When terrorist bombs went off in Bali in 2002, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs placed travel warnings on Indonesia, which it has since been reluctant to lift. It is easy for an Australian embassy to suggest a high level travel warning, which DFAT then imposes, but it is much harder to reverse that decision.
The logic is that it is better to be over-cautious than sorry. DFAT public servants also don’t want to be caught out if something does go wrong that they might have overlooked. However, now the security-conscious United States has lifted its own travel warnings on Indonesia, stating the terrorism threat is effectively over, the question is: should Australia follow?
The security situation in Indonesia has changed markedly over the past few years, and in particular from 2005, since when there have been no terrorist attacks. The Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network has been largely taken apart, with its scattered and disorganised remnants reconsidering their future.
Yet the DFAT Indonesia travel advice continues to say that a terrorist attack may be imminent. Indeed, the DFAT Indonesia travel advice page is so out of date it even says permission might be required for travel to the once war-torn province of Aceh. This has not been the case since 2005. The peace there, and elsewhere, is established.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Indonesia still has a few security problems, of course, mostly with low level crime, and tourists need to have their wits about them. But the biggest threats to tourists in Indonesia are from unscrupulous touts, not terrorists.
But Australian tourism to Indonesia won’t change much regardless of DFAT advice — tourists are already back in Bali, and elsewhere, in close to previous numbers.
But perhaps lifting this now out of date travel warning will better reflect the threat, or its lack, and put this sensitive aspect of Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations back on track.
Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University is author and editor of a number of books on Indonesian politics, and wrote the last two annual Indonesia surveys for the journal Asia Survey, University of California at Berkeley.