North Australia: Different cultures, common dreams

ABC Darwin
25 June 2008

The second session of the afternoon at the North Australia Forum looked at north Australia's place in the Asia Pacific neighbourhood.

Among the speakers was East Timorese president Jose Ramos Horta, who says that he was struck a few years ago by a conversation he had with Melbourne Lord Mayer John So.

"He had a very Chinese accent," says Mr Ramos Horta. "I thought what a transformation Australia has been through - 20 or 30 years ago he would not have been elected. I think Australia in general is changing dramatically and will change more inevitably."

Mr Ramos Horta says he has doubts about the concept of Darwin becoming Australia's "gateway to Asia", a proposition that was enthusiastically promoted by NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson during the "Leader's Vision" session.

"There are a number of 'ifs', and the ifs have to do with population," says Mr Ramos Horta. "You have 200,000 people... will you be able to convince people to move [to Darwin]?"

"It needs population, it needs more diversity, it needs creativity," says Mr Ramos Horta. "I know you have all that."

Mr Ramos Horta also echoed calls from the "Leader's Vision" session for Australia to do more to help it's northern neighbours.

"It is in Australia's interest to do more to enhance our economies," he says.

"I want Timorese students coming here for their vocational training," says Mr Ramos Horta. "I want to see hundreds of Timorese youth coming to Australia. At the moment we have 12."

He says that funding for East Timor has increased under Kevin Rudd, but Australia still seems reluctant to accept students and guest workers from the country.

"One thing I don't understand is why you are so resistant to guest workers coming from the region when you have lazy guest workers coming from England," jokes Mr Ramos Horta.

Indonesian political and social commentator Wimar Witoelar says the situation is the same for Indonesian students.

"I don't get the impression that the Australian Government is inviting them openly," he says.

"I kind of understand the reasons because Indonesians have been trouble makers," says Mr Witoelar. "Many of those students who came here from Indonesia [under the Columbo plan] did not perform well academically."

He says that there are opportunities for northern Australia and eastern Indonesia to cooperate.

"Both northern Australia and eastern Indonesia are both areas which are away from the centre," says Mr Witoelar. "Areas which are away from the centre get much less attention than they deserve. You could have synergy there."

Mr Ramos Horta says East Timorese people have been working overseas successfully in other countries.

"We have many hundreds of Timorese workers in Portugal," he says. "Now we have a group going to Korea, the Koreans are very happy with them."

The workers in Korea get 00 month as well as food and board, which is more than the salary of a Timorese cabinet minister.

"It's not just about the money for us," says Mr Ramos Horta. He says that in the next two years East Timor will have an economic boom because of the need to build infrastructure, which will be funded by low interest loans from Kuwait and Japan.

"For these projects, in the near future we will need people with skills so having people studying in Australia and working in Australia will benefit East Timor later on," he says.

Wimar Witoelar says that with recent changes in the country there are opportunities for Indonesia to engage with its neighbours in the region.

"It would be attractive to engage with Australia in a new way and, I keep emphasising, Timorleste," he says. "We still haven't come to terms with our historical debt."

The ABC's Director of International Operations Murray Green says that the ABC is trying to establish a dialogue with other countries in the region.

"A decade ago Radio Australia lost some of it's transmitting capacity, by way of short wave, into Indonesia and South East Asia," says Mr Green. "We are now working with local FM stations who are rebroadcasting [Radio Australia]."

"Our concern really is to develop partnerships with existing stations," he says. "We're about to sign some agreements in Indonesia."

He says the Australia [television] Network is broadcasting to a huge footprint across the region.

"In some places we're doing particularly well," says Mr Murray. "Currently, in the six major cities in India, Australia Network has a greater reach than either CNN or BBC World."

"We are very keen to look at the possibility of extending Radio Australia's language service into perhaps Korean and Burmese," he says.

He says the ABC's regional networks do face significant challenges.

"The notion of actually having a news service that is accurate, that is fair and that is impartial.... these are values that in some places are highly contested," says Mr Green. In some countries the Australia Network is delayed so that the local authorities can review the station and block any broadcasts they don't like.

