Prioritise Indonesia economic ties: Bowen

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen at the beach with his new beard. Photo from Mr Bowen’s Facebook page.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen at the beach with his new beard. Photo from Mr Bowen’s Facebook page.

Lisa Martin, AAP

If Australia doesn’t urgently ramp up economic engagement with Indonesia it will be the biggest missed opportunity of the decade, federal shadow treasurer Chris Bowen is warning.

In a keynote address to the Australia Indonesia Business Council in Brisbane on Friday, Mr Bowen will vow to prioritise increasing business ties between the two countries if he becomes treasurer after the next election.

Indonesia is about to overtake Russia, Germany and France in economic size.

Australia’s share of Indonesian imports was a tiny 3.2 per cent in 2014 and only 250 Australian businesses have a presence in the archipelago.

‘Deeper economic engagement with Indonesia is frankly one of the most important economic opportunities that Australia faces over the next decade,’ Mr Bowen says.

‘If we get it wrong it will be one of our most significant missed opportunities.’

Part of the problem was the bilateral relationship was often transactional, thrown off course by minor irritants.

Greater engagement would increase understanding on both sides.

‘It will take nothing short of a sea-change in approach from governments, educational institutions and business to get the level of engagement we need,’ Mr Bowen says.

He believes the degree of Asian literacy and experience at the board level of Australia’s major companies is ‘derisory’.

Most of Australia’s Asian language proficiency came from immigration, not education and more students were studying the Indonesian language in 1972 than today.

Politicians also had to step up and take some responsibility because it was no longer good enough to say most decision makers in Asia speak English.

‘This approach borders on arrogant,’ Mr Bowen says.

The MP is studying Indonesian at university level.

‘I look forward to the day when an Australian politician speaking Indonesian is as unremarkable as an Indonesian lawmaker speaking English.’

Mr Bowen will also make the case for the Australian treasurer and Indonesian finance minister having regular annual meetings, as well as trade ministers.

There would also be some benefit in considering an Asia-Australia caucus meeting of G20 finance ministers tied to the G20 meeting schedule so notes could be compared on important global issues.

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