Indonesia-Australia ties at a critical point - Natalegawa

29 June 2015

I hope the present leaders will have a sense of urgency in re-establishing communications.

Indonesia's former Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has proposed a new framework agreement between Indonesia and Australia to potentially handle future tensions in the bilateral relationship.

Dr Natalegawa was speaking at the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum (CALF) at ANU, in a discussion about Indonesia under its new President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

He said a new framework could help future tensions and the current lack of communication between the two nations.

"It certainly is at a critical juncture," Dr Natalegawa said of the current state of relations between Australia and Indonesia.

"I hope the present leaders will have a sense of urgency in re-establishing communications."

Australia-Indonesia ties have been strained over the recent execution of two Australian drug runners, despite Australia's pleas for Indonesia to show mercy.

Dr Natalegawa said Joko Widodo inherited a reservoir of goodwill upon his election last year, although a number of high profile issues have consumed the government's political capital.

Former Australian ambassador to Indonesia Bill Farmer said Australia and Indonesia were natural partners, although bilateral ties had suffered over issues such as live cattle exports, the Bali Nine executions, and Australia's stance on asylum seekers.

Mr Farmer said Australia needed to make sure it treated Indonesia with respect.

"Australia needs to treat Indonesia with respect and throw away our megaphone. We can legitimately expect the same respect and understanding from Indonesia," he said.

Debnath Guharoy, Regional Director-Asia of Roy Morgan Research and President of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council, brought an optimistic business perspective to the discussion.

He said Jokowi has a mission to improve lives of poorer people in Indonesia, and he had strong public support with an approval rate of 70 per cent.

"Jokowi has the love of his people and I don't think Australians understand that," Mr Guharoy said. "All of Indonesia's problems are Australia's opportunities."