"We don't like that," says Mr Green, but the network is there to promote an international conversation and "the alternative is not to have any conversation".

He says Australia has a lot of ground to make up.

"In many cases Australia has had a position which is not really exemplary in not wanting to learn from other cultures," he says. The ABC is now working with broadcasters in other countries to "build capacity" and encourage a strong media which can hold governments to account.

Wimar Witoelar says that the media in Indonesia has undergone radical change from being strictly controlled to being almost completely free.

"You can say anything - and that also generates a lot of things you don't rally need to hear," he says. "It's very noisy but we still rejoice because that is the voice of freedom."

Mr Ramos Horta points out that there are "many in developing countries who resent the Australian media ".

"We get [on] the news when there is a house burning, or rock throwing or when there is people killing each other," he says. There have been amazing achievements over the last two years which have not been reported.

He says that international media "create a perception that everything is bad... in our countries".

However he is a strong supporter of having a "critical media". He says that a report from Reporters Without Borders, issued before the changes in Indonesia, cited East Timor as having the freest media in South East Asia.

A member of the audience asked Jose Ramos Horta whether East Timor would be opening to tourism any time soon.

"Tourism has obviously a great potential in East Timor," says Mr Ramos Horta, "but every time we begin to think about tourism some problem happens."

"We are not in a hurry, we have to address some real problems beside security," he says.

Security is not the biggest problem in the country, as a recent survey comparing crime across the region showed.

"Timor has the lowest crime per 100,000 people - lower than Australia and New Zealand," says Mr Ramos Horta.

"There are more than 1000 Australian nationals living in East Timor," he says. "In the worst of the violence in 2006 not a foreigner was touched except for a Brazilian missionary... who was mistaken for an East Timorese."

There are, however, issues that need to be addressed.

"We have a few years of public education, public health before we can promote tourism," says Mr Ramos Horta.

Another question asked whether East Timor had considered opening an Honorary Consulate in Darwin.

"We do intend to open a diplomatic consulate in Darwin - not just an honorary consul," says Mr Ramos Horta. "The workload is too much to impose on an honorary consul - unless he is so rich that he has too much money and not much to do."

The final question was about the rise of China in the region. Mr Witoelar says that Indonesia is very well disposed to China.

"There are no negative feelings," he says. "The Chinese emergence is quite welcome in Indonesia."

Taken from ABC Darwin

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  1. From albertus on 27 June 2008 11:54:15 WIB
    It is sad to know that while our country is close geographically, it is nowhere as close in relations. It is 'warm' at best.

    Both Indonesia and Australia can benefit greatly from cooperation (economic or others). However, prejudices from both side often prevented such 'closeness'.

    The barrier must be tackled.. it is not easy, but will be extremely rewarding.
  2. From Bram on 28 June 2008 09:13:36 WIB
    I think it's time for both governments to look into its rural and least developed areas. If the Western Indonesia and the Malay Archipelago have about the same culture, the Malay culture, then the Eastern Indonesia, East Timor, Northern Territory and other countries in the Pacific have the same culture, Aboriginal culture. Hence, through the same culture, I hope that Indonesia could improve the realtions with both Australia and Timor Leste.
  3. From gagahput3ra on 04 July 2008 13:46:50 WIB
    I agree with Mr. Albertus on this subject. Most Indonesian right now have prejudice to Australian and Malaysian as enemy, mostly because almost every media exposure about the relationship between these 2 countries and our country are always about hatred, violation, or unfair treatment. For example, i have a sister that go to college in Malaysia, but i never heard, in our mainstream media, news about the life of students in Malaysia. Before my sister got accepted in Malaysia, the only thing i know about life of Indonesian in Malaysia is our workers there, who regularly get unfair treatment from the government.

