Premier's visit tunes into Indonesia

21 Nov, 2015 01:00 AM
MLC Brian Ellis (left), WA Premier Colin Barnett and MLC Phil Edman at the WA Trade Office in Jakarta.
MLC Brian Ellis (left), WA Premier Colin Barnett and MLC Phil Edman at the WA Trade Office in Jakarta.

PREMIER Colin Barnett's first official visit to Indonesia this month was "something of an eye opener", according to an MP who accompanied him.

Agricultural Region MLC Brian Ellis, who travelled with Mr Barnett on the three-day visit, said he believed it "awakened" the Premier to the potential of further trade development between WA and Indonesia.

"In fact the rest of Australia is just awakening to the potential, we've just had Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trade Minister Andrew Robb, a minister from the South Australian government and Mr Barnett visit Indonesia," Mr Ellis said.

He said Mr Barnett was well received by the Indonesians.

"The fact that he spent three days there and didn't just fly in and fly out was noted and commented upon while he was there," Mr Ellis said.

"The Indonesians like face-to-face meetings.

"Mr Barnett met with people and he listened to them."

Mr Ellis said there was still some feeling by Indonesians that Australians were "arrogant", a hangover from the live cattle ban and protests and comments in Australia at the time of the execution of drug couriers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Mr Barnett's visit helped dispel that belief about Western Australians.

"I've got to hand it to the Premier, he handled it very well," he said.

One of the purposes of the visit was to meet new staff at the WA Trade Office in Jakarta, which has been expanded with the appointment of regional director Chris Barnes in June, plus a local office manager and local specialist representatives for agriculture and tourism.

The office had been earmarked by the State Development Department for closure in 2014 with WA proposed to be represented by one person at Austrade.

Mr Ellis and MLC colleagues Phil Edman and Nigel Hallet conducted a quick fact-finding mission and Mr Ellis presented Mr Barnett with a report recommending the office be retained.

"I thought it was very important that it was retained," said Mr Ellis, a Bindi Bindi and Calingri grain farmer.

"We've got a potential market of 250 million people right on our doorstep, the WA office has been open for 23 years, we're the only State to have a continuous trade office in Indonesia for that period.

"In some ways we have been a little bit arrogant towards Indonesia by ignoring them and flying over them seeking to develop new markets in China.

"To his credit, Mr Barnett listened to our argument.

"We not only have retained the office, it's been expanded."

Mr Ellis said Mr Barnett had roundtable talks with business representatives trading into Indonesia and on tourism and education where there was significant potential for growth.

"Unfortunately, Victoria has beaten us on education, they have 4000 Indonesian students studying at their universities compared to 700 at ours," he said.

"Their families often buy houses for them to live in while they are here and they spend up to $20,000 on their graduation."

Mr Barnett also toured the Bogasari Flour Mills and met with people in the agri-food sector.

"Doing business in Indonesia can be quite difficult, but some of our businesses, like CBH Group, do it very well," Mr Ellis said.

"They work with the Indonesians, they've developed partnerships so that both Indonesia and WA benefit.

"That's the key to doing business there."

Two-way trade between WA and Indonesia was valued at $3.1 billion in 2014-15.

Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly


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