By Paul Grigson
Surabaya is the natural choice for Australia’s next diplomatic mission in Indonesia. As announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during President Jokowi’s visit to Sydney, it’s time Australia had an official presence in East Java’s commercial centre, where the region’s fast-paced economic growth is felt in a vibrant business environment, with burgeoning university and creative sectors.
Surabaya has long been a key international trading hub, with its port, air and rail links attracting foreign and domestic businesses to transport their goods through the city to Eastern Indonesia and overseas. The (Kota Pahlawan) ‘city of heroes’ is also a busy, cosmopolitan centre with a buzz that is fed by students from around Indonesia and a constantly renewing population from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
The Consulate-General will be the fourth Australian diplomatic mission in Indonesia, with our embassy in Jakarta and Consulates in Bali and Makassar.
East Java is already home to several Australian businesses with manufacturing and processing plants which are major employers such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Blue Scope Steel, Comweld Group, Nuplex and Caterlindo. Australian services companies Ramsay Health, ANZ Bank and the Commonwealth Bank have also capitalized on Surabaya’s thriving economy.
The large student population has been a draw for the University of Tasmania and Queensland University of Technology which are also represented there. And Australian universities have produced many of Surabaya’s most successful businesspeople such as fashion designer Peggy Hartanto. Australian alumni also have a growing presence in the food and beverage sector in Surabaya, which is a critical element to a successful tourism industry.
It’s estimated almost ten per cent of the Indonesian students studying in Australia at university and vocational education are from East Java and more than 660 East Javanese have studied in Australia through the Australia Awards scholarships and returned home to build rewarding careers working with the disadvantaged, the vulnerable or helping improve education standards.
Surabaya is also a second home for many of our Navy officers. Royal Australian Navy ships have been visiting Surabaya since 1960 as part of continuous exercises with TNI-AL with officers from Koarmatim and its Naval Academy.
Every time I visit Surabaya I am becoming less surprised by the number of people I meet who have an Australian connection; friends, relatives or experiences through their workplaces or universities. The number of exchange programs which have sprung up are evidence of this enduring friendship with collaborative partnerships in everything from scientific research and support for the disabled, to elite sports development, veterinary training and language teaching. In particular, East Java’s sister province relationship with Western Australia has produced mentoring relationships and programs to empower women from both countries working in agriculture to develop sustainable business approaches and grow their businesses.
I began my recent initiative to visit all nine Wali Songo at Surabaya’s Sunan Ampel and later visited Sunan Giri and Sunan Maulana Malik Ibrahim in Gresik. Visiting the tombs is an important experience for those seeking to better understand the early propagators of Islam and how Indonesia’s own brand of moderate Islam was born. I’ve now completed them all and have been moved by the Indonesian pilgrims I have met and the care and affection in the way these sites have been maintained.
We’re looking forward to becoming part of the community, but in so many ways there’s been an Australian presence in Surabaya for many years. With the great warmth, enthusiasm and friendship I always experience, feeling at home in Surabaya won’t be hard and is the obvious next step in expanding our enduring friendship with Indonesia.