People-to-people connections key to improving Australia–Indonesia understanding

People-to-people connections key to improving Australia–Indonesia understanding

A new survey offers insights into bridging the gap between Australian and Indonesian perceptions of each other

An extensive new survey of Australian and Indonesian perceptions about each other and their place in the world highlights the growing interest in both countries for more meaningful people-to-people connections.

Beginning with a series of focus group discussions in each country to identify key issues and themes, market research firm EY Sweeney, working with academic and government advisors, carried out 2,000 face-to-face interviews in ten cities in Indonesia and 2,000 online interviews in Australia across all states and territories.

The aim of the qualitative and quantitative research was to drill deeper than polls and surveys on the Australia­–Indonesia relationship have done in the past. The research sought to improve our understanding of the drivers of sentiment, offer a benchmark for these and signal measures that may lead to improvements.

While the study is about the Australia–Indonesia relationship in particular, it is grounded in data exploring the mood and mindset of Indonesians and Australians, how they feel about their place in the world and in the region more specifically. Again we see a significant difference between the responses from the two countries. Australians on the whole are relatively subdued in their future outlook, whereas Indonesians have a generally optimistic view.

Studies of historical polling and surveys of Australia–Indonesia relations and perceptions demonstrate consistently low levels of knowledge in Australia about Indonesia. This recent data confirms that Australians’ knowledge of Indonesia is still poor. Just 19 per cent of Australians felt they have a good understanding and 34 per cent a moderate understanding (total 53%). This is compared to a total for good to moderate understanding about China of 66 per cent. Interestingly, there was also a significant generational difference in response to this question, with 58 per cent of Australians aged 18–34 years indicating they have a good to moderate understanding of Indonesia. Not surprisingly therefore, Australians’ levels of favourability towards Indonesia are also relatively low (43% feel very or somewhat favourable).

The study shows that this is in comparison with Indonesians’ higher measure of knowledge of (74% indicate good or moderate understanding) and favourability towards Australia (87% feel very or somewhat favourable). On this measure, Indonesians rank Australia third just behind the United States and China.

As stated, these benchmarking observations were not unexpected. However, the study goes on to offer insights into this gap and potentially what can be done to bridge it.

Significantly, while demonstrating that Australians’ levels of understanding and knowledge are low, the study also indicates that they are aware of the deficit and the need to make improvements. They understand the importance of the bilateral and trade relationship with Indonesia, rating it the third most important country in our region to Australia’s future after China and Japan. Most crucially, there is an appetite to learn more about Indonesia —58 per cent of Australians agree that they need to be more knowledgeable about Indonesia and 51 per cent think basic education about Indonesia should be improved in Australian schools.

People-to-people solutions

When Australians were asked what would make the biggest difference to the relationship, while economic and trade connections and bilateral agreements score highly, so to do people-to-people efforts. ‘Travel and tourism’ ranked third after ‘growing trade’ and ‘signing trade agreements’. Other initiatives rating highly include education, student exchange, cultural events and television programs.

What is interesting is that while Australians believe economics and trade will make the most difference to the relationship, when asked what would personally interest them about Indonesia the top responses include ‘culture’ (72%), ‘history’ (58%) and ‘food’ (50%), followed by ‘the economy’ (49%), with ‘holidays outside Bali’ just behind (42%).

Indonesians would seem to have more awareness of what Australia represents, its way of life and values, than Australians have of Indonesia

Meanwhile, for Indonesian responses to the question asking what would make the biggest difference to the relationship with Australia, the results are starkly oriented toward seeking direct engagement with Australia and Australians. The top responses are ‘travel and tourism’ (49%) and ‘student exchange’ (43%), followed by ‘growing trade’ (39%). Unlike the Australian responses, we are able to see a close correlation with their responses to the more personally focused question related to what aspects they would like to learn more about: holidays (55%), business (48%), education (45%), and work opportunities (39%) rated highest.

This snapshot sheds further light on the gap in perceived knowledge and understanding about each other between Australians and Indonesians. Indonesians would seem to have more awareness of what Australia represents, its way of life and values, than Australians have of Indonesia. They are seeking ways to engage and connect directly with Australia. Responses from Australians indicate that there is an initial need to improve their understandings and knowledge of Indonesian society, culture and its values. More direct connections should follow.

Australian responses confirm the current lack of knowledge about Indonesia but also indicate solid awareness of the importance of the relationship for future prosperity. Further analysis of the data will provide insight into Australian interests and signposts towards what might be done to improve levels of understanding.

Jemma Purdey was a member of the advisory group on the Australia–Indonesia Perceptions research conducted by EY Sweeney on behalf of the Australia–Indonesia Centre.

Featured image
Detail from the cover of Australia Indonesia Perceptions Report 2016: Indonesians and Australians not so different after all.

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