s done, people are quick to forget.”