13 January 2022
SBY’s tears: from managing crisis to managing process in Australia-Indonesia relations since the fall of Suharto
On 21 May 1998, Suharto resigned as president of Indonesia, ending the authoritarian New Order regime he had led since 1966.
In the 23 years since, Indonesia has had five presidents. It became the world’s third largest democracy. It granted wider powers to its regions while losing one province, East Timor, to independence. It emerged as one of the world’s top ten economies (in PPP terms) and a member of the G20, which it will chair in 2022.
At the same time, Indonesia has suffered grievously from terrorism and the greatest natural disaster in recorded history. Its democracy is now taking an illiberal turn. Corruption is rife and inequality is worsening. Separatism remains an issue.
This series plots this history and Australia’s part in it through the eyes and experience of six of its ambassadors to Jakarta over this period. It reveals a fundamental shift from a relationship defined by crisis management to one that’s now more about process management, and offers advice on how Canberra should build our ties at a time of greater geopolitical challenges.
Episode 1 – John McCarthy AO
In this episode, David Engel, Head of ASPI’s Indonesia program, and former ASPI Research Intern Hillary Mansour speak to John McCarthy AO, who was Ambassador to Indonesia from 1997 to 2001. They discuss some of the major developments during his time in the post, including the fall of Suharto, President Habibie and the Reformasi, East Timor, the election of Gus Dur and former prime minister John Howard’s relationship with the country’s leaders.
Episode 2 – Ric Smith AO
In this episode, Dr David Engel and Hillary Mansour speak to Ric Smith AO, PSM, who was Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia from 2001 until 2002. The conversation explores economic reform after the Asian Financial Crisis, the end of Gus Dur’s presidency and the beginning of Megawati’s presidency, and the state of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia during Smith’s tenure. They also discuss the Tampa affair and the 2002 Bali bombings, and how Australia should engage with its northern neighbour.
Episode 3 – David Ritchie AO
In this episode, Dr David Engel and Hillary Mansour speak to David Ritchie AO, who was Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia from 2002 until 2005. This discuss the different crisis which took place during his time as ambassador including the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, a terror attack on the Australian Embassy and the arrest of the Bali Nine. They explore Australia-Indonesia cooperation in addressing these challenges and how the relationship changed during Ritchie’s time as ambassador.
Episode 4 – Bill Farmer AO
In this episode of ASPI’s special series, Dr David Engel speaks to Bill Farmer AO, Ambassador to Indonesia from 2005 until 2010. They discuss the pivotal moments in the Australia-Indonesia relationship during Bill’s tenure, SBY’s presidency and Indonesia’s response to the Global Financial Crisis, and Indonesia’s foreign policy. They also reflect on the signing of the Lombok Treaty, developments in people smuggling and counterterrorism and highlight how Australia should approach its northern neighbour going forward.
Episode 5 – Gary Quinlan AO
In this episode of ‘SBY’s tears’, Dr David Engel, Head of ASPI’s Indonesia Program and Hillary Mansour, former ASPI Research Intern, speak to Gary Quinlan AO, who was Ambassador to Indonesia from 2018 until 2021. Their conversation explores developments in the Australia-Indonesia economic relationship, the development of Indonesia’s democracy and the relationship between religion and politics in the country. They also consider the impacts of climate change and Covid-19 on Indonesia and Australia’s use of soft power.
Episode 6 – Greg Moriarty
In the penultimate episode of the series, Dr David Engel, Head of ASPI’s Indonesia Program and Hillary Mansour, former ASPI Research Intern, speak to Greg Moriarty, who was ambassador to Indonesia from 2010 until 2014. Their conversation explores Indonesia’s foreign policy under SBY, the bilateral economic relationship and cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism. They also discuss some of the challenges in the bilateral relationship, such as the banning of live cattle exports to Indonesia and people smuggling.
Episode 7 – Series Final
In this final episode of the series, Dr David Engel, Head of ASPI’s Indonesia Program and Hillary Mansour, former ASPI Research Intern, revisit some of the themes explored throughout the series, such as Indonesia’s foreign policy, its relationship with Australia and the changes to Indonesian democracy. They reflect on the past experiences of Australia’s ambassadors, and how these lessons can impact our future relationship with Indonesia.