Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Message from Australian Ambassador designate

Australians celebrate their national day this year with the memory of one of our country's greatest tragedies fresh in our minds.

The terrorist bombs that tore through Bali on Oct. 12 last year left 88 Australians dead and hundreds injured, many with terrible burns.

The fact that so many innocent lives could be destroyed in beautiful Bali - a place known and loved by so many Australians - is testament to the reach and blind hatred of terrorists.

The perpetrators of this most cowardly of crimes may have thought that their actions would strain the relationship between our two countries. In this they have been proven quite wrong.

Combating this hatred and protecting ourselves from further attack is now a national priority for both of our countries. The desire for our governments to cooperate both bilaterally and regionally to overcome this threat has never been stronger.

The power of this cooperation has been amply demonstrated in the police investigation into the Bali bombings. Australian Federal Police have worked side by side with their Indonesian counterparts to track down those responsible and bring them to justice.

The cooperation has also extended to countering terrorist financing and money laundering with Indonesia and Australia co- hosting a major regional conference last month in Bali aimed in part at denying terrorists access to finance.

Of course we also work together on a broad range of other areas, and have done so since the birth of Indonesia as a nation.

When Indonesia was struggling for independence Australia was one of Indonesia's strongest allies, championing the case for Indonesian independence in the newly-formed United Nations.

Those links, forged half a century ago, are with us today.

The Australian Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized the very high priority that Australia attaches to its close and substantial relationship with our close neighbor and friend.

Australia provides more than A$120 million a year to help Indonesia implement its reform agenda - to alleviate poverty, to deliver health services, and to develop Indonesia's human resources and technical capabilities. Our programs aim to deliver practical assistance where it is most needed.

As a close neighbor we have been able to respond quickly to provide emergency assistance to people in need of immediate help during civil strife or natural disasters.

Long term assistance is also a key part of Australia's commitment to Indonesia. Recent health programs, for example, have included assisting with the immunization of 1.3 million children against polio, and training 320 midwives in basic safe delivery care. This is an investment in the next generation of Indonesians.

Australian technical experts are also here working with the Indonesian Government in areas as diverse as economic development to regional autonomy and the protection of human rights.

One of the most visible aspects of Australia's development assistance programs here is the funding of 360 post-graduate scholarships to study in Australia.

While the government to government links are strong and growing stronger, it is the people-to-people links that provide the foundations to the relations between our countries.

The friendships forged through education, business, tourism and the vast network of other contacts between Indonesians and Australians are the heart of the relationship between out two counties.

Up to 18,000 Indonesian students choose to study in Australia every year and more and more Australians are coming to study in Indonesia (practicing their Bahasa Indonesia which many started learning in primary school). This is important in business and in development terms. But the greatest benefit comes perhaps with the attitudes and friendships that are forged when people really get to know each other.

There are always going to be those that wish to push the negatives and contribute to promoting misunderstanding between us.

We should not let this distract us from the reality of our friendship.

The Bali bombings have brought Australia and Indonesia, as the primary victims of the tragedy, even closer together.

Australians were overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy and friendship from Indonesian after the bombs. Floral tributes were stacked high around the Embassy in Jakarta and the Consulate in Bali. We also saw tens of thousands of Indonesians filling the streets of Bali to pray and to pay their respects to the Bali victims and their families (families who came to Bali as the guests of the Indonesian Government).

Average Australians responded by donating more than $10 million to help the people of Bali recover from the economic fall out. Other Australians and Australian companies donated tonnes of medical and other supplies.

These are the true images of Bali. They also point to the true nature of the deep and abiding friendship that exists between Australians and Indonesians.