Advance Connect : The closest of neighbours

The Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, His Excellency Mr Gary Quinlan AO, shared on-the-ground insights into the maturing relationship between Australia and Indonesia with the recent commencement of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA).  With COVID-19 impacting health and economic trajectories in both nations, Ambassador Quinlan outlined areas for collaboration, investment and innovation.

Introducing the Ambassador, board member and respected restaurateur, Michelle Garnaut AO, noted his involvement across significant pillars of Australian international affairs including ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, negotiations with Timor-Leste, the United Nations, and the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, prior to his role as the Ambassador to Indonesia.

The rise of Covid19

As Australia navigates the second wave of Covid19 infections, Indonesia is facing a surge in cases. There are now over 115,000 cases, and more than 5000 deaths. Ambassador Quinlan elaborated on the resilience, and vulnerabilities, of Indonesia as it confronts this pandemic. Noting the positive influence of community and religious organisations, the relatively young population (with a median age of 30 yrs), and two decades of strong economic growth (averaging 5% GDP annual growth) Indonesian society had some protective factors going into the pandemic.

Unfortunately Indonesia’s geographic reality – an archipelago nation with its most populated island, Java,  being one of the most densely populated places in the world – has thwarted contact-tracing and social distancing efforts. Under-reporting of cases, difficulty in enabling widespread testing, and the decision to have a light-touch lockdown, have also contributed to the rising numbers. Finally, a media narrative focused on finding a vaccine and individuals under-estimating the risks of becoming infected have hampered the response. 

Economic impact

The economic impact has been swift and severe, with Ambassador Quinlan noting Indonesia’s economy contracted by 5 per cent in the second quarter, with flow on effects for unemployment (particularly as up to 60% of the workforce are in the informal economy), and poverty levels which have risen from 9.2% (pre-Covid) to 12% and rising. With these factors posing a serious drag on the economy, the Indonesian government has been under pressure to stimulate the economy while also keeping debt levels in check. It has responded with stimulus spending including welfare payments, tax incentives and support for small and micro businesses that have pushed the budget deficit towards 7%.

Australia’s role 

In the face of this difficult outlook for Indonesia, Ambassador Quinlan emphasised the strong role for Australia in supporting its economic recovery. Coinciding with IA-CEPA entering into force in July 2020, the framework for collaboration and strategic investment in specific sectors exists.

Key areas for mutually-beneficial investment include:

  • Supply chain management to support Indonesia’s response to global companies looking to diversify supply chains, particularly in pharmaceuticals
  • Vocational training to increase workforce skills, and increased people flows through the ‘work and holiday’ visa, and programs for tertiary and non-tertiary graduates to gain experience in Australia
  • Food innovation to support food security and adapt to ecological changes

Australia also has a strong foundation for research collaboration, development programs and most recently, increased cyber cooperation with Indonesia. 

The Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Ken Allen AM, reflected on his own experience with the World Bank in Indonesia in the mid-70s and reinforced the critical importance of Indonesia for Australia. He shared his high regard for Ambassador Quinlan as an ‘agent for change’ and a long time supporter of 

Noting that Indonesia is considered to be one of the most significant postings in the diplomatic world, we were delighted to hear Ambassador Quinlan’s perspective and commitment to strengthening Australia’s ties with Indonesia.

Further information

  • World Bank – “Indonesia: The Long Road to Recovery” Report > More
  • Keeping Indonesia’s economy afloat through the COVID-19 pandemic > More
  • Will IA-CEPA be the boost to Australia-Indonesia relations leaders are banking > More
  • 70 million informal workers most vulnerable during pandemic – Business > More
  • Survey: Majority of Surabaya Residents Are likely to Assume Threat Affected by Covid-19 > More

Performance featured

The music played while guests are gathering and at the end of the roundtable is Ratoh Duek – a traditional piece performed by Gondwana Choirs. Founded in 1997, Gondwana Voices is Australia’s national choir for treble singers aged 10-17. The ensemble has built an international reputation for performances of outstanding musicianship, specializing in contemporary Australian repertoire. This concert was filmed in January 2015 at Verbrugghen Hall in Sydney. This concert is the culmination of a two week National Choral School, which includes Gondwana’s other choirs and offers an intensive two weeks of rehearsals, performances and workshops with the leading figures in Australian choral music.