Let's Talk

12 October 2008

Malcolm Cook, lecturer in Asia Pacific Politics atUSYD and the East Asia Director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, and  Lorentius Wirjanto a University engineering student,  discuss Jakarta's water problems, climate change and the aftermath of the tsunami.


Malcolm Cook (rt) and Lorentius Wirjanto (lt).
Malcolm Cook (rt) and Lorentius Wirjanto (lt).

MC: Two years ago we did an opinion poll to see how Indonesians viewed Australia and how Australians viewed Indonesia, to see how the two countries looked at each other. And the results weren't very promising really.

S: What was the result?

MC: We asked them how they viewed the other country, so for example in Australia we asked them is Indonesia an emerging democracy or is it controlled by the military, is it a threat to Australia, is it a good friend? And then in Indonesia we asked, do you think Australia has an interest in reclaiming Papua and other issues like that. And most of the more negative perceptions got the higher score, and the more positive ones got the lowest score.

S: In Australia I don't think popular view of Indonesia has caught up with democratisation so I think their still have a Soharto era view. At the elite level everybody knows what the situation is, but at popular level they still think Indonesia is controlled by the military.

You lived in Jakarta for few years?

MC: Yes, probably seven years.

S: What do you think about the environment in Jakarta?

MC: One of the problems Jakarta faces is that it's sinking because the population is growing so fast and they're taking too much water from the underground water aquifers. Most of the water now in Jakarta, as you will know comes from underground lakes. But they seem to be taking water out much quicker than it's refilling.

Jakarta is a huge city. Like in all South East Asian countries, the capital is absolutely massive. I think 40 per cent of all bank deposits in Indonesia are in Jakarta and about 50 per cent of registered cars. Probably the biggest environmental challenge right now is just the urban management of Jakarta.

S: And one of the interesting things about climate change, and this is something the two governments have focused on, is deforestation in Indonesia. That's Indonesia's number one contribution to climate change gases.

MC: One other environmental issue that our Institute has done some work on is illegal fishing in the Arafura Sea, and how that is rapidly killing off all the fish in the ocean, which is a huge problem for Australia and Indonesia. The governments have actually worked quite closely together on this, but it doesn't look like it's going to stop.

S: I have heard some fishing boats cross the border to catch fish in Australian waters instead of staying in Indonesian waters. Indonesia's border security probably needs to be tightened.

MC: Well when you have over 17,000 islands, I think, it's going to be pretty hard, and many of the Indonesian fishing boats don't have GPS systems, so they probably don't know they have crossed from Indonesia to Australia.

S: The smaller boats that often get detained by the Australian navy and put into prison in the Northern Territory probably don't even know that they are in Australian waters. But I think this problem is much less now because there has been quite close cooperation between the Indonesian navy and coastguards and the Australian border protection command. So that's actually a good story of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia.

MC: The other interesting one which is a bit risky is that in the Lombok Treaty Australia will support Indonesia's development of a civilian nuclear power industry. There is a long standing interest in Indonesia to develop a nuclear power sector to help meet the rapidly growing demand for power. At the moment it is still mostly driven by coal which is much dirtier. But nuclear power can be a risky thing, especially given that Indonesia is very prone to earthquakes. I think one of the sites they are looking at as a potential place to put the nuclear reactor is on an earthquake fault line, which would be a little bit worrying. But Japan has a huge nuclear industry, and Japan is more prone to earthquakes than Indonesia.

S: What do you think of Indonesia's efforts in reconstructing areas devastated by the tsunami in 2004?

MC: Probably the first thing that surprised outsiders was that the major epicentre of damage for the whole tsunami was Aceh, which has historically been closed off from the rest of the world because of the conflict between Indonesia and the GAM. When the tsunami hit, the Indonesian government almost immediately lifted the ban on foreign NGOs and media, which greatly helped the recovery effort.Indonesia changed its policy about foreign visits to Aceh almost overnight, and I think it was a very important decision.

S: I think if you talk to people about the long term reconstruction, that is very difficult, and probably many people might be disappointed, partly because Indonesian government capacity is somewhat limited. And there is a major problem of coordination at two levels between all the different international NGOs and government aid bodies trying to do things. They weren't coordinated at all.

MC: I hesitate to say it but there was probably a silver lining to the tsunami in that it greatly facilitated the peace process in Aceh. If there hadn't been a tsunami, would there have been a successful conclusion? I don't know, but Aceh has been an exception to the general rule.

S: There so many environmental issues in Indonesia. Do you think global warming will have a huge impact in Indonesia?

Yes, agriculture still employs a major part of your population, and changes to climate have a direct impact on agriculture. We have just finished a paper looking at how climate change is going to increase Indonesia's malaria and dengue problem. Already about half of Indonesia's population is at risk from malaria, the number one killer of people in many parts of Indonesia. Climate change looks like it is going to make malaria and dengue an even larger problem for Indonesia.  

Contact: Claudia Liu

Phone: 02 9351 3191

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