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Bogor not Bali shows Indonesia's huge potential

Posted by On 9:38 AM

Bogor not Bali shows Indonesia's huge potential

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It had just gone dark on Sunday night. Rain was falling and as the small car bumped its way down a one-way street, I was feeling totally lost.

As the street narrowed further to barely a car width, my claustrophobic tendency started to kick in with milling crowds around the vehicle. Finally, we could go no further. I grabbed Louise’s hand and she reassured me in perfect Bahasa “Tidak apa-apa” meaning “don’t worry”.

Indonesian city of Bogor.

Our driver then managed the seemingly impossible task of turning the car around in less than its own length and driving back down the one-way street.

We were deep within the old sector of Bogor, an important cultural, economic and tourism centre of Java, which in its Dutch colonial days was known as Buitenzorg. Curiously the name translates to “without worries”. Tidak apa-apa indeed!

And it was without any great worry and a lot of enthusiasm, that I was in Bogor for a two-day conference of the Australian Indonesian Centre.

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While we in Australia are quite fond of concentrating on the differences between our cultures and societies, it’s important to recognise that we both have colonial pasts and post-colonial futures.

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Bogor is a case in point. Its period of Dutch rule saw the city become the home for the largest agricultural school in Java as well as the headquarters for the Dutch East India Company in Asia. The Brits also had control for a short period as did the Japanese in World War II. It’s a great credit to the people of Indonesia that they have worked through the trials, as well as benefits, of colonisation and emerged as a strong independent people.

With a population of around one million, this city, like all of Indonesia, is booming. It has a strong industrial base in chemicals and agriculture. And there is no thought of an energy crisis here. Electricity is provided by more than 10 thermal and hydroelectric power plants. In fact, Bogor is one of four sites in Indonesia that the national government selected back in 2012 for the production of geothermal energy.

Using no fuel, just the heat of the earth itself, geothermal energy is safe and clean and Indonesia’s commitment to this energy source will see it overtake the US as the world’s biggest producer of geothermal power within a decade. Clean energy 2.0 indeed.

With more than half it’s 250 million population under 30, this booming country will, within a decade, overtake Australia as the world’s 13th biggest economy.

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By 2050, Indonesia will be the fourth biggest economy in the world.

Back in the 1980s my media company worked in Indonesia and I could sense then that this country was going places, however, as the inaugural chair of the Australian Indonesian Centre I am still surprised a nd excited by the energy and the warmth of our biggest neighbour.

Recent research by the centre shows that Indonesians have a very favourable view of Australia, but sadly it’s not fully reciprocated.

But this will be corrected into the future and our growing education links will contribute to a necessary change.

As will increasing tourism to Indonesia, which according to a recent report from the Australian Embassy, now contributes around 2 billion a year to the Indonesian economy with Australians spending more per head in the country than any other national group.

There is more to Indonesia than tourists visiting Bali.

Photo: SONNY TUMBELAKA

However, Australians generally don’t recognise that there is more to Indonesia than Bali. That’s why I take our group to other places in Indonesia like Bogor.

And that’s why the Australian government is supporting Indonesia to broaden its tourism of fer by creating what President Widodo calls “10 New Bali’s”.

At a government-to-government level, work is well under way to create a vitally important free-trade agreement between our two countries. Substantial goodwill exists but so do many sticking points and there is a risk that we might fail to carry this goodwill into a successful deal.

However, we can’t turn our back on the fact that our two countries need each other.

It won’t surprise Australians that we have much to offer, but so does Indonesia. Some areas of the country are growing at more than 10 per cent, driven by the new digital world.

Australia’s newly-appointed ambassador is Gary Quinlan, a very senior career officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is supported by the very accomplished Allaster Cox, our former ambassador to Vietnam. Along with Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, who has a laser-like focus on the deal, this team should be able to pull off an agreement that is vital to us.

For some parties it will mean doing a U-turn, but my experience on Sunday night in that tiny street in Bogor encourages me to think that we can do it.

Harold Mitchell is chairman of the Australia-Indonesia Centre.

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  • Indonesia
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