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Aust pollies need to be savvy on Indonesia

AAP logoAAP 12/09/2016 Lisa Martin

Australian politicians need to be savvier in the way they prosecute the national interest when it comes to controversial issues affecting ties with Indonesia.

That's the verdict of Labor MP Tim Watts who has just returned from Bali where he was the first Australian politician to participate in the annual Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth last week.

A general lack of cultural awareness about how blunt and direct language could be perceived in Indonesia was problematic.

"Australian MPs should always advocate Australian interests but they need to get savvier about the way that they do it," he told AAP in Canberra on Monday.

"The reality is in many of our Asian neighbours there is not a culture that appreciates direct criticism, there is more of a culture of working through difficulties in private, which is certainly something Australia needs to learn."

"We seem to be oblivious to the opportunity in our own backyard," he said, adding Indonesia's economy is expected to double in size by 2030 and be in the top five globally by 2050.

"What we want is movement between Australia and Indonesia ultimately to look like movement between Australia and New Zealand - a very tightly integrated regional neighbour relationship," he said, adding that Australia does more trade with NZ which has a population of 4.7 million compared to Indonesia and its 250 million.

Asked about Australian anxieties towards Indonesia, Mr Watt's pointed to the comments of Yuli Ismartono, publisher of the Indonesian magazine Tempo, who compares it to the novel Pride and Prejudice.

"Indonesian pride on one hand obscuring the relationship and prejudice on the Australian side; but as Jane Austen wrote the way through it is interaction and getting to know each other better," Mr Watts said.

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