Blots on the Landscape

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali, Jul. 20, 2016

 

Where to start? We’ll leave aside (for the moment) certain segments of the bar scene where duty of care, which shouldn’t be an entirely foreign concept, is spelt WTF, and winks and nods at malfeasant bad behaviour, if not actual complicity, are commonplace. They’re blots on the social landscape. The ones at issue in this instance are actual, physical, blots. The latest to come to attention is the groyne built out over the coral reef in front of the new Kempinski hotel at Sawangan on the southern Bukit. The hotel wants to make a playground for its guests.

That this has altered the natural wave break pattern – with possibly incalculable future impacts – and destroyed the reef habitat is of no consequence to people whose interest lies solely in chasing money. Surfers who have been deprived of The Nikko, a great surf break, and the shooed-away local seaweed growers don’t count. They’re not in the 5-plus-star demographic. There’s a petition out on Change.org. We’ve signed it. It’s unlikely to move the rocks, but at least they’ll know we don’t like them, and why.

Just round the bend – how appropriate – and up around the Jakarta-by-Sea that developers have created with what locally luminous landscaper Made Wijaya dismissively (and quite properly) writes off as New Asian Architecture along the Ngurah Rai Bypass, the row continues over the plan to turn Benoa Bay into Port Excrescence. There was another huge Tolak Reklamsi demonstration on Jul. 10, organized by the local villages and banjars. We’re sure Governor Pastika heard about it. We do wonder what he said about it, though.

In a related move, there’s popular action in Lombok to stop massive sand extraction contracts there from going ahead. Apart from anything else, they seem to be illegal, created under the brown envelope rules that blight Indonesia. Tomy Winata needs all that silicon to fill in the Benoa mangroves and kill a natural, traditional community so he can construct an artificial one.

Shoot! There’s an idea

Apparently it’s not illegal to import unlicensed weaponry into Indonesia if you can get your new killing toys stuffed in the diplomatic bag. This is what members of the presidential security squad did in the USA. A man who assisted with their acquisition has been before the American courts since (perhaps astonishingly, although thankfully) it is unlawful to export guns from the Land of the Second Amendment unless you have a permit.

You can buy them there willy-nilly, as mass shootings by homicidal madmen demonstrate with tedious regularity, because Congress and the National Rifle Association seem to believe it’s still 1791 and that the right to bear arms has more validity than the nakedly bare truth.

But because the Indonesian presidential security squad was able to organize to get their new guns into diplomatic protected baggage, no crime that legal process can adjudicate has been committed at either end of the deal. Here at home, according to reports, administrative measures are under consideration (or at least they were when we wrote this). We don’t think we should wait up for a meaningful result.

Dr. Hannigan, We Presume?

British writer and skilled Indonesia hand Tim Hannigan, whose archival skill at demythologizing Raffles and other Names of Empah will always have a laudable capacity to sabotage the keyboards upon which post-imperial paeanists like to tinkle, wasn’t at last year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. He had a prior engagement in Mongolia, though not among the marmots of the Gobi or indeed the yurts of same, since yurts do not exist, though marmots do, and carry plague. The large tents of the local nomads are called Gers. This is pronounced grrrr in the way one might voice imprecations against massed idiot bike riders who turn right from the left lanes at the numerous traffic lights on Sunset Road and heedlessly cause karmageddon.

Sadly, Hannigan won’t be at this year’s festival either. He will be at Leicester University in England, doing a PhD on the ethical issues of travel literature that’s being funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the M3C (Midlands 3 Cities) doctoral program.

Hannigan recently revised Willard Hanna’s Bali Chronicles, which are due to appear around festival time (UWRF 2016 is Oct. 26-30) as A Brief History of Bali, with a foreword by Adrian Vickers. Never mind, the Diary will have a beer for him on opening night.

His lovely light history, Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, deliciously upset the Hyacinth Bucket-style riparian delights favoured by certain imperial historiographers when it was published in 2012. Come to think of it, we owe him at least a beer for that, if not a G&T. He also wrote A Brief History of Indonesia (2015) and says he hopes to be back in archipelago during the northern summer of 2017. He’s a dab hand at fishing out historical and other anecdotes and Indonesia has a rich lode of those.

A View With a Room

Lunch at Sundara, Four Seasons Jimbaran’s eclectic beachside swan-around place for the locally well placed, is not to be missed. There’s plenty of outdoors for outdoor types and it’s airy inside with a lovely view of the bay beyond, especially at high tide. We recently ruminated there, on a very pleasantly passable Caesar salad and other delights, in the fine company of chief 4S Bali spruiker Marian Carroll. We made a couple of notes, as you do on such occasions, though the divine mini lemon meringue pie we had for dessert rather got in the way of concentrated effort.

Of primary interest was that the Ganesha art gallery has been reinvented as a multimode arts and cultural space. That’s great news. Of this, GM of Four Seasons Resorts Bali, Uday Rao, says: “We believe it is our responsibility – as well as our honour – to give guests the opportunity to personally meet and learn from Bali’s talented artists, who are hand-picked and invited to share their knowledge and skills. Guests can take a lesson in woodcarving, painting, dancing, making offerings for ceremonies, or weaving fine songket (cloth).”

Officially it’s the Ganesha Cultural Centre. It opens on Jul. 29. We’ll get along there soon enough.

Sundara is also spreading its wings. It is introducing a long brunch. We’ll have a word with Sophie Digby of The Yak about that. She’s a brunch and bubbles girl from way back, and the launch date (Aug. 14) might already be in her diary. It does seem to be a pretty good way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Animal Welfare? What’s That?

News that Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea have moved to seriously tighten up and enforce animal welfare laws may furrow the odd brow here. Isn’t that sort of thing best left to karma? A dog’s life is – well, a dog’s life.

It shouldn’t be. In the Australian state of New South Wales the government has announced greyhound racing will be abolished from July next year, because of rampant cruelty and mistreatment of dogs. There’s a chorus line of unrepentant recidivists now in pursuit of the premier, Mike Baird. He apparently will not be budged; neither should he.

Here in Bali, animal welfare outfits often have a hard time when they try to help animals. It’s not only dogs. Monkeys – intelligently sentient beings – are locked up in cages and made to perform perversely infantile tricks so their “owners” can make money. We won’t even touch on civets forced to shit for a living so people can drink Luwak coffee (ugh!) or the poor dolphins of Keremas, whose unhealthy and woefully inadequate “pool” affords them nothing but pain and – if they look wistfully over the edge – a view of the nearby ocean that is their natural home.

When clear evidence of gross abuse of dogs comes to light, as it has recently in a case where patient and horrendously expensive negotiation that went on for weeks thankfully resulted in a large number of animals being rescued from hell, no one in authority was prepared to do a thing.

Animal welfare laws in Indonesia are antiquated – they date from the Dutch era – and are shockingly inadequate. They are rarely enforced. The example set for Jakarta by Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea cannot be dismissed as yet another instance of western policies that have no relevance to Indonesia Raya.

Make Vroom

It was pleasing to see recently that Rakesh Kapoor, who is equally adept on two wheels or four, has returned to Bali from Jakarta, though not to his former domicile, Tampak Siring in the green rice terraces of Gianyar. He’s popped up as general manager of Seminyak Village Mall

HectorR

Hector’s Diary appears in the print and on line editions of the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 25, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Blacklisted

It’s official. The Diary and Vulcan, god of the underworld and chief patron of volcanic excess, are no longer speaking. Vulcan has been blacklisted. Until further notice, even if we should by chance fly over one of the spectacular mountain vents that lead down to his lair in the underworld, we shall affect an air of lofty distain and total disinterest and shan’t even go “Ooh! Ah!” on a sotto voce basis. This is because we were marooned in Australia at a critical time because of the risk of suspended particulate matter in the air above Bali.

