A response to coin collection in Aceh to ‘repay’ Australian PM

This post is in response to the February 22, 2015 article in the Jakarta Post titled In Aceh, people collect coins to ‘repay’ Australian PM

“It’s not the way international relations should be practiced”Former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf
I felt sad to hear that some Acehnese collected coins to “repay” Australia’s generous $1 billion gift to Indonesia after the tsunami. I was also sad that the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comment about this gift was misunderstood as a ‘trade for aid’ issue.

This is a sentiment shared by the former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, “When we are criticizing Abbot’s statement in a harsh way and respond by collecting coins, we are actually hurting the feelings of the Australians who so kindly helped us after the tsunami”.

Three reasons for my sentiment as one of the Australians that helped:

    1. Firstly, speaking as one of the many Australians who spent a lot of time as a medical volunteer in Aceh after the tsunami [10 years since the agony of Aceh], I only went there to help those in need as any good neighbour would. Not to create moral capital to call upon later. That never crossed my mind nor the minds of the other Australian aid workers.

    Interestingly, on each visit I actually worked with an entirely Indonesian team (OborBerkat)– 120 Indonesians and one tall white Aussie.

    They were incredibly effective and worked at the frontline of the disaster under difficult conditions. They were the first relief team to arrive in Banda Aceh after the tsunami and worked tirelessly. I admired them enormously and learnt a lot from them. Australians worked in partnership with Indonesians, as we always try to do, not as patronizing foreigners. That philosophy has underlain a lot of our work in Indonesia, including the International Skills and Training Institute in Health (ISTIH).

    Quite a number of the team remain good friends of mine 10 years later. We all gave our help freely. Indonesia and Australia are neighbours – if my neighbour’s family suffers a tragedy I rush over to help them. They will do the same for me. That is how it is working.

    2. Secondly, Indonesia is also a good neighbour. Despite having their own pressing needs, Indonesia has provided US$42 million of foreign aid over the past decade including $1 million to Australia following the Queensland floods and personnel to help Australia at various times when we have needed their help. Their response to the Bali bombings, especially to the second Bali bombing, saved many Australian lives.
    “I have made it quite clear that the prime minister was simply illustrating the point that Australia has been and remains a supporter, a close friend of Indonesia,”Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister
    3. Thirdly, as I understand it, the Prime Minister Tony Abbot was not trying to use our aid as leverage against the death penalty for two Australian drug traffickers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. He was simply asking that we be given a special hearing given that on all the evidence we are good neighbours.

Issues will arise between neighbours but they must be managed. Phone tapping, people smuggling, West Papua, live animal exports and drug smuggling/capital punishment are just the current ones.

Despite these things we are and must continue to be close friends. There are 17,000 Indonesian students enrolled in Australian educational facilities each year and there are many youth exchange programs, some of which I have witnessed first hand and been moved by the relationships formed.

In making these statements about the true state of our neighbouring countries, I echo the statements made by the former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about the Indonesian-Australian relationship

I look forward to a day in the near future when policy makers, academicsians, journalists and other opinion leaders all over the world take a good look at the things we are doing so well together. And they will say – ‘these two used to be worlds apart but they now have a fair dinkum partnership’.

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