Indonesian-Australian Meat Relations Redux

Five years ago, during a visit to Canberra, I wrote a bit about a surprisingly important foreign policy dispute regarding Australia’s export of live cattle to Indonesia (which I termed “Indonesian-Australian Meat Relations“). Back in Canberra this week for a short visit to the Indonesia Project at the ANU, I was surprised to learn that Indonesian-Australian meat relations are still in the news.

The specific context is a quote from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce from May of this year in which he suggests that the ban on live cattle exports is responsible for the influx of refugees to Australia.

Might I remind you that when we closed down the live animal export industry, it was around about the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats in Australia.

I happened to learn of this quote at a plenary session of the Asian Studies Association of Australia annual meeting. One of the speakers mentioned that in the run-up to the as-of-yet unresolved Australian elections held last Saturday, politicians mentioned Australia’s relationship with Indonesia exactly one time. That singular mention was not exactly an insightful one.

This is especially unfortunate because the issue of asylum seekers in Australia is a serious one. These are not asylum seekers from Indonesia itself, but Indonesia’s position as Australia’s closest neighbor means that asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, and other countries almost always are trafficked through Indonesia. The refugee issue is a very big deal in Australian domestic politics, and Australia’s current approach to handling asylum-seekers does nothing to help Indonesian-Australian relations, nor does it do much to solve the core problem of asylum-seekers.

It should go without saying that it also has nothing to do with live cattle exports.