OK, volcanic dust is special in that it is basically glass and its impact can puncture aircraft hulls, make windows instantly opaque, kill jet engines and get into places that require lubricants to which in later maintenance cycles the fused glass dangerously denies entry. In that respect, Vulcan’s damaging offerings are far more immediately a risk, even though less ubiquitously fatal, than all the other detritus, that man-made stuff, which hangs around in the island air every day.

The disruption to The Diary’s travel plans was a nuisance – we accept its necessity: that’s not the point – principally because of two things. First, it meant we couldn’t get to the ROLE Models charity dinner at RIMBA on Nov. 21. This was especially irritating because we like a good bash and Mike O’Leary and ROLE Foundation do a fabulous job of empowering disadvantaged Indonesian women who would otherwise have lives of unfulfilled promise and low economic status. The second irritant was that the delay meant we were out of the country when our temporary resident visa expired. That’s a big no-no because unavoidable absence is not an excuse. You just have to start over with the bureaucratic bun-fight, which is a nuisance.

That personal problem pales into insignificance against the economic cost to Bali (and Lombok) of Mt Rinjani’s activity. While we were cooling our heels in Western Australia we saw a photo of Ngurah Rai’s arrivals area on Facebook. It was empty.

With a Skirl and a Whirl

Alistair Speirs, publisher of Now Jakarta and Now Bali – and of Made Wijaya’s Stranger in Paradise columns – is an Edinburgh laddie. Such is the draw of the kilt in Scottish culture that even mercantile east coast Lowlanders – the only true Sassenachs by the way; forget the English – have bought the idea that even though they have the money to buy trousers they should instead swaddle themselves in wraparound plaid.

Speirs suggests that anyone interested should follow the sound of the pipers (this year from the Perth Highland Pipe Band) to the annual St Andrew’s ball on Nov. 28. It’s organized by the Java St. Andrews Society and will take place at the Sahid Hotel, at a cost of Rp 1.6M a head. He notes: “As is custom with Scottish events, there will be food and drinks aplenty, lots of kilted men, and much Ceilidh dancing (interspersed by the odd yelp of “whhheeeoooshh!!”). The Scots know how to throw a party so don’t miss this one! There will be a lot of fantastic packages for auction – Are you a rugby fan? Do you like Hong Kong? What about a business-class travel and luxury accommodation? You get the idea. At the same time, bid to help some very worthy causes too.”

There’s no word on whether Made Wijaya will be present, though his former name, Michael White, could suggest Scottish roots. The availability of kilts might pique the interest of The Diary’s international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, who is otherwise an eminently sensible lassie (see below).

International Event

The Diary was privileged recently to attend a wedding celebrated at a lovely winery in the Margaret River district of southwest Western Australia. It was a warm day – which was good for refugees from Bali – and the occasion went along with plenty of zing. The celebrant noted that under current Australian law marriage was between a man and a woman and that this might soon be changed to accommodate couples whose sexual orientation rules out opposite gender status as a determining factor. Cheers to that.

The couple that was being married on this occasion was of the opposite sex. Their families and friends were from around the globe, which was nice. A variety of accents enlivened the event, from the United States and Canada (they’re not the same places, something about which some people apparently need continual reminders), South Africa, Scotland (yes, a kilt was present) and other spots as well as various bits of Australia. It was hot, though the cooling ocean breeze – in WA’s lovely southwest it comes all the way from South Africa incidentally – was a treat. The dancing was spectacular. Seeing a kilt swirling to the difficult demands of a rap beat was something else.

Hoarse Before the Cartel

Regulating maritime traffic to and from and within environmentally sensitive areas is good sense. These arrangements require sensible and fair rules that take account of all factors. In the case of Gili Trawangan, the “party island” off Lombok’s northwest coast, these factors include the fact that a lot of people want to go there. A lot of them want to go there direct from Bali. Whatever the charms of alternative first-arrival points on Lombok’s mainland – Senggigi has obvious attractions; those of tout-cartel capital Bangsal and of Teluk Nara, where dive and accommodation operators have corporate facilities are harder to define – the chief destination of choice is Trawangan. Why irritate people who want to go there by insisting that they first go somewhere else? As a marketing strategy this practice would seem to have several demerits.

So it was somewhat strange to read recently that the West Nusa Tenggara tourism and culture department, the naval base in Lombok and Mataram Water Police are reportedly working together to limit the access to Trawangan of fast boats from Padang Bai and Benoa. Local navy commander Colonel Rachmat Djunaidy is said to believe that these boats cause environmental damage and coral reef erosion. It’s in the interests of the tourism industry and the Trawangan community to protect vital natural assets, of course, and if there is a particular problem then rules need to be set – or applied if they already exist – to minimize damage.

The colonel, though, apparently has a better idea. A bit of heavy-footed stomping. He will work with the bureaucrats and the water police to “curb these fast boats and redirect them to the three local ports of Bangsal, Teluk Nara and Senggigi.” Perhaps he has boat turn-back strategy in mind. Or perhaps he just doesn’t want to get hoarse in a shouting match with a cartel that would like to get a bit of the action (or possibly all of it).

Time for Another Good Yak

This year’s Yak Awards could be a frightful scene if The Diary gets along to them in the gear Sophie Digby, Chief Yakker, seems to suggest should be dusted off for the occasion. We look shocking in lamé and leopard print.

The event is on Dec. 4 at Il Lido, Kerobokan, and celebrates among other things the fact that Studio 54 is coming to town as well as Santa Claus.

It may just have been a glitch – many virtual calendars don’t seem to do UTC+08 if an event is in Indonesia, and this one is listed to start at 6pm UTC+07, which is Jakarta time. Sophie will sort it out, we expect.

Voting for the awards is under way as well as ticket sales – they’re Rp 650K at various outlets or Rp 850K at the door. Dress code for the evening is Studio 54 – Elton, Cher, Jackson, Warhol, Jagger, Minnelli, or Shirley Mclaine. We could do Warhol, possibly. That would suit 15 minutes of infamy.

All A-Buzz

These things don’t usually spark Hector’s interest, but the otherwise unremarkable visit of Charles and Camilla to New Zealand and Australia earlier this month brought this little Sydney incident to attention, as reported by Rick Morton in The Australian:

“Hundreds of community organization members, politicians and other dignitaries were invited to a garden party at Government House where [NSW] Governor David Hurley declared himself ‘Bee-One, the chief beekeeper’ and insisted the royal couple try the first harvest of honey from the grounds. ‘We thank you for giving your time and visiting Australia,’ he said. ‘Post the rugby World Cup, we understand you had to visit New Zealand first.’”

We had another little line from Philly Frisson about that. She suggested the Royal Taster had then stepped up manfully (oops, person-fully).

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary is published in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser.

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Poison Chalice

Three people died from methanol poisoning in Bali recently. They had all been drinking at a bar in Legian. The name of the establishment is fairly well known and cautions against going there have been privately issued by many people to their friends. Naming it publicly is fraught with risk. One of the more curious elements of Indonesian law is that people who should be in jail hanging their heads in shame can make you the criminal for talking about them.

