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Albo Can Impress Jokowi by Incorporating Indonesians into the Australian ETA


The current Australian visa requirements for Indonesians are hindering tourism, family visits, business, and trade between Australia and Indonesia. At the same time, it is also hurting Australia’s national and economic interests. For Australia, Indonesia is perhaps its most important neighbour, and is on the cusp of becoming a global economic powerhouse. Indonesia is predicted to become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2050. And an increasing number of Indonesians are traveling and holidaying abroad. Therefore, the success of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), and the Indonesia-Australia tourism relationship is highly dependent on travel.

During his visit to Indonesia last year, the Albanese Government acknowledged this fact and put Home Affairs on notice to speed up the painfully slow processing of visa applications from Indonesia. But as President Jokowi Widodo prepares to visit Australia in July the unfair visa regime for Indonesian applicants remains in place. The Albanese Government can resolve the visa processing crisis by incorporating Indonesians into the Australian Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visa scheme. The policy change will be received positively by Jakarta, and it can help unlock the full potential of Australia’s bilateral ties with its largest neighbour.

Talk is cheap: visa reform will unlock IA-CEPA

The strict visa requirements for Indonesians are also hampering the effectiveness of IA-CEPA. In turn, this is negatively impacting two-way trade between the two countries. Indonesia is currently Australia’s 14th largest trading partner and two-way trade between Australia and Indonesia is worth AUD 18.35 billion. In fact, Singapore and Malaysia are both ahead of Indonesia in Australia’s top two-way trading partners list. Prime Minister Albanese has subsequently accepted that Australia’s economic ties with Indonesia are underdone.

Albanese has also declared that Indonesia is a centrepiece of his government’s trade diversification policy away from China. At present, China is Australia’s largest trading partner and Canberra is trying to end its economic overreliance on the country. In recent years, China has run an economic coercion campaign against Australia. This has led to Beijing imposing trade bans on more than AUD 20 billion of Australian exports. Albanese also backed the G7’s recent statement that called out China’s economic coercion. But just 250 Australian companies have a presence in Indonesia today, in contrast to more than 3,000 Australian companies that have a presence in China. Thus, the lifting of unfair visa requirements for Indonesians is imperative for the success of IA-CEPA and Canberra’s trade diversification policy.

Failing to tap into a lucrative tourism market

Despite limited visa access, Indonesians still have an increasingly insatiable appetite to travel to Australia. In 2022, Indonesia moved into the top ten short-term visitor arrivals source countries to Australia list. Indonesia is now in sixth position behind Singapore after not featuring in the top ten in 2019. During the same period, Indonesian visitors spent approximately AUD 278 million in Australia.

Indonesia’s rapidly rising middle class is also good news for the Australian visitor economy. Today, 52 million Indonesians are members of the country’s middle class. Indonesia’s educated and financially stable middle-class travel regularly overseas. And on their overseas travels, they’ve proven to be generous spenders. Nonetheless, Australia is failing to capitalise on the enormous tourism market right on its doorstep.

For instance, unlike visitors from Malaysia and Singapore, Indonesian visa applicants have to pay a non-refundable application fee of AUD 150.00 per family member. As a result, just over 295,000 Singaporeans visited Australia last year, in contrast to 90,000 Indonesians. Singapore’s total population is a mere 5 million in comparison to Indonesia’s 280 million. Therefore, the slow visa processing times for Indonesian applicants are one of the primary reasons why Canberra is failing to tap into the lucrative Indonesian market.

ETA visa access for Indonesians

During Jokowi’s visit, Australia has the opportunity to genuinely strengthen its economic ties with Indonesia, by announcing the inclusion of Indonesians in the Australian ETA. Under the Australian ETA, eligible non-Australian citizens can travel as many times as they want, for up to one year, and stay up to three months for each visit to Australia. Moreover, ETA holders can only visit Australia for a holiday, visit family or friends, attend an event and conference, and do other business visitor activities.

The application process for an ETA is quick and easy. All ETA applicants must lodge their applications using the Australian ETA app. During the process, applicants do not receive a visa application charge. There may be, however, a small application service fee of AUD 20. Nonetheless, this fee is more than ideal for Indonesians who continue to pay expensive and non-refundable application fees. Furthermore, the processing time for eligible foreign ETA holders is usually 1-2 days. The fast-processing time for potential Indonesian ETA holders will likely reduce the extraordinary backlog of Indonesian visa applicants.

The Australian ETA scheme includes eligible foreign passport holders from the ASEAN member states of Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei. And like Indonesia, both Brunei and Malaysia are Muslim-majority countries. But despite, the similarities between Indonesia and its smaller ASEAN neighbours, Indonesians remain outside the ETA visa regime.

Ultimately, ETA access for Indonesians will be the best outcome for both Indonesian tourist visa applicants and Indonesian business visitors to Australia. In the long term, this will enhance the Australia-Indonesia economic relationship and deepen the crucial people-to-people links between the two countries.

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