Monthly Archives: September 2013

Some Important Moments in Australian-Indonesian Relations

A lot has been said in the news recently about Australian relations with Indonesia. Largely revolving around asylum seekers and Tony Abbott’s pledge to ‘Turn Back the Boats,’ there has been a mood of looming crisis between the two countries. Indonesia has criticised the Coalition policy, showing just how difficult the issue is. With Abbott now in Indonesia, it will be interesting to see what his skills as a foreign affairs leader are like.

While this is a key moment in our relations with one of our closest neighbours, I thought I’d put it into perspective by looking at other moments where Australia and Indonesia didn’t see eye to eye.


West New Guinea

After playing an important role in assisting with Indonesian independence in 1949, relations between Australia and Indonesia soured over the status of West New Guinea. Australia was anxious to prevent Indonesia from taking over the region, partly owing to its own colonial concerns next door in Papua and New Guinea.

Differences existed for over a decade, until a US supported deal saw WNG become part of Indonesia in 1963. Australia’s fears of an expansionist Indonesia were largely unfounded (a trend that would repeat itself), but this was the first of a regular series of moments that pushed Australian-Indonesian relations.



At a very similar time to the disagreement over WNG, tensions grew over the Indonesian reaction to the creation of Malaysia. Sukarno initiated a policy of ‘Confrontation’ that actually led to direct conflict between Australian and Indonesia forces.

Eventually the dispute was settled, largely due to the overthrow of Sukarno and the rise of a right-wing military dictatorship led by Suharto (leading to a genocide of over a million ‘communists’). Suharto, with his anti-communist views proved much more satisfying to American and Australian policymakers who were concerned about Sukarno’s unpredictability.

Once again, crisis loomed and was ultimately avoided.


East Timor and its Aftermath

In 1975, following the withdrawal of Portuguese rule, East Timor was invaded and ultimately incorporated into Indonesia. Australia was forewarned about this and effectively did nothing to stop it, despite 5 Australian journalists being killed.

Fast forward almost 25 years and Australia became heavily involved in assisting East Timor gain its independence, as part of a UN operation.

This policy coincided with considerable upheaval in Indonesia, as the Suharto regime collapsed, and terrorist activity affected Australia in 2002 and 2004.

All combined, this led to what has been referred to as ‘probably the lowest period in Australian-Indonesian relations.’Despite this, relations have improved, only to be pushed by the recent developments.


So the rollercoaster ride of Australian relations with Indonesia continues. Will Tony Abbott be able to keep things going smoothly or are we due for another series of strongly worded threats? I’m curious to see how Abbott can reconcile his strong words at home with the need for diplomacy overseas.


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5 Ways to Stay Sane While Doing your PhD

One of the biggest challenges that I have faced while working on my PhD thus far (and also on my MA before it) was to find ways to maintain that work-life balance. Being able to stay sane over the long haul is essential to be able to come through with a final product that reflects the ridiculous amount of work that needs to be done.

I’m a huge fan of blogs that post short lists so I’m going to post the occasional list, starting with my 5 ways to stay sane while completing a PhD.

1. Have hobbies outside of academiaImage

This list was inspired by the fact that my AFL team, Hawthorn, have qualified for the Grand Final this week. I love going to the football, and I use sports as a way to escape the rigid logical mindset that I apply in my work. It serves as an escape from having to continually worry about research or my latest draft. I also spend far too much time watching TV but I’ll save that for another post…

2. Have a social life outside of academia 

This one is linked to number one, as I often attend AFL or A-League games with mates who I hang out with before and after. I am also lucky to have my girlfriend Gaby who keeps my sane by taking me out to dinner or to a movie. That ability to escape is crucial to staying the course over the years of a PhD.

3. Have a social life within academia

While I love hanging out with my friends, very few (if any) of them can really relate to what I’m going through with my thesis. I’m also lucky then to have a good group of friends in my department, where we discuss, or more accurately complain, about the problems of writing a thesis while teaching or expressing our frustration at our inability to get that chapter draft done.

4. Read outside your research area

As a history PhD, the amount of primary and secondary reading that I have to do is ridiculous. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just reading about stuff that is relevant to your work. Reading novels helps keep me sane, and also helps to expose me to other writing techniques. Reading the news also acts as a kind of escape and can sometimes help with putting my work into contemporary perspective.

5. Exercise

I’m pretty sporadic with my exercise, but it is really important. One thing I’ve started doing recently is walking first thing in the morning and listening to interesting podcasts while I do it. There are some great ones that make the whole process interesting, such as the In Our Time podcast. Not only does this make you feel better but also it helps with the mental side of things.

Is there anything you guys do to stay sane while also trying to work on your PhD?

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Is it Worthwhile Beginning a History PhD in Australia?

In the immortal words of Reverend Lovejoy, “short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but…”

            Recent political developments have attracted a great deal of discussion amongst my postgrad/teaching associate colleagues and myself. At the top of the list has been the proposed intervention of politicians into the funding for research projects.