So we’ll just say this: People who adulterate alcoholic drinks with methanol for profit (that’s why they do it; it’s certainly not for mistakenly philanthropic reasons) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Those whose actions or negligence lead to catastrophic poisoning – methanol can leave you brain damaged and blind if it doesn’t kill you – should be arrested, charged, tried and if found guilty, jailed. It’s just another thing that Bali needs to get really serious about.

Gaining a reputation as cowboy territory does not help the island’s tourism profile. If we become known as a place where nut-heads serve you methanol in bars – and of hotels whose balconies collapse and severely injure people and whose managements then decline to accept any responsibility, apparently even moral responsibility – it’s rather likely to be seen as a demerit rather than a merit. Even in non-effete, non-western tourism markets.

Wake Up

It was good to see the response from the fisheries and forests minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, to the international petition raised in the interest of the captive dolphins confined to a small, chlorinated swimming pool at the Wake resort at Keramas. It beggars belief that anyone would subject dolphins to such treatment, especially in the pursuit of profit. So if violations are found (beyond the unbelievable confinement of intelligent, salt-water living mammals in poisonous, potentially blinding chlorinated water) then it would be good if the central government applied its animal protection powers. Such action might resolve the situation speedily, whoever is the enchanted being, a member of a protected species perhaps, who is behind this particular “tourist attraction”.

The resort, we hear, is favoured by Russian tourists, primarily for its off-road macho-man facilities. The dolphins are a side-show. That says something itself, of course, especially in an environment where roubles and vroom go together like a shirtless president and a chesty photo opportunity, but we should not be surprised.

A deeper discussion on Indonesia’s laws as they apply to the apparently hitherto elective matter of animal protection is sorely needed, and not only in the context of the newly announced quest for nature tourism. We look forward to Minister Siti’s direct input. Reform of those inadequate laws, many of which date from the Dutch era and are no longer relevant, is something for which animal welfare organizations have been pressing for ages.

It’s Those Westerners

Speaking of animal welfare advocates, those among them who have been most vocal about how to reduce and eventually eliminate rabies in Bali are back in the provincial government’s sights. Governor Pastika says handling rabies in Bali is not like doing so in western societies where people vaccinate their pets and look after them properly, and where strays are rare. In Bali, he says, we have to kill stray animals because it’s easier to do so and more appropriate in our environment.

He overlooks, as of course he must unless he wants to immediately destroy his whole argument, the experience of India, South Africa and a number of Latin American countries where approved world standard responses have been used to great effect. These are vaccination, humane numbers reduction by sterilization, and effective community education. Last time we looked, most of the places where culling has been rejected as both pointless and a risk of further spreading rabies were hardly examples of well-moneyed leafy suburbs in prosperous European and American cities.

The Governor told a meeting of Bali legislators that animal welfare organizations here should not just shout (he means shout things that he views as unhelpful or irritating) but should help the government by capturing strays, vaccinating and sterilizing them, and caring for them. If that is his view, perhaps he should tell all the little panjandrums further down the line that it is. They might then cease their boneheaded practice of obstructing NGOs doing this good, productive, public spirited work.

Governor Pastika’s line on vaccination is just as skewed, not to say crass. There’s not enough human vaccine in Bali, he says, because the suppliers – the private company BioFarma – have insufficient stock. It’s not that the government won’t buy it; it’s just that it isn’t there to be bought. Anyone who buys that line is unfamiliar with an eight-letter word that is more politely rendered as two words: bovine manure. In fact the government agreed to a contract last year at a unit price it now finds the suppliers have discounted for online buyers and they want it cheaper too. Caveat emptor is a nice old Latin term that fits.

There was another rabies death last week (Jul. 27) in Bangli, the island’s 12th this year. It takes the official human toll from rabies to 160 since the disease broke out in 2008. It is now on the rise again, because the government, its animal husbandry agency, and some district administrations, have dropped the ball. That’s the bottom line. It’s a shocking one.

Takes the Cake

We can report that not only is Tim Hannigan’s latest book on Indonesia first class – it’s A Short History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices and Tsunamis, and has just been published by Tuttle Singapore – but that the Biku high tea that accompanied his chat about it on Jul. 25 was too. We expected nothing less, of course, of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine establishment; and we were certainly not disappointed, though we did leave afterwards feeling quite full.

Tim is a good speaker. He has a knack of sitting gnome-like on a tall chair and looking entirely comfortable. This is a remarkable skill. He took the sell-out crowd through the introduction to his book, the only bit of it, he says, that is entirely imagined. It centres on the Hobbits of Flores in pre-history and their lengthy interaction with the fuller-sized humans who colonized the archipelago towards the end of the Hobbit era. The rest of the book can rely on written and narrative record, and does, rather well.

The official book tour included an appearance at Bar Luna literary club in Ubud and a signing assignment at Periplus at the airport. Unofficially, it featured a rare opportunity to catch up with the author over dinner, which was good fun and informative as always. This special meeting of the Raconteurs’ Club took place at Gorgonzola, which is a fixture on our Bukit List.

Direct Action

Those who follow the detail of the Indonesian-Australian relationship know very well that it chugs along much as ever, beyond the headlines and the scare stories, even in the face of the assertion (lately) by the Indonesian attorney-general that shooting convicted criminals is no longer a pressing priority. Apparently only the first few rounds were prioritized. It is now crystal clear that this exercise in judicial murder was for political purposes. We’ll pause briefly to vomit in disgust and then get on with business.

The business in this instance is the Direct Assistance Program administered by the Australian consulate-general in Bali. The 2014-2015 program funding was doubled to Rp 1, 683,000,000 in the Australian budget for that financial year (Australia’s FY runs Jul. 1-Jun. 30). It funded 16 projects, two of them in neighbouring Nusa Tenggara Barat for which the consulate-general also has responsibility. Australia slashed its future foreign aid funding in the 2015-2016 budget in May, but most of the impact is in outlays for future years and the DAP program in Bali-NTB for this financial year remained at its previously doubled level.

Projects funded in 2014-2015 included: Funding sight-restoring cataract surgeries in NTB; buying support tools for patients with disability in Lombok; providing piping to access clean water for a village in Tabanan; supporting a sustainable agriculture project in Buleleng that researched and promoted dry land farming techniques; purchasing toilets to supply to a remote village in East Bali; funding a pop-up co-working space in Gianyar to develop entrepreneurship among young Balinese; working with an Australian volunteer to provide advanced nurse training at Sanglah Hospital; and providing updated IT equipment to a women’s college in Ubud to train young female students in multi-media skills.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 1, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In a Word: Tosh

Proposals lately aired that would further limit the number of foreign workers in Indonesia are sensible. As a medium- to long-term strategy they are surely free of any downside. Though that would be in the context of the further development of the nascent ASEAN free market where, as in the European Community, state borders and indeed national citizenship would become progressively less important.

But most foreign workers in Indonesia are not “white”, as economic ministers looking for nationalistic headlines like to suggest. That old pejorative is code for “former colonial oppressors and their running dogs”. Indonesians are not disadvantaged because 70 years of independence has failed to free them from the fiscal drag of the colonial era. Instead, they are not as advantaged as they could be, because their governments have failed for seven decades to build an open, educated society and legislate for the competitive economy that would then have developed.

Nationalistic claptrap offers nothing of value. It produces only deflective, self-serving political rhetoric.  The economy does not run on rhetoric. It runs on money. If Indonesians desire progress, which they sensibly do, the ex-colonial cringe is a tiresome mindset they should have sent to the junkyard long ago.

