Australia Expected to Drastically Cut Aid to Indonesia

    Marc Purcell, director at the Australian Council for International Development, told Fairfax Media this week that the cuts will likely exacerbate the already fraught diplomatic relations between the two countries.

    By Erin Cook on 03:58 pm May 07, 2015

    [Updated at 11:51 p.m. to add Indonesian minister’s reaction, comment and background]

    Jakarta. Aid to Indonesia is set to see a massive cut in the Australian budget to be announced on Tuesday, according to the chief of the top development NGO association Down Under.

    Marc Purcell, director at the Australian Council for International Development, told Fairfax Media this week that the cuts will likely exacerbate the already fraught diplomatic relations between the two countries.

    There was no information available on the numbers ahead of the official announcement, but overall cuts to the aid budget have long been considered a foregone conclusion as Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey aim for a A$1 billion ($794 million) cut to Australia’s spending for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

    Indonesia, as the largest recipient of Australian aid, has been pegged to face the lion’s share of savings.

    The 2014-15 Australian budget saw over A$605 million assigned to Indonesia to fund infrastructure, education and health programs throughout the archipelago.

    Cuts to aid programs across Africa are also expected, with diplomatic staff to Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Angola and Ethiopia calling on the Australian foreign ministry to reconsider.

    ‘Bali Nine’ executions

    Aid became a major factor in the failed campaign to prevent the execution of convicted Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were shot dead last week along with five other foreigners and one Indonesian national.

    Comments made by Abbott in February linking the executions to A$1 billion in funding and humanitarian assistance after the 2004 Aceh tsunami enraged many in Indonesia and led to days of protests at the Australian embassy and a campaign to collect money to “repay the debt.”

    During a candlelight vigil ceremony held in Sydney on the evening of the executions on Nusakambangan prison island off Central Java last week, noted human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson called on the Australian government to withdraw aid from Indonesia and instead further fund rescue efforts in the aftermath of Nepal’s devastating earthquake.

    Robin Davies, a research fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, told Fairfax that while the cuts are budgetary measures they will “certainly be seen in some areas as retribution.”

    ‘No problem’

    Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi coolly brushed off the Australian media reports. “The aid budget cut has been long planned across the board,” Retno said on Thursday, in a text message to the Jakarta Globe.

    University of Indonesia (UI) international law professor Hikmahanto Juwana also said he thinks neither the Indonesian government nor the public should be too worried about the budget cut plans.

    “There is no problem with that. We’re not dependent on Australia’s aid. It is their right to give aid. It is their right to stop it,” he said.

    Hikmahanto, who earlier called on Indonesian officials not to be deterred by the international outcry against the death penalty and to push with the executions last month, said Australia’s decision to slash its aid budget, including that allocated for Indonesia, should not be seen as the Abbot government’s reprisal against the executions of Chan and Sukumaran.

    “We hope this indeed has nothing to do with the death penalty. The [Indonesian] government should not see this as a reprisal for the executions.”

    “If this has something to do with the executions, then it means Australia cannot respect Indonesia’s sovereignty,” Hikmahanto said. “The Indonesian government does not need to react [to the budget cut].”

    Online outrage

    Indonesian netizens, though, were less understanding.

    “Because of Bali Nine? smh [shaking my head], they seriously treat CRIMINALS like HEROES. i don’t get it,” an Indonesian commenter said on Facebook on Thursday.

    “Yes Australia, please do that. It will confirm once again that you are a bad neighbor. Probably the only one in the world who is willingly boycotting its closest neighbor for criminals. You guys are so mature. Pffffttttt,” said another.

    Other comments included:

    “Well, aussie’s… Do what u got to do. Stop threatening and grow up. We stand and firm with our decision and consequences.”

    “250,000 people die every year from drug overdoses and nobody bats and eye BUT two drugs smugglers get sentences to death everybody loses their mind.”

    “All that for a bunch of drug dealing scumbags? If that’s how they really feel, keep their money and we’ll just execute all their drug traffickers…we’ll be doing the whole world a favor.”

    ‘Decent Indonesians’

    The controversy surrounding the executions of drug offenders has taken a nationalistic tone in Indonesia.

    Abbott’s comment last week that “decent Indonesians” understand Canberra’s anger and its decision to recall the Australian ambassador to Jakarta, Paul Grigson, in protest against Chan and Sukumaran’s executions also triggered the Indonesian public’s backlash.

    “It’s a sign that decent people in Indonesia appreciate the anger that Australians feel at these cruel and unnecessary deaths and it’s a sign that in time the good and strong friendship between Australia and Indonesia can be resumed,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra last Friday, according to Reuters.

    Additional reporting by Erwida Maulia