Surf's up for Australian business in Indonesia
Duncan Graham, Contributor
Having surfing as a major interest on your resume probably wouldn't endear you to most bosses.
Surfers don't have a great public image, despite SurfAid International programs in isolated areas of the archipelago where boardmasters have helped local villagers start health programs.
For those with beach-phobia, to meet a wave of surfies in Kuta is to encounter the blond and bronzed who apparently have only two things on their mind: where's the next big break - and where's the coldest beer?
Hardly the credentials for suit-and-tie deal-making.
But Martin Newbery has made the transition to business without having to abandon his love of the ocean. Though over 50, he still rides the foaming curlers when he's not promoting his State's credentials as a trade partner for East Java.
Newbery is the new regional director for Western Australia's Trade Office in Indonesia. He replaces Trevor Boughton, who is opening a fish-lure manufacturing business in Batam.
"I used to work in the human relations department with the Australian Department of Finance," Newbery told a meeting of the Indonesia Australia Business Council in Surabaya.
"As a public servant I was rewarded with good holidays which I frequently spent in Indonesia searching for surf.
"One day in Bali with some friends, I decided to go across to Java and see more of Indonesia. I arrived in Surabaya 32 years ago. It was really great.
"There's been a lot of changes since then but the character is still here. So are the opportunities."
Western Australia (WA) and East Java have a long-standing sister-state agreement. This includes an exchange program to help people in government and private enterprise boost their knowledge of cultures and create trade opportunities.
Next year the State's premier agricultural event, the Perth Royal Show, will host a display of Indonesian goods and handicrafts.
Newbery spent two years studying Bahasa Indonesia back in Australia. He quit the Australian bureaucracy when a friend urged him to get into business in Indonesia. His first venture was airfreighting fresh fruit and other produce out of Sydney and into Jakarta, before the big supermarkets developed their own systems. His second was managing an Indonesian prawn-fishing venture.
"We got seven 250-ton prawn trawlers from Australia and crewed these with local deckhands and Australian trainers," he told The Jakarta Post. "I had some misgivings at first because prawn boat skippers are rough and tough.
"There were plenty of prejudices. The Australians expected the Indonesians to be lazy, passing their time in prayer rituals. The Indonesians expected the Australians to get drunk and punch them. We had to get all this stuff out into the open," Newbery added.
"In fact it worked out well even though they had to spend up to two months at sea in cramped quarters. The Australians said the Indonesians were the best deckhands they'd met and the Indonesians liked the Australians because they treated them with respect and as equals.
"I've learned that Australians and Indonesians have almost the same sense of humor. There were no troubles and that's something I'm very proud of - the business is still running and the ships are all crewed by Indonesians."
Newbery is based in Jakarta on a three-year contract and plans to spend one week out of every four in East Java.
The WA government used to have a storefront office in central Surabaya. This was destroyed during the turmoil over the East Timor referendum in the late 1990s.
The office then moved to a higher-security location away from the city center. It shifted to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta after the first Bali bombing. It's now in a separate building in Kuningan.
"Relationships between our countries depend on many things, including politics," Newbery said. "My focus is on business. I'm often asked if it's a good time for Australians to go to Indonesia because of the spat over the Papua refugees getting visas.
"I say it's the best time to be in Indonesia because your competitors are all going to Malaysia. There's plenty of action here."
Newbery said that although WA is a resource-rich state exporting bulk quantities of wheat, gold, nickel, iron and other minerals, the government is preparing for a time when these commodities will be exhausted.
Diversifying into biotechnology, tourism and specialized services is a priority. Newbery has commissioned research into the fresh fruit market from Budi Daroe of the East Java Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Farm produce from East Java to South East Asia is usually shipped through Jakarta. That involves extra handling and delays - a serious hazard for perishables. Newbery is exploring the idea of using Australian skills and equipment to process and pack fruit and vegetables in Surabaya and export them directly by air.
Past agricultural success stories have included importing high-yield dairy cows into East Java, and using new varieties of seed potatoes from WA.
The other major interest is the maritime industry. Newbery said WA was becoming a world leader in building and maintaining specialized equipment for the shipping and oil industry, particularly for deep-sea operations and navigation systems.
"I want Indonesian businesspeople to let me know what we can do together," he said. "Needs are often mutual. So are the benefits. I can help match inquiries. I'm very serious about this and our services are free."