An Interview with H.E. Paul Grigson, Ambassador of Australia to IndonesiaCountry Focus
Australia and Indonesia are close neighbours and have a lot to offer each other. According to H.E. Paul Grigson, Ambassador of Australia to Indonesia, who arrived in Jakarta in January 2015, the two countries have many shared interests and a common approach to regional security and prosperity. He is very optimistic about 2017, when Indonesia and Australia, as the region’s two largest economies, will finalise a free trade agreement and he’ll have visited all nine wali songo.
How would you describe the relationship between Indonesia and Australia in one word?
What do you think is the main pillar of this relationship?
Indonesia and Australia have had quite a few differences in the past, including the Bali Nine executions, the spying scandal and the heated discussions about beef export. How do you get past these “disagreements”? What needs to be done to avoid them?
Focusing on strengths in the relationship and continue the two-way communication that is already in place. Australia and Indonesia have more things in common than we think. We complement each other. I focus on the positive and continue to build on the accomplishments we’ve achieved in the relationship.
In terms of business relations and foreign investments, where does Australia stand in Indonesia?
Australia’s two-way trade with Indonesia was valued at $15 billion in 2015, making it our 13th largest trade partner. But our relationship could be even stronger. Indonesia and Australia are the two largest economies in Southeast Asia. We are obviously close neighbours and we have a lot to offer each other. I think that both of our economies would benefit from working more to maximise our respective strengths – for example, using Indonesia’s highly competitive manufacturing to process high quality Australian raw materials into products that can be exported to the rest of the world.
Investment is obviously a very important part of this picture, and Australia and Indonesia are already important investment partners. Australian businesses have around $8.4 billion currently invested in Indonesia, and in the process have introduced new products and services to the Indonesian market and created many thousands of jobs here. For example, when Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo, visited Jakarta in December, he inspected the Coca-Cola Amatil bottling plant at Bekasi. This is a major Australian investment that employs more than 11,000 Indonesian staff. As another example, the Australian telecommunications company Telstra has invested in a local partnership with Indonesia’s Telkom to provide IT services to Indonesian companies. This partnership is now supporting local start-up businesses in areas such as e-commerce, e-health and new financial technology.
So our business and investment relationship is already strong, but as I said it could be even stronger. The good news is that we are not standing still. Our governments are currently negotiating two new trade and investment agreements: the bilateral Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (IA-CEPA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Both of these agreements will aim to reduce barriers and simplify processes for business, to continue to build our trade and investment relationship into the future.
Many young Indonesians study in Australia, and more and more Australians are deciding to study in Indonesia. How important do you think is the field of education for the relationship between the two countries?
Australians and Indonesians both value opportunities to access high quality education. Australia’s world class university and technical colleges and schools have seen Australia become the destination of choice for Indonesians looking to study abroad, with almost a quarter of all Indonesian students overseas studying in Australia. In 2015, there were 19,300 Indonesian enrolments across Australian education institutions.
Australians are also keen to immerse themselves in another country and are seizing the opportunity to work and study in Indonesia. Under the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan. In the past two years, 2,000 young Australians have lived, worked and studied in Indonesia under the scheme.
You have been in Indonesia for two years now. If you look back, what do you think are your biggest achievements?
In the past two years, I have seen the relationship grow from strength to strength. Australia continues to support Indonesia’s priorities in various sectors. The “Saya Perempuan Anti Korupsi” (SPAK) program, which recently won the inspirational PR award, demonstrates a great partnership between Australia-Indonesia. The program educates women and children to prevent corruption.
What will be your main focus for 2017? Do you have any personal goals you would like to achieve during your time in Indonesia?
I’ll be focussing on building up relationships to assist the number of young business entrepreneurs in Indonesia and Australia, particularly in the creative industries.
Personally, I look forward to completing my pilgrimage around the nine wali songo. I have now visited six of the nine. Travelling around the provinces is also a good opportunity to try more Indonesian delicacies, such as rawon, serabi, martabak manis and nasi jamblang.