October has been a busy month for South Australian ‘Indonesianists’. Adelaide was host to a range of festivals including Asia Fest, Indofest and OzAsia Festival whose theme in 2015 was Indonesia. On the 6th of October The South Australian branch of the Australia Indonesia Youth Association hosted a panel discussion for members and guests, which was lead by the Hon Senator Penny Wong and joined by Dr. Nathan Gray and Dr. Andrew Rosser.

We were incredibly lucky to have home-grown leading experts in international politics, international business and development meet to interact and chat with students and business people in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD.

Speaking on the future of Australia and Indonesia’s economic relationship, Penny was quick to remind us of the words of Paul Keating – “No country is more important to Australia’s future than Indonesia.”

Clancy’s attempt at ngobrol-ngobrol before the event. Photo: Kevin Pantow

Penny is the shadow minister for trade and investment and was born in Sabah in Malaysia. She spoke about the fact that Indonesia was not as well known to Australians as it ought to be, pointing out that bilateral trade between the two countries was dwarfed by size of trade that Australia benefits from with New Zealand, which has a population of 4 million compared to Indonesia’s whopping 250 million. For those that haven’t read it before, Penny suggested checking out the Price Waterhouse Cooper report from 2014 ‘Passing us by’ which outlines the enormous challenge and opportunity for investment in the South East Asian region.

Penny Wong addressing the panel. Photo: Kevin Pantow

For Nathan, part of the problem was the ignorance among the general population, which is why it was so important that groups like AIYA capitalise on the opportunity to understand Indonesian culture and language. There are already hundreds of Australian businesses that have ventured into the Indonesian market, despite all of its difficulties. Nathan described jetting into Jakarta grabbing cash from an Aussie ATM (ANZ) and a coffee most likely served by an Australian Company (Gloria Jeans) made in a paper cup most likely manufactured in Adelaide. So Australian businesses are there – but challenges remain.

Nathan speaking on business opportunities in Indonesia. Photo: Kevin Pantow

The fact that Indonesia is an incredibly diverse, religious and new democracy takes a lot of Australians and Australian business people by surprise, making the transition to a new market all the more challenging. Of course, as Nathan pointed out these challenges and the prospect of reward is why Australian business people keep going back to Indonesia.

Andrew recognised that nationalistic sentiments and corruption can make bilateral trade and investment difficult but did not undersell the opportunities for young Australians looking to work there. Andrew pointed out that development jobs are hard to come by for young Australians, but the business opportunities are many.

Andrew outlining the political and economic challenges in Indonesia. Photo: Kevin Pantow

I was also thrilled to hear some pretty robust discussion about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and how the Indonesian and Australian economies could benefit. While Indonesia is not a signature to the multilateral treaty our expert panel were not so quick to dismiss Indonesia as a player in the political and economic future of the transpacific partnership.

Manufacturing and agriculture is a globalised industry, which means that transpacific partners will still need the goods and services of Indonesian businesses, and there may be opportunities for Indonesian companies to participate in the partnership via partner nations. The panel highlighted some of these preliminary issues that will become clearer as details of the partnership are released.

After thanking the panelists with a box of Adelaide’s finest Haigh’s chocolate, a few members took off for a bite and chatted about the topics raised – and how AIYA in SA was really lifting the tone of debate on Indonesian engagement. Flinders University was very generous in giving us the space to hold the panel, and the Australia Indonesia Association and National Branch of the Australia Indonesia Youth Association also provided generous assistance with financial and admin support.

For anyone interested in getting involved in future events, get onto Yudis our new President elect – because we have already got some thoughts for the next great event within the Aus. Indo youth space… Thanks to all that helped with the organisation – Yudis, Erin, Shanti and Kevin and we look forward to seeing you at the next event!

Yudis thanks Penny ‘terima kasih banyak Bu!‘ Photo: Kevin Pantow

Hon Senator Penny Wong background:

In 2013 Penny was elected as Leader of the Government in the Senate and, and later became Leader of the Opposition in the Senate – the first woman to hold both of these roles. Penny is currently the Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment. Penny spoke about her strong belief in the importance of the Indonesia – Australia relationship, pushing for stronger trade links between our two countries.

Dr Nathan Gray background:

Dr. Nathan Gray specialises in strategic international management and policy advice to governments, NGO’s and corporations in the Asia Pacific. He has a detailed and unique knowledge of emerging corporate and government opportunities in Asia, gained through his extensive experience operating in Asian markets. Nathan has previously held the vice presidency of the Australia Indonesia Business Council and is the current Secretary of the Australian Asian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Nathan holds a PhD in Asian Business, specifically exploring Indonesian Business Behaviour. Nathan currently lectures in postgraduate and undergraduate International Business and Strategy programs at The University of Adelaide Business School, Uni-SA, and Flinders University.

Dr Andrew Rosser background:

Dr Andrew Rosser is currently an Associate Professor in Development Studies at the University of Adelaide, with a focus on development issues in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and Timor Leste. Andrew is currently working on a research project focused on law, politics and socio-economic rights in Indonesia courtesy of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. Dr Rosser has previously worked with the Institute of Development Studies (Sussex), AusAID, the University of Sydney and Murdoch University.