    We have the same, common dreams about relationship between these three countries. But all dreams will be useless if there's no single action taken in public and media relation management. If we can't understand our neighbour very much, how can we, at the very least dream about living peacefully with them? That's like dreaming of rain comes out from rainbow. :D
  4. From Isye Trombine on 19 July 2008 06:41:49 WIB
    It is great to know if both countries like Australia and Indonesia could think and consider how to develop their region closely. You know the geography confirmed that we both are close but it feels like we are far each other.

    If we talk how both countries appreciate each other then we could automatically think about Bali, how Bali has built its relation to Australia.......... its really successful even bomb attacking damage little bit, however the way done by Bali it can be pattern by other region in Indonesia once they need to develop communication with Australia.

    Talk about East Indonesia especially NTT, its really close to Darwin - Asutralia why both countries do not see the huge opportunity will come..... as Indonesian people I jut think how silly we are as not to use this opportunity..... air flight from Kupang to Darwin was closed...... only traditional boat on to Darwin....... I wish many student from Flores - NTT come o Darwin take any experince there and come back to NTT to develop this region......

    The question is..... Please Indonesia government ...... if you think to build Java and jakarta only please go ahead but please provide good transportation Kupang to Darwin then your people in NTT Flores will get huge advantage rather than they go to Java spending alot of money for studying but in the end useless.

  5. From Jets on 03 August 2008 20:26:21 WIB
    Relationships are important and develop from steady state. One of the things that can get in the way of this relates to changes in government policies and relationships (internationally) between governments where they change and impact upon what has developed and been applied.

    North Australia is presented with numerous challenges and opportunities because it is close to Asia and the associated links to the global community.

    Security strategists have referred to an "arc of instability" extending from Indonesia to Papua New Guinea and into the South Pacific.

    Whereas Australia might have once hoped for a security shield to its north, now there exist a group of vulnerable territories to which Australian lends support. They include East Timor, Indonesia’s Papua province, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and most recently Tonga.

    In trade terms, North Australia’s proximity to other, booming Asian markets means advantages in terms of freight costs, freight lead-times and minimum stockpile requirements. There are also proximity benefits for promotional marketing.

    As a tourist attraction (especially within the burgeoning Asian market) North Australia has a wealth of natural features, with tourism a major contributor to local economies. 13 per cent of Australian tourism visitor nights are spent in North Australia, with about two thirds of these in Northern Queensland.

    Not only does North Australia cover the top half of a continent, it is now central in any discussion about Australia’s future — whether we are talking about water, mining resources, indigenous affairs, population shifts or trade and relations with our Asian neighbours.

    With its size, and with so many untapped possibilities North Australia can appear a vast, isolated and mysterious void — but this would be to discount a richness of culture and history, extensive scientific and technical knowledge, and thousands of years of accumulated indigenous expertise and other skills relevant to livelihood in this unique region.

    One more thing, I admire President Ramos-Horta and the up-hill battle he has to create a modern society out of his relatively new nation, Timor-Leste. However, he did seem ungrateful for Australia's support of his country by complaining about Australia's rejection of Timorese students studying in Australia. He could have avoided that if he outlined his vision of Timor-Leste and then linked it with what other countries are doing to support the vision, then say how disappointed he was that Australia has not accepted Timorese students into universities.

  6. From Mobin on 25 September 2008 03:57:11 WIB
    Australia is probably one of the most exotic and fascinating travel destinations at all for one thing because of its location in the southern hemisphere of our planet and for another because of the beauty and peculiarity of its nature. We dipped into the world of Down Under with its exotic vegetation and wildlife, experienced luxuriant, ancient, tropical and subtropical rainforests, the fascinating underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef, miles long dreamlike beaches, the infinite expanse of the outback in the heart of the continent with red sandy deserts, steppes and savannahs, but also fascinating metropolises, such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.


  7. From Risma on 24 December 2008 04:07:42 WIB
    Yes I do agree Indonesia especially NTT province have to have more close relationship with Australia. As a Timorese living in Kupang I know Indonesian government do not give same development portion as in Java island. I am so sad as well as fed up. Remember, Indonesia is not only Java or Sumatra. So please give more attention to NTT and other eastern Indonesian provinces...otherwise.... ( I can't express it..)

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