A real economic imperative facing Indonesia is foreign investment. The national investment board, announcing recently that a “one-stop-shop” would soon open (good luck with all the sub-national impediments, chaps) said it estimated US$23 billion in planned investment was forgone in the five years 2007-2012 because regulatory and administrative holdups, and endemic corruption, chased it away.

So far as employment goes, if there are Indonesian workers who can do the job, no one in their right mind would recruit anyone else (in Indonesia). But what’s needed is an effective middle economy in the huge space between local global-list enterprises and the small-to-micro business sector (both of which work well).

That requires not only coordinated policies that actually work and are implemented, including foreign investment, but also a cultural change: No more “passing” people as qualified because not to do so would be culturally embarrassing (or invidious to the interests of and continued presence in Indonesia of the examiner); a real work ethic inspired from the top (that’s where the bosses work harder than those they employ); an education system that produces young people with well rounded global skills; and a health system that keeps people healthy and therefore productive.

It also requires effective public infrastructure, both physical and human. And last, though certainly not least, it needs government and business environments that are notable for minimal corruption and sound judicial decisions rather than the reverse of this.

“Expats” (a ridiculous word) have a limited role in Indonesia’s efforts to build a truly balanced economy. Foreign workers should be regulated by legislation, but in the context of an environment in which private profit (universally and fairly taxed as a revenue growth stream) is recognized and supported as a generator of wider wealth. Now there’s another vacant space that could and should be filled with objective, forward-thinking debate.

Take a Break

When the diary in Ubud, which is often because it’s a fun place to be – it’s got everything, after all, from spirit festivals to sex therapy (either amateur or professional) – we’re often to be found at Warung Semesta in Jl Monkey Forest. It has very nice coffee, a decent café-style menu, and reliable WiFi. The latter is essential these days since you carry your office with you in your laptop.

It’s attached to the Tegal Sari resort, which specializes in the Japanese tourist market but not exclusively so. As a drop-in spot for shopped-out shoppers, Semesta’s hard to beat, too, as it’s located just round the corner from where Jl Hanoman meets Jl Raya Pengosetan and segues into Jl Monkey Forest. (Hanoman is named after Hanuman, monkey hero of the Ramayana.)

The establishment is very near the monkey forest itself. A little troupe of macaques can sometimes be seen foraging in the mango trees outside or performing trapeze-style on the PLN wires.

Doris, Mate!

Dining über-casual the other night at Warung In-Salt on Jl Pantai Balangan at Ungasan turned into a better experience than ever. Tony Eltherington, aka Doris Day for reasons that are still not fully explained but who is the diary’s favourite mariner for all sorts of reasons his modest approach to achievement forbids him to boast or boost, was also there and in fine style.

He was shore-based at the time but told us he was shortly back off to his floating home, a nicely fitted out former West Australian crayfish boat, for its next tour of duty to the Mentawai Islands and beyond with surfing-diving-fishing fans in tow.

He gave us one of his new corporate T-shirts as a memento. It’s a fetching black and has a logo which – from a distance – resembles that of a particularly sought-after brand of motorbike that goes vroom in an expensively classy way.

Bombast Away!

The risk Bali faces of slipping behind in the race to win market share in the highly competitive international tourism market has lately come to the fore as a topic of official conversation. That this has been primarily in a constructive sense is a significant benefit. Applied analysis beats boring bombast any time, as an indicator of which of the paths thus far less travelled should in fact be chosen.

State reform minister Yuddy Christiano recently said that despite Bali’s popularity there were still areas that required improvement, among them measures to avoid the slightest risk of not providing the best service. That’s a fair point. It depends on the view of the tourists concerned what service can be defined as best. But most people want things that work efficiently and on schedule.

Over to Bali tourism head Anak Agung Gede Putra Yuniarta, who points out that the key to maintaining visitor levels and providing a better experience in spite of rising costs lies in creativity and services.

His list of must-do’s includes creating tour packages that show visitors more of Bali and encourage repeat business, enough electricity, road infrastructure that gets tourists to and from their ooh and aah places without giving them a headache or a conniption, and improving the environment of tourism sites.

He also notes that domestic tourists these days can visit Singapore and Malaysia and spend less doing so than if they came to Bali.

In this context, efforts to build up the nascent Indian tourism trade would be boosted by direct flights to Bali and free visas. Figures for January and February this year show 17,400 Indian tourists visited, up 47.5% on the same months last year.

It seems Indian tourists are impressed with the artistry and customs of Balinese Hinduism and yoga is a modern cultural connection. There was a conference in Nusa Dua on Mar. 26-28 from which further Indian media promotion was expected.

Free visas are certainly an issue. The government last year expanded the list of countries for which VOA charges would be removed and this year announced a further expansion, to 40 countries. Australia was on the first list but then wasn’t, the reason given being that it did not offer a reciprocal privilege to Indonesian travellers. Yes, well, perhaps someone was finding a plausible excuse after removing his foot from his mouth.

Now a court has ruled that free visas must be reciprocal or that they are otherwise illegal (apparently this is the intent of existing legislation). This is a further embarrassment for tourism minister tourism minister Arief Yahya. A significant number of countries on Jakarta’s fanfare of free visa felicities do not offer reciprocity. The dogs have been eating his homework yet again.

That’s the Spirit

The Bali Spirit Festival got under way in Ubud yesterday (Mar. 31) and runs until Sunday (Apr. 5). It’s in its eighth year. Like other song-and-dance shows on the calendar it may face problems in the future as the demographic of Bali tourism changes and Bali – inevitably – with this. But that shouldn’t worry inspirer-guru of the Global Celebration of Yoga, Dance & Music Meghan Pappenheim this year, or the happy-clapping collective which organizers said was expected to number 6000 and come from more than 50 countries.

There’s all the usual material at the festival’s two venues, one for the day-long workshops and the Agung Rai Museum of Art Open Stage for nightly world music concerts. Both venues also feature markets focusing on health and wellness through organic and healthy foods, crafts, clothing and merchandise.

But there was one item listed in an electronic promo that came our way about which we would be less than ecstatic if it was anything to do with us. It was something called Estatic Dance. Perhaps you stand rooted to the spot and fiddle with your cursor?

Hector tweets @scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

Clumsy Confections on all Sides

Nick Feik, editor of the online newspaper PoliticsOz, wrote this in his editorial note today (Feb. 17):

TERRITORIAL TENSIONS

The Indonesian government had only just finished protesting to Australian ambassador Greg Moriarty over the Abbott government’s border protection policies when its foreign minister Marty Natalegawa was again fronting the media to object to Australian conduct.

On Friday it was revealed that Indonesian armed forces believe the Australian navy breached its maritime borders knowingly and intentionally, on several occasions.

But yesterday Natalegawa was referring to the latest spying allegations reported in theNew York Times, that the Australian Signals Directorate had listened in and passed on to the US the communications of an American law firm which was representing Indonesia in trade discussions with America. The Australian and US governments have also been sharing mass telecommunications intercepts, according to the new Snowden leaks.

Indonesia’s patience with the Australian government is now threadbare.

In news that may or may not be related, a fleet of Chinese naval vessels has passed through Indonesian territorial waters close to Christmas Island, in what was describedby the Jakarta Post as an unprecedented exercise. American secretary of state John Kerry, visiting Indonesia this week, will doubtless urge Indonesia not to accommodate China’s increasingly aggressive territorial manoeuvres. For its part, Indonesia plans to raise Australia’s naval incursions into its waters with Kerry, as well as the raft of spying allegations.

