Australia-Indonesia Institute 25th Anniversary

Excellencies, Ibu Kusuma - who has become a very dear colleague and friend and the Chargé of Indonesia, Members of Parliament and Senators, Professor Tim Lindsay and the board, ladies and gentleman. Friends of Australia, friends of Indonesia.

It's my great pleasure to be here this evening to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Australia-Indonesia Institute. For a quarter of a century the Institute has been bringing Australians and Indonesians closer together, helping us to get to know and understand one another.

And tonight I thank the Institute and its board members, past and present, for the valuable contribution they've made to the life of both our nations.

And I am delighted to meet the students, teachers, academics, business leaders, journalists, writers, diplomats, parliamentarians, artists, musicians Australians and Indonesians, all part of the rich tapestry of connections between our two countries.

These connections exist beyond the worlds of politics and diplomacy, or trade and economic development. Personal relationships transcend all others. Nowhere is that more evident than in our young people. The Institute's Youth Exchange Program has created a cadre of over one thousand young people in Australia and Indonesia who care deeply about each other, each other's cultures, and they've got to know each other's families, and friends and home lives. I welcome the many AIYEP alumni here tonight.

Then there's the Institute's contribution to interfaith understanding - that's been highly significant. The Muslim Exchange Program, which then Prime Minister Howard announced during his visit to Jakarta in February 2002 is an opportunity for young Australian Muslims to see firsthand the tolerant, moderate and accommodating nature of Indonesian Islam and Indonesian Muslim leaders can witness the diversity of Australian Islam, and the harmony and richness of our multicultural society.

I welcome tonight this year's MEP leaders visiting Australia for the first time and I acknowledge the eminent scholars who have made this program a highly-regarded interfaith activity.

The BRIDGE school partnerships program is another jewel in the Institute's crown. We have already met some of the students and teachers from among the 120,000 students in BRIDGE schools across Australia and Indonesia.

The media in both countries can have a significant impact on bilateral relations, albeit sometimes negative. The Institute's annual Senior Editors' Meeting has built a dialogue between media luminaries on both sides and I am pleased a number of Indonesian media representatives are covering this anniversary, including the winners of the prestigious Adam Malik Prize. And I enjoyed a very robust interview with about eight Indonesian journalists in my office this afternoon.

Indonesia's transformation since the establishment of the Institute in 1989 has been extraordinary. Today it is an emerging power with regional and global interests and influence. Its middle-class has grown exponentially. In 1990, just one year after the Institute was established, 85 per cent of the Indonesian population lived on less than two dollars per day. Today, that has just about halved. Indonesia is already the world's 10th largest economy.

In the years since the Institute was founded, Indonesia has embraced democracy. Indeed, the World Bank has named it 'the election capital of the world'. In April, in one of the world's largest democratic processes, Indonesians elected more than twenty thousand representatives in national and regional parliaments across the archipelago.

Next month, Indonesians will directly elect their next president. Indonesia has embraced and embedded democracy.

And Indonesians have certainly embraced social media. There are many more Facebook and Twitter users in Indonesia than the entire population of Australia.

And I was told by Twitter at their headquarters in San Francisco recently, that Jakarta residents are the world's most active tweeters. Jakarta above all others in the world!

Australia too has changed since 1989. As a nation, we are secure with our place in the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific region. We are an active member of the East Asia Summit, alongside our ten ASEAN neighbours.

And our economy is enmeshed with our region. We have promoted free trade and we are more engaged with the rest of the world than we ever have been.

And just as both of our nations have evolved, so too has our relationship. We share a place in the world's most dynamic region.

We share common strategic and economic interests and face the same big opportunities and the same challenges. When we bring our respective voices to the table, when we speak in one voice in forums like the G20 and the East Asia Summit - as we often do - the world listens.

Our trade and investment ties are growing. Australian investment in Indonesia totalled nearly $10 billion last year. Two-way trade was worth $14.9 billion in 2013, making Indonesia Australia's 12th largest trade partner. And I welcome tonight Pak Suryo Sulisto, Chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Our governments are also working collaboratively in more than sixty different fields – economic, educational, technical, health, scientific, law enforcement, defence, intelligence, security and many, many others.

While the relationship has experienced difficulties in recent times, both governments are committed to resolving them. For this relationship matters.

I am in regular telephone contact, in fact texting contact, with my counterpart Dr Marty Natalegawa. Since I became Foreign Minister last September, Marty and I have met on at least nine occasions, for one-on-one substantial meetings, most recently last April.

I was delighted to welcome my friend and colleague Ambassador Nadjib back to Canberra last week. Ambassador Nadjib can't be with us tonight, for he is back in Indonesia already, for the meeting in Batam between our Prime Minister and President Yudhoyono that's taking place this afternoon. And I am confident, at that meeting, that our leaders will reiterate at that meeting, this relationship is far greater than any single issue.

And I am confident that our relationship will strengthen, and broaden and deepen.

That said, the latest Lowy polling released today tells us that our two nations still have much work to do to understand and engage each other, and to make the most of our good fortune being located in one of the world's largest and most dynamic regions.

There is much more we can do to strengthen our trade and investment ties, our defence links, and the like.

This is why I have been so passionate about building new diplomatic bridges with Indonesia, as well as other parts of the region, by providing opportunities for young Australian undergraduates to study and work in the region under my flagship foreign policy initiative, the New Colombo Plan.

I am delighted to have the strong support of Minister Natalegawa and the Indonesian Government in these efforts, which we both consider will deliver significant long term benefits for our countries.

There is, of course, a long tradition of student exchange between our two countries - Vice President Boediono, Minister Natalegawa, Finance Minister Chatib Basri and Tourism Minister Mari Pangestu, have spent time studying not just in Australia, but here in Canberra. And world famous scholar of Indonesian politics, the late Herb Feith, pioneered the concept of volunteering abroad when he worked alongside Indonesians in the 1950s.

The New Colombo Plan is where the Coalition's foreign policy finds its expression. Engaging at the deepest levels with our region, working with our friends and neighbours to ensure our young people better understand their own neighbourhood – and importantly, Indonesia. And I'm simply delighted that Indonesia has been such an active partner in the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan this year.

Finally, building on the Institute's work, we are contributing 15 million dollars to the Australia-Indonesia Centre. Announced by Prime Minister Abbott in Jakarta last year, the Centre will create innovative new science and research partnerships between universities and the corporate sector. I acknowledge the Centre's patron, Harold Mitchell, and his immense contribution he has made to our bilateral ties.

The understanding that's fostered through the Institute and the Australia Indonesia Centre, through BRIDGE and the New Colombo Plan will pay enormous dividends to both Australia and Indonesia.

The relationship with Indonesia will go through its ups and downs like any relationship between close and dear friends. But I know that the future of the relationship is strong, it will flourish and it will endure.

And the contribution that the Australia-Indonesia Institute has made to building personal relationships over the past 25 years has been immense. For our people will always be the bedrock of our relationship.

So to the Institute, please continue to guide and strengthen this most valued, this most precious relationship.


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