            We have been especially concerned about the statements made regarding ‘ridiculous’ projects that Liberal politicians have targeted for attack; projects that us humanities scholars actually feel are very important and worthwhile. It seems that the new government will take a deep interest in ensuring that research funding is not ‘wasted’. Who determines what ‘waste’ means (politicians) is the key issue.

            This led me to ponder the question as to whether in this funding environment it is worthwhile starting a doctoral project in the humanities. From one perspective, it could be suggested that this is a terrible time to begin a project, with the uncertainty of financial support making an already stressful project even worse.

            But after thinking about it for a little while, I believe that now is the most important time to conduct the kind of research done by historians and other humanities scholars.

            The kind of work done in the humanities leads us scholars to question, investigate and critically evaluate not only our specific topics but also the world around us. It seems that it is just this kind of approach that conservative elements in our society find most alarming. Academia is therefore a battleground upon which the ‘culture wars’ are going to be fought over the next few years.

            As such, it is more important than ever that the work of historians and other humanities scholars be continued and strengthened by new research projects. Whether the work being done looks at gender roles in the Middle East, the work of German intellectuals from the 18th and 19th centuries or the influence of the United States on Australian politics in the 1950s and 60s, it must continue.

            By rejecting the proposition that politicians can intervene in research funding (a concept I find absolutely offensive), new scholars can maintain a sense of independence in their work. In other words, now is the time to demonstrate that it is not only in science and medicine that ‘valuable’ research can be conducted. Now obviously the practicalities of this are not as simple as I’ve presented it, but a spirit of resistance needs to be harnessed in the current climate.

            I’ve been surprised by my own reaction to the statements of the Coalition, as there is a part of me that is convinced of the importance of my work. To be confronted with the view that a large segment of society views the kind of work that I do as ‘ridiculous’ is deeply concerning.

            It is mainly for this reason that I think now is the time for scholars in all areas of the humanities and social sciences to come together to show that what we do is just as important as what other academics do. With this in mind it is not only worthwhile for new students to commence a research degree in the history or some other area of the humanities, it is absolutely necessary. 

A link on The Conversation also deals with issue in an excellent way.

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First Post!

ImageI’ve been meaning for quite some time to set up and start doing a blog that discusses things relevant to my work, and also to allow me to comment on anything else that attracts my attention. Firstly, I will quickly introduce myself. I am a PhD student in the National Centre of Australian Studies at Monash University. My work examines the influence of American power and ideas on Australian policy in Southeast Asia in the first couple of decades of the Cold War. I am particularly interested in the interaction between the work of academics and policymakers, particularly when the work overlaps and scholars enter public policy or vice versa. I will be using this blog to explore the progress (or lack thereof) that I make in my project and also to just discuss things that are on my mind at a particular time.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve wanted to start a blog for some time, but as with many things during a PhD, there constantly seemed to be something more important to do. This changed over the past couple of days. The Australian Federal election took place over the weekend and saw the Tony Abbott-led Coalition take government with a fairly safe majority. I can honestly say that this campaign absolutely did my head in, and I voted for neither of the major parties, both of whom I found particularly uninspiring.

This was not the thing that inspired me to write, however. Instead, it was a series of announcements by the Coalition that drew my attention. First, Tony Abbott announced a ‘relaunch’ of the Colombo Plan, which would see a ‘two-way’ exchange of students between Australia and Asia. I am interested in the ‘original’ Colombo Plan, and so was naturally interested to see what the Coalition had planned.

The new Plan is to provide $100 million over five years to assist students to either come to Australia from Asia or vice versa. This is a change from the original Colombo Plan, which only saw Asian students coming to Australia. According to the Liberal Party’s official statement, this will assist our part of the world to become the ‘beacon of prosperity that we would like it to be.’

I was intrigued by the use of the name Colombo Plan to describe this policy, as the historical and cultural baggage associated with the phrase will undoubtedly cause comparisons to be made. I was also intrigued, as the ‘original’ Colombo Plan still exists, with similar goals to those espoused in the early 1950s by Australian External Affairs Ministers, Percy Spender and Richard Casey.

The work of the early 1950s is acknowledged by the Coalition, but it is claimed that the New Colombo Plan will be ‘different and better than the original.’ It would appear that the only reason for this is the addition of an outbound component to the funding. The legacy of the original Colombo Plan would appear to be one of cultural exposure and exchange that comes from young people being exposed to a different environment.

This legacy was not really identified from the outset of the plan in 1950, and only really emerged over the first decades of the Plan. Instead, Australia’s Colombo Plan policy saw a growth in foreign aid spending, in line with broader attitudes amongst Western countries during the early Cold War.

This contrasts with the Coalition’s plans to lower foreign aid spending over the next few years, citing almost the exact same arguments as Treasurer Arthur Fadden from the early 1950s. The line ran, ‘We can’t continue to fund a massive increase in foreign aid at the expense of investment in the Australian economy.’ Joe Hockey’s words could’ve come straight from Cabinet discussions in 1951.

So we have a ‘new’ Colombo Plan being established in the context of lower foreign aid spending to contrast with the original Plan established as one of the first examples of Australian assistance in the region. It will be interesting to see whether this plan takes hold of public attention in the same way its precursor did. Something tells me it won’t.

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