Op-ed by HOP, Chris Barnes
This week, Australia’s fourth diplomatic mission in Indonesia opened in Surabaya. As I go around the city and start to meet the many new friends of the Consulate General, I am asked why Australia chose Surabaya, or even East Java, when there are already Australian missions in Jakarta, Bali and Makassar.
Surabaya is simply the natural choice for a focal point for Australian business and investment to find partners; as the second largest city in Indonesia and a commercial hub and port for the eastern provinces, it’s an expanding and vibrant melting pot of Indonesians from around the archipelago.
Given Indonesia’s demographic dividend and forecasts for economic growth over the coming decades, it is more a question of why only now. Australian businesses discovered Surabaya years ago. East Java is already home to several Australian businesses with manufacturing and processing plants which are major employers such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Blue Scope Steel, Comweld Group, Nuplex and Caterlindo. Australian services companies Ramsay Health, ANZ Bank and the Commonwealth Bank have also capitalized on Surabaya’s thriving economy.
The presence of Australian companies will enable the transfer of expertise and knowledge to the local workforce. Business and manufacturing best practices will also be introduced through day-to-day operations.
And Surabaya knows Australia well. Kota Pahlawan is home to thousands of students attending public and private universities and schools with links to Australian institutions. Australians and Indonesians are moving between each other’s countries continuously, with eight sister schools between Surabaya and Western Australia, and Australian students studying in local universities through the New Colombo Plan.
Australian universities have produced many of Surabaya’s most successful businesspeople such as fashion designer Peggy Hartanto. Australian alumni also have a growing presence in the food and beverage sector in Surabaya, which is a critical element to a successful tourism industry.
The numbers of exchange programs which have sprung up are evidence of this enduring friendship with collaborative partnerships in everything from scientific research and support for the disabled, to elite sports development, veterinary training and language teaching. In particular, East Java’s sister province relationship with Western Australia has produced mentoring relationships and programs to empower women from both countries working in agriculture to develop sustainable business approaches and grow their businesses.
Surabaya has almost become the second home for our Royal Australian Navy officers. Australian Navy ships have been visiting Surabaya every year since 1960 as it is the home of the Indonesian Navy Eastern Fleet (Koarmatim) and its Naval Academy.
And Australia also recognizes East Java’s rich agricultural bounty and has made it the headquarters for our agricultural partnership with Indonesia. Through programs such as PRISMA, Australia has worked together with farmers in East Java to find ways to make agriculture more productive so they can increase their incomes. The programs have seen new methods developed to assist the early flowering of mangoes, the development of hybrid maize seeds, new soybean varieties and improved irrigation.
But most importantly for me as Consul-General is the buzz. Surabaya is a young a vibrant city with so many great places to visit, shop and eat. Its entrepreneurial spirit and the warm welcome I’ve received already means that feeling at home in Surabaya won’t be hard and we’re looking forward to becoming part of the community. In so many ways it’s a natural fit - there’s been an Australian presence in Surabaya for many years and we already know each other so well.
The establishment of the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya was announced by Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Sydney on 26 February 2017.
The Consulate-General promotes business, education, people-to-people and cultural links between Australia and East Java.
The Surabaya Consulate-General will focus on enhancing trade and building economic partnership opportunities in East Java, including in financial services, education, health, manufacturing and infrastructure. East Java accounts for about 15 per cent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product and Surabaya, as Indonesia’s second largest city, is an increasingly important destination for Australian trade and investment.