SYDNEY - Indonesia's President Joko Widodo had the rare honor Monday of addressing a joint sitting of the Australian federal parliament. The presidential visit is a chance for Australia and its neighbor to reset relations following spy scandals, tensions over asylum seekers and the executions of two Australian drug traffickers.
Relations between Australia and its large Muslim-majority neighbor to the north have improved markedly in recent years.
President Joko Widodo's address marked 70 years of bilateral ties. He is only the second Indonesian leader to speak before a joint sitting of the Australian parliament.
Economic development and attracting foreign investment are key priorities for Widodo. Last week the Indonesian parliament ratified a free-trade agreement with Australia.
The president told the federal parliament in Canberra that his country is helping Australia with its recovery from a long and devastating bushfire season.
Australia's two-way trade with Indonesia is worth about $11 billion.
The new free-trade deal will wipe out almost all tariffs on exports to both countries.
Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham says it’s a good result for many sectors.
“Around 500,000 tons of grain — a huge boom, especially for our West Australian grain growers. Big opportunities in terms of the cattle trade, the horticulture trade but also in the services space," he said. "[There is] enormous potential in terms of now new opportunities for Australian education providers, our universities and vocational educational providers to operate in Indonesia.”
Cooperation on climate change is another area that is expected to benefit from closer ties. The two countries already work closely on terrorism and the response to natural disasters.
Successive Australian leaders have sought to forge better relations with Jakarta.
But this enthusiasm appears not to be shared by Australians. A poll from the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank in 2019, found only 1 per cent of Australians felt Indonesia was "Australia's best friend in the world.”
Canberra is being urged to raise the cases of members of an Australian drug gang caught trying to smuggle heroin out of Bali, Indonesia in April 2005.
Five members of the syndicate are serving life sentences in Indonesia. Two others of the so-called "Bali Nine" were executed. Convicted drug smuggler Renae Lawrence, another member of the gang, who was released in 2018, has used Widodo's visit to plead for reduced sentences for those who remain behind bars.