The election of governor Joko Widodo to the Indonesian presidency — a far better outcome for Australia than if his rival Prabowo Subianto had won, or in the unlikely event Subianto’s constitutional challenge succeeds — offers an excellent opportunity for the Abbott government to reset Canberra-Jakarta relations and deepen them.
Not all of the difficulties between Tony Abbott and outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have been the fault of the current government, which was left to clean up the mess left by Rudd-era cowboy antics by Australia’s signals intelligence agencies. But they have overwhelmingly been caused by the government’s implementation of its maritime asylum seeker policies, which have created a sense that Australia is rather cavalier about Indonesian sovereignty.
However, having effectively delivered on its commitment to “stop the boats”, whatever the merits or otherwise of its mechanisms for doing so, the government is now well placed to move beyond that issue and start fulfilling the rhetoric of the Coalition, which before the election made a point of emphasising its commitment to a good relationship with Indonesia. As Kevin Rudd did in his short second stint as prime minister, Abbott’s efforts with Jakarta has been accompanied by a focus on building business links — a critical goal given the rapid growth of the Indonesian economy and its looming entry into the top ten economies in the world — if it hasn’t already reached that point.
Separated by language and culture, the two countries can’t rely on tradition and feelings of kinship to maintain relations. It is a relationship that must be constantly attended to. Governor Widodo’s election allows the Prime Minister to not merely recover the relationship from its recent lows, but deepen it beyond level achieved by previous governments.