Indonesia’s partnership with Australia is now “solid and strong”, but challenges remain, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told Parliament today.
Dr Yudhoyono, addressing a joint meeting of both houses of Parliament in Canberra, said there still needed to be a change in the mindset of some Indonesians and Australians.
“The most persistent problem in our relation is the persistence of age-old stereotypes … that depicts the other side in a bad light,” he said.
“There are Australians who still see Indonesia as a authoritarian country or a military dictatorship or as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, or even as an expansionist power.”
On the other hand some Indonesians remained afflicted by “Australia-phobia”.
“[There are] those who believe that the notion of White Australia still persists; that Australia harbours ill-intention towards Indonesia.”
Dr Yudhoyono said more work was needed to strengthen economic ties between Indonesia and Australia.
Indonesia had a GDP of $US514 billion, the third highest growth of G20 nations, a population of 240 million, a growing middle class and rich natural resources, he said.
Meanwhile, Australia, a developed nation, had the 18th largest economy in the world, with high-level corporate governance and a GDP of $US920 billion.
‘‘These impressive statistics need to be reflected in our partnership,’’ Dr Yudhoyono said.
He said Australia was the 12th highest investor in Indonesia, with interests in 26 projects worth $US79 million in 2009.
‘‘We need to do better to harness these economic benefits, we need to encourage our private sector to do more business with one another,’’ he said.
Dr Yudhoyono said there had been 69 ministerial visits between the two nations since the Rudd government came to office.
‘‘That is an impressive number, we must sustain this good momentum.’’
He announced a new annual leaders retreat that will take place alternately between the countries.
Indonesia’s and Australia’s foreign and defence ministers will also meet annually.
‘‘I am sure that this new arrangement will further cement Indonesia-Australia relations and enhance trust between us.’’
Dr Yudhoyono said legislation would soon be introduced to the Indonesian Parliament that would make people smuggling a criminal offence that would carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Both Australia and Indonesia agreed that people smuggling was a regional problem, he said.
‘‘Indonesia and Australia believe in the authority of the Bali process, which recognises that people smuggling is a regional problem that requires a regional solution involving the origin, transit and destination countries to work together.’’
An agreement between the countries to establish a framework for greater co-operation on tackling people smuggling would ensure future cases could be handled in a ‘‘predictable and co-ordinated way’’.
Dr Yudhoyono said the great challenge for Indonesia and Australia was how to respond to issues such as terrorism, natural disasters, people smuggling and drug traffickers.
Infectious diseases, the world financial crisis and climate change were also new, non-traditional threats that he said the countries had to tackle.
‘‘The unique part of the Australia, Indonesia partnership in the 21st century is how we cover it beyond a bilateral context, to tackle issues of global significance,’’ he said.
‘‘I belive that Indonesia and Australia are on the same page on the need to foster a more democratic world order, to reflect the changing global political and economic landscape.’’
He was heartened the two nations both valued multilateral relations and believed in the need to reform the United Nations system.
Dr Yudhoyono called for a new spirit of geopolitical and geoeconomic co-operation between Australia and Indonesia.
Indonesia remained relentless in its fight against terrorism, Dr Yudhoyono said.
“In recent weeks we were able to disrupt terrorist cells operating and training in Aceh and in other places in Indonesia,” he said.
“We will continue to hunt them down and do all we can to prevent them from harming our people.”
On climate change, the President said he and Mr Rudd had worked closely together since the UN conference in Bali two years ago.
Both leaders attended the Copenhagen summit in December.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work constructively on the Indonesia-Australia forest carbon partnership,” he said, adding acknowledgement for Australia’s support for Indonesia’s initiative of forming the Group of 11 tropical foreign nations or F11.
The group had contributed greatly to the conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests which he labelled “the lungs of the earth”.
Dr Yudhoyono said he was grateful also to the Australian government for supporting the Bali Democracy Forum, which was launched in September 2008, the only intergovernmental forum in Asia on the issue of democracy.
Both nations were working closely together towards the attainment of a world free of nuclear weapons.
“With efforts like these, perhaps in our lifetime we will no longer have to fear the possible tragedy of nuclear holocaust,” he said.
Parliamentarians gave the President a standing ovation after his speech.
Later Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced Dr Yudhoyono to his front bench, Mr Abbott, his deputy and former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull.
Before leaving the lower house chamber, the President was also introduced to Australian Greens leader Bob Brown and his deputy Christine Milne.
Earlier, Mr Rudd welcomed Dr Yudhoyono as the President of a neighbour, friend and a member of the family of democracies.
‘‘We are neighbours by circumstance but we are friends because we have chosen to be friends,’’ Mr Rudd said.
‘‘Now our relationship enters into a new phase when together we work in the great institutions of our region and the world to build a better region and to build a better world.’’
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott supported Mr Rudd’s remarks.
But he also took a veiled swipe at federal Labor over its border protection policy.
‘‘We have worked together [with Indonesia] to end people smuggling since 2001,’’ Mr Abbott told Parliament.
‘‘We have worked to end people smuggling before, it worked when we worked together before, people smuggling has started again and we can stop it again provided it’s done co-operatively … with the right policies in place here in Australia.’’