Address to Opening of Gallery of Indonesian Art Garden of the East

Speech, E&OE, proof only

26 February 2014

Chief Justice Robert French, Ibu Kesoema the charge d'Affairs at the Embassy of Indonesia, Excellencies, Parliamentarians, distinguished guests, Mr Alan Myers the chair, Dr Ron Radford the director, Gael Newton the curator.

I am absolutely delighted to be here at the National Gallery this evening to witness another chapter in the rich tapestry of connections that is woven between Australia and Indonesia.

Indonesia is one of our closest neighbours, in so many ways we engage on so many levels. Of course, Indonesia is a strong commercial trade and investment partner – about 250 Australian businesses are operating in Indonesia, two way trade is about $14 billion. Indeed upon assuming the role of Foreign Minister last year, I met many times with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and we decided that we would put together a stocktake of the Australia-Indonesia relationship at a government to government level and we were surprised to find that we are engaged across such a broad range of areas. Indeed about 60 in all – dialogues, forums, workshops, treaties – across about 20 Australian government departments and authorities and agencies and a similar number on the part of the Indonesian Government.

But it is the people to people links that give our relationship the ballast, the depth, the strength, the resilience. Indeed Australia can make claim to having the highest concentration of scholars specialising in Indonesia outside of Indonesia across so many disciplines - law, engineering, agriculture, music, language, photography. About 900,000 Australians visited Indonesia last year, attracted by the beauty, the warmth, the people. About 17,500 Indonesian students are enrolled to study at universities here in Australia.

But it seems to me that there is much more we can, should do, to understand each other better, to appreciate each other more, to work more cooperatively together, and this is why the new Australian Government has established a scheme dubbed the New Colombo Plan. Now there are those in this room who will remember the original Colombo Plan, established in the 1950s, which brought over 30 years about 40,000 young people from our region to Australia to study at our universities, live with our families, get to know Australia and go back home with lasting friendships and memories. Indeed I am often struck by the number of presidents, cabinet ministers, business leaders, community leaders I meet in the region who speak so fondly of Australia through their experience as a Colombo Plan scholar.

So we decided it is time for us to do this in reverse and the New Colombo Plan provides an opportunity for Australian undergraduates to spend part of their study at a university in our region. Included in their scholarship will be the opportunity to undertake an internship with a business or an organisation or entity operating in the host country. Over time, I would like to see this as a rite of passage for young Australian students to live and study in our region so they come back to Australia with new perspectives, new insights, new ideas. Not only will they contribute to the productivity and prosperity of this country but they will make connections, networks and friendships that will last a lifetime.

We have set up a pilot program this year for the New Colombo Plan and I am delighted that Indonesia has agreed to be one of the first pilot locations for our students. In the coming months, about 50 Australian students will be undertaking studies in Indonesia as part of the first tranche of our students. From 2015 on, the scheme will be rolled out across the Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific, our region. In this way, we want our young people to be truly Indonesian literate.

Last week, in fact last Monday - time flies in this job - I had the honour of presenting the inaugural Hadi Soesastro awards to two brilliant young Indonesian scholars who are studying at Australian universities and who are doing postgraduate studies. This award, in honour of the late Hadi Soesastro, was designed to highlight the deep connections between our universities, our academics, our scholars. These two brilliant young Indonesians, upon completion of their studies, will go back to Indonesia and make their contribution to Indonesian business, community and life.

As Ron pointed out, economic diplomacy is important – just as traditional diplomacy is all about achieving peace, economic diplomacy is all about achieving prosperity – but it is the cultural diplomacy that wins the hearts and minds. This photographic exhibition is a reminder of the depth and length and breadth of our relationship with Indonesia. Of course our relationship with contemporary Indonesia goes back to the 1940s, about 70 years ago, when Australia supported Indonesia's independence.

But this exhibition so brilliantly captures the relationship going back beyond the time that we were a nation in 1901, for this depicts Indonesia when it was the Dutch East Indies. Like Ibu Kesoema, I have had a quick visit to the exhibition and it captures the beauty, the richness, the people, the faces, the activities of this wonderful country between the 1850s and the 1940s. Two intrepid photographers from Victoria – the Woodbury brothers – were obviously enchanted by the beauty of the islands to our north, and the photographs they took make an outstanding extraordinary collection of depictions of Indonesian life at that time.

The relationship with Indonesia will go through its ups and downs like any close relationship with any close and dear friend. But I know that the future of the relationship is strong, it will flourish and it will endure.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to have this opportunity to open this photographic exhibition, co-located amongst one of the finest Indonesian art collections in the world, and The Gardens of the East 1950s to 1940s is worth every single moment you spend here in it.

It is my pleasure to declare this exhibition open.

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