But as these discussions will be conducted behind closed doors, we can only guess at the real state of affairs, and try to read the coded language of international diplomacy.

“It is the responsibility of (US & Australia) … to salvage their bilateral relations with Indonesia,” said Natalegawa.

Whereas Julie Bishop maintains that relations with the Indonesian government are “very positive”.

This is all fine, so far as it goes. Unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough. It takes no notice of the other side of the coin.

It is, granted, foolish to rattle the cage with the Indonesians in the lead-up to the legislative and presidential elections this year. Some of the official comment from the Australian side has been unhelpful. Some might say gauche.

But this confection of peril, for that is what all this is, essentially, gives Indonesian politicians an opportunity to focus on foreign impertinence rather than the substantial policy failures at home for which they are responsible. It risks inflaming public feelings by banging the nationalist drum when no such response is justified.

So yes, in regard to the spying allegations, both Australia and the U.S. have broken the first rule of intelligence-gathering, which is “Don’t get caught.” But even there, there’s a rider. They got caught because of the malfeasance of Edward Snowden, another of the bothersome clowns who – armed with mega-data – declare that they are setting out to save the world.

The spying row aside, Australia’s deep problem with Indonesia over the so-called boat people is also not entirely of Canberra’s commission. Indonesia says it doesn’t want asylum seekers in the country, yet until very recently it has done little or nothing to stop them.

The problem is that people are rightly free to travel and are entitled, with the required visas, to travel anywhere they want. In the case of asylum seekers arriving in Indonesia, it’s what happens then that matters. They disappear and become the clients (they are not the victims) of people smugglers.

In the Indonesian fashion, where sluggish and inattentive bureaucracy slumbers at its desk and corruption is virtually an official pastime, nothing much is done to stop the people smugglers. Until someone complains – for example Canberra – and someone in Indonesia stirs themselves into action. Generally, this energy is temporary. That’s what Indonesia is like.

Add to this the fact that from the Indonesian perspective the best policy option is to ignore the presence of people intending to commit a crime (leaving an Indonesian port without notice) because this will remove them from Indonesia. It passes the problem, such as it is and since it is politically defined as a problem in Australia, onto Canberra. Let them deal with it, is the view.

The international political problem has been worsened by the Abbott Government’s even harder line on boats approaching Australian waters. It has taken this approach for domestic political reasons. There is no security threat present. The people on board the boats (excepting the remote chance that some fanatic might be posing as a refugee) are fixed on one aim: securing a better life for themselves and their families.

This needs to be seen in context too. So-called economic refugees are now a fact of global life. They are part of the new international political architecture. Sometime soon, Australia will have to find the moral fortitude to deal with the real problem and not its minuscule side-effect. Better to work for proper global management of elective population movement than buy lifeboats so you can get the navy to send the few unfortunates you find breaching your maritime zone back to Indonesia.

It’s not in Australia’s interest to have a row with Indonesia. Especially on something as no-win as the boat people.

It bears mentioning that the unconscionable policy of the Australian government appears to have staunched the flow of boats. From that pernicious and narrow policy perspective, it would have to be judged a success.

But that doesn’t mean Australians – or their government – should forget that the real feet of clay on the difficult issue of asylum seekers transiting Indonesia are under big desks in Jakarta, not Canberra.

That’s something someone should tell Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who apparently believes it is up to Australia (and the U.S.) to work to maintain relations with Indonesia.

Cooperation and neighbourliness is a two-way street.

A GOOD ARGUMENT

 

And let’s just note this: No one’s rights have been infringed. The person concerned remains an Australian citizen. with all the benefits that status confers. 

 

ASIO acting to prevent Australians fighting in Syrian war is not racist

Gerard Henderson, The Sydney Morning Herald 10 December 2013

So now it has come to this. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, headed by David Irvine, has been depicted as ”racist”. Why? Well, because ASIO has acted to prevent young Australian Muslims from travelling to Syria to fight in a civil war against other Muslims. That’s why, apparently.

On the weekend, it was reported that ASIO cancelled the passports of about 20 men from western Sydney. Australian intelligence officials believe that they are possessed of a ”jihadi mentality” and are intent on travelling to Syria ”to engage in politically motivated violence”.

Monday’s Herald carried a story that Abu Bakr, a 19-year-old Bankstown labourer, has been identified as one of the Australian citizens against whom ASIO has acted. He accused ASIO of racism.Bakr was subsequently interviewed on ABC radio 702 by Linda Mottram.

It was not Mottram’s best interview and she gave the impression that she was avoiding the tough questions. Bakr denied that he wanted to fight in Syria. But he railed against ”killing innocent people, killing babies, killing the children [and] raping our women”. Bakr then declared: ”This is what the Americans and Israelis and the Alawites agree with – but I do not agree with this.”

In Syria, there is overwhelming evidence that children, women and men are being bombed and women raped. Neither the US nor Israel are militarily involved in Syria, which has become essentially a battleground between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, presides over an Alawite regime. The Alawite religion is asect of Shiite Islam. In the appalling civil war, Assad has the support of the Shiites – primarily the government of Iran and Hezbollah. The opponents of the Assad regime are primarily Sunni Muslims, including many foreign fighters.

In its 2012-13 report to Parliament, ASIO comments that ”the Syrian conflict has resonated strongly in Australia, partly because of deep familial ties to Lebanon that exist here”. According to ASIO, ”as at 30 June, 2013, four Australians were known to have been killed in Syria”.

ASIO has also commented that a ”by product of the Syrian conflict has been sporadic incidents of small-scale communal violence along the line of the Middle East’s Sunni-Shi’a divide”.

Bakr may, or may not, want to travel to Syria. But some Australian Muslims have done so. One, from Queensland, became the first known Australian to have taken part in a car bomb murder/suicide attack. He was a Sunni and died while fighting with theal-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organisation.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims killed or injured over the past two decades have been the victims of other Muslims. The avoidance of this issue makes it possible for the likes of Bakr to present themselves as fighting against Americans or Israelis.

The number of radical Islamists in Australia appears to be relatively small. However, it is not in Australia’s national interest that its citizens, however few, become radicalised and skilled with weapons while engaging in civil wars.

Last weekend, police arrested and charged a Sydney disability pensioner with running a complicated scheme to enlist young Australian Muslims to fight with such Islamist terrorist movements as Jabhat al-Nusra against the Assad regime. Such recruitment is common in Europe and North America.

Australians have good reason to appreciate the work of intelligence agencies and Commonwealth, state and territory police to prevent terrorist attacks within Australia. When launching the national security strategy in January, then prime minister Julia Gillard addressed the issue of domestic terrorism. She said ”here, at home, numerous terrorist plots have been thwarted and 23 convictions have resulted from the prosecution of those who planned such attacks”
.
In all cases, the accused Islamists were found guilty by juries. All received substantial prison sentences, despite the fact that some came before left-liberal judges. All the major convictions have prevailed when appeals were made. In short, what Gillard referred to were serious unsuccessful plans to kill and injure Australian children, women and men going about their everyday activities.

There is no suggestion that Australian Muslims intent on fighting in Syria want to harm Australia. However, it is believed that about a 10th of Islamists who fight overseas return radicalised to their home country.

In the November issue of Standpoint magazine, Douglas Murray documents how ”moderate movements in Islam have repeatedly lost to the hardliners”. Preventing radicals from fighting overseas is in the interest of the overwhelming majority of moderate Australian Muslims. It’s not racist. 

