Interview with Chair of the AII, Professor Tim Lindsey

Asia Options journalists were fortunate enough to gain the opportunity to sit down and talk to Professor Lindsey, twice in 2013. We first met Prof Lindsey in Melbourne back in June 2013 at the Australia Indonesia Dialogue. The dialogue brought together thought leaders from academia, government, the private sector and civil society organizations. 20 Australians and 20 Indonesians gathered in Melbourne to discuss the theme ‘Prospects for Regional Cooperation: Opportunities for Indonesian-Australian Collaboration’. ‘

The second time Asia Options met with Pak Lindsey was at a UniBRIDGE seminar in December 2013 in Kupang, Eastern Indonesia. We feel very lucky to have the opportunity to gain access to the insights of Professor Lindsey. We would like to share these insights gained from our conversations with Professor Lindsey with all Asia Options subscribers here. This is our interview with Professor Tim Lindsey.


How did the AII come about?

The AII was set up twenty-five years ago by the Commonwealth government to strengthen people-to-people links between Australia and Indonesia. It is an advisory board in DFAT comprised of appointees from outside government, with a Chair chosen from among them. I am lucky enough to be the current incumbent, and it is a very great privilege to be able to be so closely involved in supporting so many aspects of the deep and diverse links between people and organisations in the two countries. The AII’s role is to advise DFAT on activities to support the bilateral relationship, particularly the allocation of funds through a competitive grant programme. It is supported by a very hard-working Secretariat within DFAT, headed by a Director who is a member of DFAT.


What was your first experience in Indonesia?

My first experience of Indonesia was a homestay in the Javanese town of Purwokerto, organised by my Indonesian teacher at a school in Melbourne. I was studying Indonesian largely because (confession coming) my maths was so bad that I had to do a language to qualify for university (!). I, therefore, had little interest in Indonesia until this opportunity came my way, so I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my parents for insisting (very forcefully!) that I go. The time I spent in Purwokerto as a young teenager proved one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I was treated with great kindness and made to feel a part of an ancient and complex world that I had never even imagined – and I learned to speak Indonesian the best way possible: through immersion. This experience led to a life-long fascination with Indonesia that has determined the course of my life.


Do you have any tips for others?

My tip for other Australians hoping to engage with Indonesia? Simple: go there, now! And spend as much time there as you can, as often as you can!


What kinds of opportunities does AII provide for Australians?

For two and half decades the AII has run activities in a very wide range of areas, including arts (of all kinds, from painting, sculpture, film, music and performance, to installation, puppetry, graffiti and conceptual art, and much more!), youth, education, religion and society, media, women and girls, sport, and, more recently, science and innovation.  In addition to a competitive grants programme covering all these areas, we all run a series of major programmes, including AIYEP (Australia Indonesia Youth Exchange Program, now in its 30th year), Indonesia BRIDGE, UniBridge, MEP (the Muslim Exchange Program), PIES (Partnerships in Islamic Education Scholarships), the Elizabeth O’Neill Media Scholarship, the Senior Editors’ Visits Program, Arts Festival Organisers Visits and many others.

We try to find niches for funding not covered by other donors (for example, we usually do not fund pure research), and, wherever possible, we try to seed partnerships between Australians and Indonesians. The AII is always open to suggestions for new areas of bilateral activity in what is a very competitive and active field. The range of activities is as diverse as the people-to-people relationship itself, which is of a depth, complexity and maturity that sometimes surprises many observers.  It is also much more resilient at the people-to-people level than many expect.


What kinds of opportunities does AII provide for Indonesians?

The AII competitive grants program and most of its other programs are open as much to Indonesians as Australians. Over the decades, the AII has supported Indonesians in engagement with Australians across a very wide field of activities. It is a requirement of most of the grants we award that they involve both Australians and Indonesians. Our mandate is to build better understanding between the people of our two countries and the best way to do that is to make sure they meet each other, see and experience things directly with ‘mata kepala sendiri’ and build links that are lasting because they are personally meaningful and based on mutuality and trust.


Are there any other key points or emerging trends you would like to emphasize in relation to AII and its role in supporting Australia-Indonesia relations and people to people links?

Indonesia and Australia have much that differentiates them – from majority religion to race, ethnicity, history and culture. Too often we place too much emphasis on these differences and forget that we have much in common too and that these commonalities can form the foundation for relationships with great potential to enrich both countries. My experience is that Australians and Indonesians usually get on well together, once they are actually in direct contact with one another. It is therefore essential to give the young people of both countries as many opportunities as we can to overcome the barrier of the Arafura Sea and spend time together, as an investment in the future of both Indonesia and Australia – and education must play a central part in that.

There are always ups and downs in relations between Jakarta and Canberra, as there are for all neighbouring countries.  How we respond to these events will be determined as much by people-to-people links, and popular understandings of the bilateral relationship, as by policymakers.  There is still a great deal work to be done, and the AII is committed to doing everything it can strengthen linkages and understanding between people in Indonesia and Australia, across as many areas of activity as we can. This is the AII’s mandate and it is even more important when relations are frosty than when they are warm. Juang terus, pantang mundur!

Tim Lindsey is Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the Melbourne Law School. He holds a Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Letters from the University of Melbourne and completed his PhD thesis in Indonesian studies. He teaches and researches Indonesian law, shari’a (Islamic law), comparative law and law reform in developing countries. He is the Chair of the Australia Indonesia Institute and practises at the Victorian Bar. His publications include Indonesia: Law and Society; Law Reform in Developing Countries; The Indonesian Constitution; and Corruption in Asia. He is a founding editor of The Australian Journal of Asian Law.


All opinions collected here have been gained and published with the permission of all interview subjects.


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Nick Metherall

Indonesia Country Coordinator
Nick is a student at La Trobe University. He is currently conducting field work in rural and remote parts of Eastern Indonesia.

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