Question time

12 October 2008

Indonesian Consul-General Sudaryomo Hartosudarmo is keen to promote stronger educational cooperation with Australia, particularly at a university level. Claudia Liu asks him about the academic and diplomatic links between the countries.


Indonesian Consul-General Sudaryomo Hartosudarmo.
Indonesian Consul-General Sudaryomo Hartosudarmo.

What makes Australia attractive to Indonesian students?

Australia is a popular destination for our students. We have at least 17,000 Indonesian students studying in the whole of Australia, mostly in NSW, Melbourne and Canberra. I think there are two reasons why they like coming here. First, Indonesia and Australia are very close geographically, so in terms of money it's better to send our students here. And then the quality of education here is very high. We still send some students to America and European countries, but after September 11 students with Arabic names have had some difficulties with entry visas to America.


How can we contribute to each other's development - what can we learn from each other?

Australia's high standard of education can help our students, this is the first thing. But both countries can cooperate in the field of research, with exchanges of students and exchanges of lecturers. We are basically an agricultural country and there are lots of opportunities to explore in this area.


Do Indonesian students have difficulty adapting to life in Australia?

It is a fact that the countries have very different cultures, but I don't think Indonesian students have any difficulty when they come to study here. They find it very easy to adapt. Australia is a multi-ethnic state, and in that the two countries are very similar.

I remember Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd saying last month, how can we, without knowing the culture or the language, improve the relationship between Australia and its neighbours? He speaks Mandarin quite well and that has improved Australia's relationship with China.


Do you think that there are particular problems for Muslim students in Australia?

In general no, because we have a big number of Indonesian Muslims living in Sydney. I don't think they have any serious problems. In NSW there is a lot of respect and tolerance. After the fasting month we were invited by the Federal Police, by companies like Telstra, and by the NSW Premier to break our fast, so I feel this is a tolerant state, although I understand there are still some community misconceptions. And I am pleased that Sydney University provides a prayer room for Muslim students.


What are the main issues facing Indonesia and Australia at the moment?

The Philippines Consul-General describes it as a love-hate relationship between Indonesia and Australia. That's why establishing people-to-people contact is so important, because governments can change at any time. In the future I am sure there will be no problems if we build a strong relationship between the two countries based on respect and understanding.


How has Indonesia reacted to the global financial crisis?

If you look what happened in Indonesia in the last financial crisis in 1997 and 1998 - it developed into a multidimensional crisis. Some countries like South Korea recovered very fast, but not Indonesia. If we look at the present crisis, Asian countries look stronger and more able to cope, but we can't be complacent and we are trying very hard to avoid a repeat of what happened ten years ago when people lost their trust in the government.


After that experience, what lessons do you think Indonesia could pass onto the rest of the world?

Don't panic, stay calm, and tomorrow is another day.


Some people say the Indonesian government is guilty of sacrificing the environment for industry. Is that criticism justified?

We have been in the reform era for about ten years. Times have totally changed. We cannot deny what we have done in the past. We are the biggest tropical country and we have shared significantly in global change, climate change and environmental damage in the past. That is true, because at the time we needed to develop our country economically. But in this reform era we have learned that we cannot just repeat our mistakes. Our parliament is very strong and we cannot ignore their voice.


We have become good neighbours - but can we ever be good friends?

Yes, we are different in culture but we can overcome the difficulties and understand each other. I am very happy to see exchanges of students, exchanges of lecturers and cooperation between officials because with regular and frequent contact people will respect and understand each other.




Contact: Claudia Liu

Phone: 02 9351 3191

Email: 0b652d5d103707350051423f1c19595812