Joey Eagleton is currently studying Honours in Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia. He is conducting research about the impact of the Islamic State in Indonesia. Recently he had the opportunity to meet with the sixth President of the Republic of Indonesia Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Here is Joey’s experience of the event.

Dr Yudhoyono speaking at the University of Western Australia. Photo: ABC News/Greg Pollock

Dr Yudhoyono speaking at the University of Western Australia. Photo: ABC News/Greg Pollock

During his recent visit to Perth to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Australia (UWA), I was lucky enough to participate in a round table discussion with the sixth Indonesian President Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono along with 20 other students from Western Australian universities. Organised through the Perth USAsia Centre and UWA’s Faculty of Arts Dean Prof. Krishna Sen, the discussion provided a great opportunity for Indonesian studies students and academics to directly engage with the former President on issues relating to the Australia-Indonesian relationship. Some of the issues raised during the hour long discussion ranged from security, education, the environment and even sport with former Indonesian Super League footballer and Perth local Robbie Gaspar providing some great insight into the relationship of the two countries from a football perspective. Admittedly, I was a little daunted at first as the discussion was conducted entirely in Indonesian and although not understanding everything myself, the former President commended us on our efforts and interest in Indonesian language and answered all our questions with enthusiasm.

Of particular interest to me during the discussion were Doctor Yudhoyono’s comments on the increasing threat of violent extremism posed by Islamic State in both Australia and Indonesia. Dr Yudhoyono noted that compared to other nations (such as Australia), Indonesia has quite a low extremist element per capita. However, he also acknowledged that this small element still carries a significant risk and emphasised the need for continuing de-radicalisation programs and cooperation between Australian and Indonesian authorities on this matter.

During his stay in Perth, the former President also held his first public speech in Australia since leaving office late last year again at the University of Western Australia. Speaking at the sold out public event the former President strongly emphasised the need for action on the global issue of climate change by world leaders at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December. Regional issues such as the rise of China, the disputed South China Sea and the future of ASEAN were also mentioned.

The panel discussion that followed the former President’s speech also provided some great insight into the Western Australia-Indonesia relationship and why Western Australia is well placed to benefit from the burgeoning Indonesian middle-class through trade and business. Dr Yudhoyono highlighted the need for further cooperation between the business communities of Western Australia and its sister state of East Java in Indonesia, a view also held by fellow panellist and former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

The broad range of topics covered in both the round table discussion and the public speech by Dr Yudhoyono provided a great opportunity to learn about what issues our leaders believe are most important in regards to the Australian-Indonesian relationship. It was also a rare moment where students could raise issues of their own on what they believe to be significant to the relationship too. A very worthwhile experience and one I’m very grateful to have participated in.