His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare
The Cage, Bali
Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017
WE had a little giggle this week when we read that the Minister for National Development Planning, Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, had wondered why more Australian investment was directed to Mexico than to Indonesia. Mexico, as he pointed out on an invest-with-us road show in Australia, was a long way away. It is. They wear sombreros there too, at least in cartoons, but that’s also totally beside the point.
An interesting article in the Fairfax press reported the issue, and included some commentary from Australian superannuation funds, from which Indonesia would apparently like a hand with projects. We note of course that such investments are indeed part and parcel of the global money round. The key to such investments is their legal security and actuarially based rates of return (ROI). Indonesia is making progress towards some measure of transparency and certainty in these matters, but a cautious superannuation investment fund manager would probably wait a little while. It’s different with company-level investments. They only depend on directors’ confidence levels. Or Chinese investments, which despite the official outbreak of pretend capitalism that the mandarins in Beijing have permitted, are still effectively State (and therefore Party) subscriptions, and hence political. They are all about building the next Chinese empire.
Minister Bambang made a direct pitch for Australian investment in a “new Nusa Dua” in the “eastern islands”. To decode that for the uninitiated, the Nusa Dua development in Bali is the manicured tourism precinct at the southern tip of the island full of international hotels that these days struggle to compete against the low-cost appeal, to the new market, of cheaper products elsewhere; and “eastern islands” means Labuan Bajo in Flores. We’ll return to Flores in a moment.
He also suggested that Australians might consider investing in tourism-related developments in the “new Nusa Dua” and instanced water sports and related fun things as examples of where they might choose to do so. How this might be done effectively and profitably is a conundrum. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign workers, the country’s prevailing low productivity and skills levels, and the promiscuous practice of local and national regulators in deciding that their noses are out of joint and that they will therefore without notice inspect the paperwork and deport anyone found holding a spanner, is one among many other unresolved questions.
In the early booster stages of economic promotions directed at specific targets, in this case Labuan Bajo in western Flores, near where the real komodos roam on their eponymous island, the chief effect is to raise land values and pour cash into the pockets of title-holders. Often this is a relative thing, which can benefit siblings and more distant relations of those doing the boosting. As someone with whom we spoke recently on these matters noted, perhaps such people are looking to family connections for an opportunity to upgrade from a canoe to a cruiser.
We’ll All be Rooned (Well, No We Won’t)
ROONED is what that eternal Jeremiah, Hanrahan, said would happen, in the lovely poem published in 1921 and written by the Australian bush poet John O’Brien, the pen name of a Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan. “We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan” – Hanrahan was a pessimistic man of Irish descent – now has an honoured place in the Australian English lexicon.
Pessimists and their jeremiads are fixed elements in any society, of course, though here in Bali, they are mostly of the imported variety. Foreigners who have lived here for a long time, or who have frequently visited for what to them probably feels like eons, fondly remember times past when the island was a pristine paradise. That is, except for the natives, who were poor and deprived of most of the benefits of modern life, and who, it is said by some, preferred it that way.
According to that primarily self-serving confected legend, Bali’s unique culture is now facing deadly risk. There’s an alternative view of this. This is that Bali’s culture and its unique religion is just as capable as any other of changing with the times. The island is not a Petrie dish and its culture is not an arcane scientific experiment managed by others. The archipelago survived the introduction of the chilli after all – by the Portuguese, who got them from someone else, naturally, centuries ago – and has made it its own. That’s just a small example of how change is welcomed and quietly managed by human societies.
There’s another aphorism that seems apt: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
The British writer Tim Hannigan – who describes himself as a pop historian, just by the way – would probably share this view. He writes from a post-colonial perspective. This is sensible, since except for references to that sometimes beneficial but predominantly pernicious plague by politicians everywhere in former empires who want to display their nationalist credentials, the age of European empire has long gone.
Hannigan is in Indonesia at present on a book tour, which will now take him to Jakarta. He was in Bali this week and we caught up with him twice, once at the Periplus bookstore at Samasta in Jimbaran and again over one of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine high teas at Biku in Seminyak.
He wrote some finely tuned polemic in his brilliantly researched book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, and a very readable A Brief History of Indonesia, among others. He has also edited A Brief History of Bali which is now on the bookstore shelves and is a must read, a revision with additional chapters version of the American Willard Hanna’s original. Hanna’s ended in the 1970s, ancient history now; Hannigan’s mediates Hanna’s Cold War perspective and takes the story on to current time.
THE leaked transcript of the telephone call between American President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump assumed office early this year is interesting. It confirms Trump as a president who doesn’t read his briefs, or perhaps doesn’t even ask for them, and underlines the worrying fact that he’s a real estate shyster whom American voters have elected to an office that is far beyond his moral, ethical and administrative capacities. It shows that a phone conversation with him, leader to leader, isn’t necessarily one that will produce an effective outcome or indeed connect with rational thought.
The call, which was terminated early, by Trump, turned on the Obama era plan proposed by the Australians that the U.S. take as many of Australia’s detainees on offshore foreign islands as its vetting processes would permit. There are (or were at the time) around 1,200 of these poor souls, held in limbo because they had attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia. The call confirmed the depravity (in the correct sense of the word) of Australian policy towards foreign people who have committed no crime. There is no morality in denying human rights to others – whoever they are – and detaining them indefinitely in camps on islands in other countries.
It cannot be justified on the basis that it has “stopped the boats” and people drowning at sea. It is simply a profane political process whose effectiveness (undeniable in the short term) is determined by refusing to recognise the real problem: an unstoppable global population movement. It screams “Australia’s for Australians” and wins votes for doing so. That’s an Australian problem. It mirrors Trump America’s mad Mexican Wall idea.
Turnbull deserves some credit for talking to Trump in a mannered and diplomatic way: for not interjecting “WTF, Donald?” That’s the only creditable element in the event – well, that and the fact that someone had the moral fortitude to leak the transcripts (there were others) to the media. These are sorry days.
Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next will appear on Aug. 16.