Visiting Indonesia so soon after his election could be the big positive from Tony Abbott’s first overseas trip as Prime Minister.
This is the view of Colin Brown, adjunct professor at the Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane.
He believes lastweek’s face-to-face, personal exchange between Mr Abbott and Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was an appropriate platform to launch their relationship.
“This confirmed the Prime Minister gives very high priority to the relationship with Indonesia,” Professor Brown said. “Indonesians will be well pleased with his action.
“Indonesia is very much a pressing-the-flesh society. You cannot foster or sustain relationships via faxes or email, or even Skype. You have to be there to get business done.”
Professor Brown is an expert in the modern history, politics and economics of Indonesia, and Australia-Indonesia relations.
While welcoming the establishment of the Australian Centre for Indonesian Studies, announced this week, he pointed to a drastic reduction in resources for the study of Indonesia across the Australian university sector during the past two decades.
“The three universities involved in the new Australian Centre are all rich in resources for the study of Indonesia in terms of expertise, archival material and research funding.
“Academics and researchers in other Australian universities where funding for the study of Indonesia has dried up must be asking where these resources were before now.
“Mr Abbott may well believe the relationship with Indonesia to be one of Australia’s highest priorities. But the problem is of course that few Australians agree with him.”
Professor Brown said the two countries “still have a long way to go” to resolve their differences over the asylum seekers issue.