 

Gerard Henderson is Executive Director of The Sydney Institute. This was his last commentary for The Sydney Morning Herald. His commentaries will now appear in The Australian.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Nov. 27, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Get Smart! Get Agent 99

It may all have blown over by the time this edition of the Diary appears. (Well, no it won’t, even though it certainly should have.) The piquant sauce de jour these days is the spy scandal that has embroiled Indonesia and Australia. A quick point: It was Kevin wot dun it, the Nambour Kid, saviour of the universe and serial winner of the motor-mouth prize.

This is not to be unkind to the former Australian prime minister. It’s just that, well, he is the former Australian prime minister. He’s not even in parliament any longer. He decided since being re-elected on Sept. 7 as the member for Griffith – disclosure: the seat, in Brisbane, was once the Diary’s domicile for the purpose of scribbling gratuitous advice on ballot papers – that since the Australian people had belled him out it was all too much and he’d be better off saving the world from someplace else.

Nor is this to say that the present incumbent, Tony Abbott, wouldn’t have signed off on the same scam if he’d been in the big office at the time. But let’s not forget that 2009 was a particularly complex phrase in the long narrative of the world. The Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005, the Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta in 2004, the Marriott attack in 2003 and the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in 2009, created difficult circumstances. Indonesia was facing down – very creditably, it should be noted – a significant domestic terrorism threat.

Traditionally, governments don’t comment on intelligence matters. This isn’t because they haven’t got any – it just looks like that sometimes. It wasn’t very smart to eavesdrop on President SBY – heck, it wasn’t even Maxwell Smart (lady Agent 99 was so much smarter) – but, well, that’s why democracies nurture journalists: to keep the bastards honest. Though journalists don’t always write everything they know either, for all sorts of reasons; legal, chiefly, or corporate or political, or sometimes for self-preservation.

It would be invidious to speculate on the real reasons the Australians and Americans bugged the presidential hand phone. Suffice to say it probably wasn’t to find out what SBY says when the chauffeur turns up late; or that it was even about the president himself at all.

The real villain in this piece is Edward Snowden, the latest “heroic” leaker, a man who like so many others these days is without honour. Without his imbecilic cyber incontinence this silly situation would not have arisen. If he didn’t like what he was doing he should have resigned and gone away. The world only needs one Julian Assange. And even that’s debatable.

 

Watch Out

An incident in Seminyak the other day serves as a timely reminder that the crowded tourism-oriented parts of South Bali are not necessarily crime-free safe areas, despite claims to that effect by various figures in authority who would obviously like it to be thought that everything here on the Island of the Dogs is just hunky-dory. It’s not a bit like Dodge City, really it isn’t. No, really.

We hear that a knife-wielding bandit assaulted an expat man in broad daylight outside a convenience store in Jl Oberoi, plainly intent on robbery. His intended target did the sensible thing and ran away. What’s more, he ran straight to the local banjar and told them the story. Apparently they caught the miscreant.

We hope he was simply handed over to the police. There was a dreadful case reported in another area – not all that far away – some months ago when a man stole Rp800K from a local warung and ran. A mob caught him, stripped him naked to humiliate him, and then beat him to death. They threw his body into a ditch. It was said at the time that the police did not regard it as an incident worth investigating since the robber had been caught and the crime had therefore been solved.

Murder is apparently not murder in a wide range of circumstances.

 

Grub Alert

A Canadian woman who lives in Ubud reported on Facebook recently that an Indonesian man had molested her in the street as she was going home after dinner in the evening. He groped one of her breasts and then left the scene, doubtless to boast of his triumph to any of his friends who, similarly mentally defective, would utter the Balinese or Indonesian equivalents of “Phwaar!” and think him a good chap rather than the mental midget he plainly is.

There are, of course, badly behaved idiots and low-life grubs in every society. An overly large proportion of those who come to public attention are men. This is distinctly displeasing to many of us who are represented by the little arrow on the gender signs you see around nowadays, instead of that friendly plus. It is especially irritating to the majority of men who are tired of being implicated in what is apparently seen as a global rape collective.

This is not to downplay the serious nature of assault and especially that by random men on passing women. We often wish we had not disposed of our lovely riding crop, once used as a friendly guide to various mounts upon which we have cantered. In circumstances such as that just reported in Ubud it would have been good to have been in the area and to have had it to hand. Pak Groper would still be in a very sorry state if that had been the case.

But that said, it’s a pity that what is primarily a male sickness from elsewhere – lack of respect for the persons of women (as opposed to their social and economic status, which remains a burdensome problem in many places) and of their absolute right not to be molested – is gaining a foothold in other cultures that really should know better. Perhaps the man involved in this incident has some sensible friends or family who have pointed out the demerits of being a grub. We can but hope.

It would be a shame if incidents like this – to say nothing of the one reported in the first item – caused further damage to Bali’s reputation as a place to have a holiday. Such things can no longer be safely ignored because they can be made to disappear.

Nowadays there is nowhere to hide. Everywhere is in the international spotlight, even Bali.

 

Where There’s a Will…

Now on to happier things: This gave us a lovely giggle when we saw it on the Ubud Community page on Facebook – a conversation between a man and a land buyer. Thank you to Ani Somia for posting it and her Dad for, well, sending at least one acquisitive land-grabber off with a flea in his ear.  

Ani’s post put it this way (it’s verbatim here for the full flavour): 

Some conversation between my father n the broker who requested our land to be rented due to a huge hotel is being building nearby our house in Ubud.

Buyer: Excusme bapak we are interested to rent out or buy your land. We hv some cash for you n we giving good price.

My dad: Oh ampura. Aka excusme sir. The land is not belong to me but it’s inherited. Could u please ask my father first?

Buyer: Yes bapak for sure we will. Where is your father now?

 My dad: He is in the grave yard died 50 years ago!

Me go inside my room n giggling then I cant help laughing hahahahaha proud of you dad!!

Way to go!

 

Wheel of Fortune

Rotary clubs are always a hive of action and Rotary Club of Bali Seminyak is no exception. Coffee drinker Barb Mackenzie tells us – via the RCBS Facebook page – of one seasonally worthy cause that surely deserves support. Rotarian John Glass told the club’s Nov. 13 meeting (held as always at Warisan, a fine watering place) that the Seeds of Hope Children’s Home in Dalung, between Denpasar and Canggu, is looking for Christmas presents for the live-in orphans at the home.

Sixty-seven children aged from 10 months to 18 years live at the home, which has a special Christmas party planned for Dec. 22. It’s suggested that appropriate gifts valued at around Rp200K (US$20) could be given to a specific child on the day. The kids like music, board games, CDs, arts and crafts, sports equipment and toiletries.

The home is also looking for a volunteer Santa on Dec. 22 if anyone fancies wearing a hot white beard. We’d do it ourselves except that our frequently preferred stubble – a Jimmy Barnes-style three-day growth – is probably not quite what Santa’s helpers are looking for. It’s the right colour, but perhaps that’s not enough.

Guest speaker at the RCBS meeting on Nov.13 was India’s consul-general in Bali, Amarejeet Singh Takhi. He’s India’s first consul-general here and took up his post in January 2012. He reminded his many listeners – the lunch was well attended – that Indonesia and India have trade and cultural links that go back two millennia.

