“…get on a plane get up to Indonesia! As much as I strongly encourage people to learn the language and culture, you can’t just do that in a classroom.”
The AIBC Young Professionals had a brief chat with the WA Trade and Investment Office Regional Director Chris Barnes. Read their exchange below.
Tell us about your role as Commissioner & Regional Director at the WA Trade Office in Indonesia.
My role is to promote great two-way trade and investment between Western Australia and Indonesia. We focus on four priority sectors: education, tourism agriculture, and gas. We also have a special relationship with East Java, as Western Australia and East Java have had a sister state relationship for over 26 years.
No two days are the same in my job, every day is different. Indonesia and Australia, our business environments are vastly different. Culturally we are very, very different, and I think that we should recognise that and embrace that. Because in many ways we have so many complementarities. That’s what I love about my job. It’s why I enjoy the relationship in Indonesia. It’s always interesting, endlessly fascinating. At times, it’s incredibly challenging and I don’t walk away from that, but it’s also immensely rewarding.
What’s your background and how did you come to serve in your current position?
My background is in banking, I worked for the Commonwealth Bank for a long time, in strategy roles both in Australia and in our international business. My connection with Indonesia stems from when I became the national president of the Australia Indonesia Business Council. I’ve served in a number of government advisory roles, with the Indonesia-Australia Leadership Dialogue, Indonesia-Australia Business Partnership Group for IA-CEPA, and also on the Red Meat and Cattle Partnership.
Do you have any advice for young professionals aspiring to have a career in international relations, particularly in relation to Indonesia?
Look, I think the most important thing to do, which I say to young people and also to aspiring business people more generally, is just to get on a plane get up to Indonesia! Look around; there is nothing like touching, feeling, seeing and experiencing Indonesia. As much as I strongly encourage people to learn the language and culture, you can’t just do that in a classroom.
Would you like to make any comments about the future of the Australia-Indonesia relationship?
There will always be ups and downs in the relationship but we seeking to make that better. But undeniably, the trade and investment relationship, the economic relationship, is not as good as what it could be and there is always work we can do in that area. The messages that I would have for Australian and Indonesian businesspeople is that we can no longer just look at the relationship in bilateral terms, we need to see that in this globalised world that it is a global economy and that we should be looking for opportunities where Australian businesses partner with Indonesian businesses – not to sell things to each other, but to look at opportunities where we can partner together and then sell into the global marketplace.