Australians see Indonesia as a friend, but no ally

4 September 2014

A majority of Australians regard Indonesia as a friend of Australia but not an ally, the latest Australian National University snapshot of the nation’s views on foreign policy has found.

The 2014 ANUpoll on Foreign Policy also found six in 10 Australians believe Indonesia has not assisted Australia’s efforts to combat people smuggling.

Leader of the ANUpoll project, Professor Ian McAllister, said the public view of the relationship with Indonesia reflected a degree of friendship, coupled with tensions over the past decade related to terrorism and people smuggling.

“The public’s wariness towards Indonesia is partly based on the perception that Indonesia has not assisted Australia on reducing terrorism and in combating people smuggling,” Professor McAllister said.

In other findings, the ANUPoll found more than half of those polled view China as an economic threat, but only three in 10 view China as a military threat.

At the same time, Australians maintain strong support for Australia’s military alliance with the United States. It found support for the ANZUS alliance was 81 per cent, down a modest five points over the past 12 months.

Respondents were almost evenly divided when asked to choose between the United States and China as the most important priority for Australia. The USA scored 32 per cent compared to 29 per cent for China, while 35 per cent who saw the USA and China as equal.

“Maintaining the delicate balance between Australia’s long-term security alliance with the USA and Australia’s trade links with China is perhaps the greatest foreign policy challenge for any Australian government,” Professor McAllister said.

The ANUpoll found support for Australia’s foreign aid program was softening, although still strong at 75 per cent, down by 10 points since 2001.

“Support for humanitarian aid is softening generally, but Australians still prefer humanitarian aid over aid for political or commercial ends,” said Dr Jill Sheppard, from the ANU School of Politics and International Relations.

“This may indicate that successive governments have failed to ‘sell’ their aid programs to domestic audiences.”

On key trends for domestic issues the poll showed that concern over the state of the Government has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

Results found 15 per cent of respondents listed the need for better government as the most important issue facing Australia, up from seven per cent this time last year.

The ANUpoll, conducted by the Social Research Centre, was a telephone survey of 1,204 adults carried out in May 2014.

The full ANUpoll is available online on the ANUpoll page at http://politicsir.cass.anu.edu.au/polls-and-surveys/anupoll