Hector tweets @scratchings

Rough waters and rocky boats, but we’ll get there

This side of the stretch of water over which Australian tourists fly in droves to exotic holiday destinations and considerably smaller numbers of asylum seekers travel in rickety boats in the opposite direction, frequently drowning in the process, it was never clear how the new Abbott government was going to get the Indonesians to stamp out people smuggling.

There was little reason for optimism that the Indonesians would suddenly grasp the point of ethics or convert en masse to international political morality; and far less that the supine government in Jakarta would energize itself sufficiently to stamp out official corruption and local criminality in the boat trade.

Presumably these points were made in Department of Foreign Affairs and other departmental briefings presented to the incoming government. But Abbott and crew had let their rhetoric trap them between the flames on the burning deck and any escape route over the side. They couldn’t listen to that advice since they had spent so long decrying it as profoundly inadvisable.

The result, short term, is the sort of embarrassment now being suffered by Abbott and his minister for beating off the boaters, Scott Morrison. Mr Morrison’s complaint on November 11 will fall on very deaf ears in Jakarta. He said of the Indonesians’ refusal to accept back a boat that had left Java but was still in Indonesian waters when it got into trouble (in other words an Indonesian responsibility) and had therefore to be taken to Christmas Island that “there’s no real rhyme or reason to it”.

Actually there is. The significant problem for Australia and its new government – which seeks to look tough and actually to be tough on unauthorized boats – is that from the Indonesian perspective it’s a problem for Canberra, not Jakarta. They reason that since the people on the boats want to get to Australia and Indonesia doesn’t want them in Indonesia, both their national interest (moving them on) and the asylum seekers’ interest (trying to get a better life) are best met by ignoring the problem.

It fits the standard matrix of Indonesian policy: do nothing unless someone else pays for it: Indonesia does not have police or customs vessels capable of effectively operating in the Indian Ocean south of Java and its navy has other priorities. Some materiel support would not go amiss.

But even if such equipment were suddenly to be gifted to the Indonesians there is very little hope that their approach – immoral, unethical and supine though it may be – will change any time soon.

The row over “spying” from the Australian embassy in Jakarta (spying is a pejorative term that guarantees a headline but is frequently misplaced) hasn’t helped. The Indonesians know as well as anyone else that everyone does what it is alleged the Australians have done, or would if they could. Embassies have always collected information that might, once sifted, analyzed and triple-checked, then become formal intelligence or, possibly, administrative action.

The dense, confusing multifaceted interfaces between what the media imagines is some cyber-capable James Bond doing what he (or she) does and later assessment that the information has actual value, are not the stuff of breathless media reporting. The whole affair is better illustrative of Australia’s record of becoming collateral damage in American imbroglios – in this case of the debris flying around from Edward Snowden’s national security leaks – than of what really matters, which is managing the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

Nonetheless, the allegations have further muddied the water in the Indonesian-Australian relationship. It is immaterial – certainly to the Indonesians, who are playing the harp and fiddle on this with remarkably energetic verve – that the activities chiefly complained about happened on Labor’s chaotic watch between 2007 and 2013. Abbott’s government is newly in power (parliament sat for the first time only this week) and the Indonesians are testing the water, in a manner of speaking.

There is no constituency in Indonesia for a truly humane response to asylum seekers. And there is merely a rump constituency in Australia that favours recasting policy in that direction. The election on Sept. 7 settled that. The coalition was elected with a thumping majority on a policy platform that included – stripping it to its offensive basics – keeping the bastards out. That’s the uncomfortable reality; it’s as uncomfortable for many coalition voters as for those who believe Abbott is the reincarnation of something truly terrible, or is possibly himself the creature from the black lagoon.

Both Australia and Indonesia face a pressing dilemma. It is not in either country’s interest to have a fractious argument over refugees (or anything else). But it is more difficult for Australia in the context of asylum seekers, because not only does a western liberal condition exist that properly insists that people shouldn’t be left to drown, but its government operates in conditions which make it actually as opposed to notionally subject to  parliamentary control. Someone might want to mention that to Mr Morrison some time.

Indonesia, in contrast, despite its significant democratic advance since the Suharto dictatorship ended in 1998, has a different system of government. Its system facilitates the president ignoring the assembly and the assembly ignoring the president. Further, it has values that – while perfectly genuine, culturally validated and actually remarkably responsive – are not those of a Westminster-derived parliamentary democracy.

There are many sides to the Australia-Indonesian relationship. They go far beyond the irritant of asylum seekers and the criminals who prey on them in Indonesia and elsewhere. For the most part they are positive: Queensland’s revitalized trade and investment profile and presence in Jakarta is just one example.

The Abbott government is still newly in office. It’s a fairly safe bet that it will work out a way to keep every element of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia on an even keel, consistent with its need for a differently nuanced political narrative.

A stream of Australian ministers have been in Indonesia since the change of government, including Prime Minister Abbott and (multiple times) Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Defence Minister David Johnson has also been here.

The really interesting time will be next year, when Indonesians elect their next president and national assembly. Several bets could be off then.

This commentary originally appeared on the Australian online journal On Line Opinion http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/.

Some Points on the Pension

 

 

24 October 2013

Ross Fitzgerald had this piece in the Sydney Daily Telegraph today. It makes a good argument for policy change. I have some views on that too that I’ll blog about later. In the meantime, read on:

Government can’t ignore retiring baby-boomers

THE year 2011 was the year when people born straight after World War II turned 65. These were the thin end of a very large wedge.

The baby-boomers, that huge demographic group that has been slowly making its way up through the age brackets, are now starting to reach retirement age.

This presents a problem for governments and the economy in general.

The demand for aged care is likely to double, then triple over the next few decades with the costs rising commensurately.

Superannuation has been regarded as the answer to the problem, but not every Australian is going to have enough super to support them in old age – especially a very long old age.

People who have been on well-paid salaries for most of their lives can have over a million dollars in their super funds. However, many have not had access to super, or adequate super.

People who have been self-employed, unemployed, on disability or sickness benefits, supported by their spouse or working in industries where super is rare, face life on the aged pension – currently a subsistence allowance that is scarcely enough to put food on the table, let alone pay rapidly rising power bills.

A retiree with a younger partner who is still working is likely to get next to nothing as a pension and pity help pensioners who are still paying off a mortgage or have children living at home.

Two other solutions to financing retirement and aged care have been suggested. One is simply to abolish retirement: to encourage workers to stay in their jobs. However, how long can we expect people to keep working? There are health and safety issues for older workers. In our mid-60s heavy physical labour becomes difficult or impossible.

Do we want to see people in their 70s climbing on roofs, driving school buses or piloting planes? Apart from physical decline there is the problem of skills obsolescence: many people reach a point where their job ceases to exist.

If workers are unable to continue in their former careers, what alternative jobs are available to them? Are McDonald’s, Just Jeans or Supre going to start hiring salespeople in their 70s?

While there are a number of part-time jobs available for older people, there will never be enough to absorb all those who are about to retire. And what effect will it have on younger people trying to start careers if older people don’t vacate positions?

The second solution revolves around liquidating an individual’s assets to fund their retirement and, eventually, their aged care.

This includes such ideas as reverse mortgages (a misleading term: a reverse mortgage would presumably be a situation where someone lent money to the bank). This is simply a normal mortgage except that the borrower makes no repayments and the bank repossesses the home on their death.

What if the costs of care exceed the value of the home? How does such an arrangement take into account the rights of a spouse who co-owns the home?

What happens if the cost of caring for one partner leaves no equity to provide for the care of the other?

Many of the proposals for funding age care seem to assume that most couples go into care around the same time, whereas in reality there can be a 20-year gap.

Beyond the problems of equity and implementation, schemes to divest individuals of their wealth all imply either a diminution or the abolition of inheritance.

The economic consequences of this would be significant. One of the reasons Australians are prepared to spend 25 years paying off a mortgage is to leave something to their children. How keen will they be to do so if they know that, in the end, they are going to have to sell that home to pay for their aged care?

The tendency would be to devise schemes to pass wealth on to their children much earlier in life. One might foresee a booming business in property trusts and other schemes designed to keep the family home as the property of the family.

In the end governments are probably going to have to resign themselves to paying an adequate age pension and providing first class care for ageing citizens because, ultimately, economic difficulty will be trumped by political necessity.

An ageing population also means an ageing electorate and the most compelling issue in the next 20 years is going to be the number of cars driving slowly along our streets with stickers saying “I’m old and I vote”.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Queensland

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, OCTOBER 24, p 55

AUSTRALIA’S ELECTION: Why I’ll be voting Liberal on Saturday (and no, it’s not because I usually do)

It’s fair to say that neither of the major parties – Labor and the Coalition (taken collectively this is sometimes a fractious prospect as we have seen demonstrated in recent days) – totally inspire confidence. But that’s democracy. You get a choice, but it is never a clear one between inexhaustible excellence on one hand and cloddish stupidity on the other.

I am by nature a Liberal voter in Australia, since I believe that while we must look after those whose life circumstances make it difficult for them to do so themselves, we should avoid mollycoddling. We should do this because taking away personal initiative breeds sloth and creates a client relationship between citizen and government. Civil society requires the reverse relationship (the religious and secular charities demonstrate this point). In general, the more the government keeps its hands out of people’s pockets the better. Labor, because of its history, its apparatchik practice, and its perception of where political advantage lies, epitomizes the oxymoronic pitch “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

But I am not a bolted-on voter. I’ve swung before, electorally speaking, generally when the non-Labor government in question has been absolutely hopeless, or venal, or simply not up to it. I voted ALP in 1972 (my first Australian election after early opportunities to vote in another of Her Majesty’s realms) not because I thought Gough was God or because of the catchy slogan, but because it really was time. I voted ALP in 1983 because Malcolm Fraser had squandered his historic opportunity and just been a pedantic patrician for seven years. I voted ALP in Queensland in 1989 because the proto-democratic post-Joh Nationals needed to go away and learn how to get quite a different sort of grip on themselves.

And it’s on that last ground, this time, that there is no contest. The demeaning and embarrassing pantomime that the Labor machine has served up since 2007 –  first Kevin 07, who they knifed;  then Julia 2010, who they beheaded; and now the reincarnated Captain Chaos of Kevin 13 – demonstrates in spades just how badly the federal ALP needs a spell in the paddock. It desperately needs to go on retreat to work out what it actually believes in (as a political movement) and what it really can bring to the national narrative. It needs to be sharply reminded that slapstick farce is entertainment on TV or the movies or the stage, not something requiring daily performances in the national auditorium.

It is a fact – though it has been repeated so often that it is danger of dying from aphorism – that far more binds Australians together than keeps them apart. The bulk of the policy platforms of the major parties are unremarkably – and thoroughly sensibly – similar. The real work of the parliament, an institution it has become fashionable to denigrate, is collegiate. And this is across the board, taking the Senate into account where the minor parties actually do have a role to play. This seldom gets an outing in print media, because concord is basically boring. And it is never aired on commercial radio or TV because it’s completely devoid of colour and movement and is thus wholly unsuited to the 10-second grab.

I’ll be voting in my electorate on Saturday – these days that’s in Western Australia not Queensland: something that even after eight years away remains more geographical dislocation than new start allowance – but I’ve observed the campaign from outside Australia. This has given me a distant perspective that, for me, brings the picture into sharper focus.

Australia will not be in deadly peril if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister. Labor bots please note. Ruin does not automatically await us if an electoral miracle occurs and Kevin Rudd hangs on. Coalition partisans please jot that down too. It would be better if Abbott did win, and Rudd did not, for the reasons outlined above and others to follow shortly. It would be better – this is merely a qualitative assessment – because Australia needs a circuit-breaker and some people need to go away and get a life.

Popular politics – this sounds like an oxymoron but actually isn’t – is seen by its practitioners as something demanding sharp contest. It’s meant to be a battle of ideas, after all. But this is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to manufacture, when most of the ideas presented are sensibly middle of the road. Abbott is no Thatcherite, and Rudd is no Bevanite, to place the matter in a political context familiar to many.  The light has certainly gone out on the hill, but there’s no great divide behind it over which anyone might blunder inadvertently, however much the partisans of either side seek to assert their discovery of such an entity.

Few Australians cavil with the carbon-copy principles (sic) of each side’s policy on asylum seekers who risk their lives to reach their privileged country. The disgusting nature of this bipartisan approach unsettles rather fewer coalition voters than it does latte Labor ones. But unless you’re going off with the fairies and voting Green, there’s nowhere to go. A vote for either Labor or Liberal means poor bastards are still going to drown. And voting Green won’t help them anyway.

No one is going to be seriously disadvantaged if either of the rival national broadband policies proceeds, at whatever pace and cost-blowout is available at the time. Defence and foreign policy are (sensibly) essentially bipartisan. Both cost a lot of money on which the average taxpayer would fail to discern any immediate personal return.

Policy settings on health, aged care, pensions and education are basically the same. Both sides favour cost-concessional health, disability and aged care, each is as bureaucratically mean about pensions as the other, and both understand that “private” education in a religious school system is in a functional sense public schooling.

There are differences of emphasis in employment and workplace relations. The Liberal position is better – with proper safeguards and absent Peter Reith and the other hairy-chests – because it retreats from manipulation of commercial reality.

Each side panders to and seeks to benefit from another aspect of the unpleasantly xenophobic streak in Australian public opinion. This gets an airing in pronouncements about foreign land ownership such as the latest faux-horror about owning the farm expressed by Rudd. Reality check: only miners actually dig anything up and take it away.

Neither side has an industry policy that truly recognizes the reality that subsidy is not the way to conjure up excellence and product marketability but that seed funding for cutting-edge technology, green or otherwise, is.

The killer in this election is delivery. We don’t want any more Pink Batt scandals; we can do without politically motivated grace-and-favour funding for self-serving plaques on school hall walls; we do not want any more fairground-style revolving prime ministers, or tedious Lazarus acts such as we’ve seen with the Labor and Rudd-Gillard-Rudd circuses; we need no more policies presented on a “gotta zip” basis.

We need – bottom line, both literally and figuratively – budget integrity; lean administration; true consensus (and then delivery) of policies to counter environmental challenges (including climate change); concerted proactive action to bring Australia’s first peoples fully into the mainstream of national life and opportunity; and a firm grasp by those who occupy the corridors of power of the fact that Australians will prosper better and faster and on a greater scale if official busybodies leave them alone and let them get on with it.

Labor under Hawke (and, just, Keating) did that well. The Coalition under Howard did it very well. The years since 2007 – whether or not we’re all better off on a range of arcane statistical measures, as Labor-leaning economists keep trying to tell us – have been a hiatus for common sense, applied focus, and sensible outcomes.

Oh and by the way, none of it is the fault of Rupert Murdoch, whatever you may think of him and the appalling crassness of many of his corporate products.