Indonesia Expat

Ambassador Trevor Matheson and the New Zealand Mission in Indonesia

Ambassador Trevor Matheson and the New Zealand Mission in Indonesia

Thank you for your time, Ambassador Matheson. It’s the sixtieth year since formal diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Indonesia were established. What are some of the achievements over that period?

We are really excited for the anniversary of New Zealand and Indonesia diplomatic relations established back in June 1958. One early achievement is the strong relationship in the renewable energy sector when New Zealand provided education and assistance as part of the Colombo Plan in the 1950s. It was during this time that Indonesia became a party to this organization, and from these humble beginnings we’ve developed a relationship where we are a respected and trusted partner for Indonesia.

Currently, we are the leading collaborator for Indonesia in this sector, particularly in geothermal energy, having built Indonesia’s first geothermal plant in Kamojang, Bandung, which was jointly inaugurated by President Suharto and New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. From there on, we’ve trained the highest echelons of geothermal experts here in Indonesia and we’ve expanded in the last 20 years to become a trusted partner in disaster risk management. Reflective of this fact is that Indonesia and New Zealand are basically located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and have the same natural hazards profile with the threats of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis along with a whole range of other factors. It’s a really exciting area because we are learning from our shared experiences.

Our expertise has been recognized particularly in recent years where we’ve been the preferred partner for Indonesia to help develop their national disaster risk framework, which is almost complete, and will be launched this year as part of the 60th anniversary. These are only a few examples where we’ve progressed over this period of time.

What events are planned to celebrate the anniversary?

We are excited because we’ve worked very closely with the Indonesian authorities in this matter, in particular my very good friend Indonesian Ambassador Tantowi Yahya in New Zealand. Several items we have in mind are making joint approaches to Air New Zealand to see if they can serve Indonesian cuisine on their seasonal air services from Auckland to Denpasar. We have agreed on a joint logo to showcase the strong teamwork between Indonesia and New Zealand, and we will be launching the logo on 1 February in Jakarta, and the Indonesian Embassy in New Zealand will be doing something similar. The logo also has a specific theme, “Friends for Good.” It’s to showcase the relationships that have developed between Indonesia and New Zealand are primarily people-to-people, and we’ve built a degree of friendship, trust and respect for each other. Even when friends disagree, as often we do within families, mutual trust and respect are still there and we can agree to disagree. We can continue to build and develop relationships where we can.

On 8 March, it’s the International Day of Women and we are hosting an event about women in the geothermal sector. The forum will be held at the Fairmont Hotel to showcase women who have made amazing contributions in this sector. Later in the year, other organizations will be hosting events featuring sports and culture. One particular group we are working with is called Ballet for Indonesia ( who are working with the New Zealand School of Dance in developing a workshop in July to train young, Indonesian, ballet pupils.

Ambassador Yahya is going to hold an event in August to showcase Indonesian coffee through a festival in New Zealand. New Zealanders love their coffee and Wellington especially is one of the great coffee capitals of the world. Indonesian companies like Javanero Coffee are exporting coffee beans to the Ripe Coffee Company in Wellington, and you can actually sample West Java coffee from their stores and outlets in New Zealand. I can see that sector growing as the quality of Indonesian coffee is outstanding.

The city of Selwyn in New Zealand has a sister city relationship with the Toraja region in Indonesia, which started off as collaboration with coffee. However, their relationship has expanded to other areas as well by using good, reliable, Kiwi know-how and knowledge from New Zealand farmers who are volunteering and traveling to Toraja to spend time there to help the local communities to develop their agricultural potential and reach self-sufficiency. These are just a few examples of the interesting and collaborative events that we’re hoping to expand upon and develop in 2018.

It’s a very exciting time for Kiwis around the world: a new coalition government, a new young Prime Minister who has also just announced her pregnancy. Are there any changes that might come about from the change in government especially as it relates to Indonesia?

I think all new governments have different priorities. The new coalition government led by the Labour Party, New Zealand First and the Green Party will obviously be looking at the Indonesia and New Zealand relationship to put, perhaps, greater emphasis in the social policy area. We have been helping Indonesian develop its human rights spectrum and learning from what New Zealand has already been able to achieve in our own environment in the Pacific Islands, and I think that’s something that we can continue to do.

I don’t think that we should expect major changes in the policy settings, but one that we will see is the New Zealand government’s focus on the environment. It’s becoming more a part of our our approach with Indonesia. We have already been working closely with Indonesia in that area especially in the maritime and fisheries space. During Prime Minister John Key’s visit to Indonesia two years ago, we signed a memorandum of understanding on illegal and unreported/unrecorded fisheries and so we agree that we are both maritime nations and that the future of our populations will depend a lot on the way we act as custodians of our natural resources, lands and seas.

We can work together more closely especially as environmental issues are becoming more and more of a concern for communities and to our sense of legacy and what we should be leaving for our future generations, I think that’s something that we would like to step up very much. And I think it’s great to also have in New Zealand a female prime minister. We also have a female governor general who serves as Head of State. Our chief justice is also a woman. So the three highest offices in the land are held by women and it’s most appropriate that it should occur in the country that first gave women the right to vote more than 120 years ago. However, we shouldn’t stop there. We need to keep moving. It’s too easy to say we have done it all, so we need to keep evolving as there are more challenges to face.

How is Indonesia important to the New Zealand economy?

Very important; and gaining ever more importance. Indonesia is effectively 40 percent of the ASEAN GDP. It’s a major economy and it’s fair to say that trade between our two countries is underperforming. We have two-way trade at roughly $1.7 billion, which is not insignificant. However, our leaders told us that those levels are lower than they would like so they’ve given us a target to more than double that trade within ten years. By 2024, they would like to see two-way trade (in goods) to the order of $4 billion and we should also move to increase trade in services.

New Zealand, as an openly trading nation, we always look to expand and look for markets. Indonesia, with its 260 million population, has phenomenal potential and opportunities for us. It’s also a challenging market, but Indonesia is improving immensely in its ease of doing business. It’s probably the fastest moving (and improving) economy in the world. I know that the government is not satisfied. New Zealand is currently number one in the world for ease of doing business whereas Indonesia is currently 72, but that has come from 109 in the previous year so Indonesia has made some amazing strides. And so as it continues to improve its rankings, that should make it easier for New Zealand businesses and investors to look at opportunities here.

What are some of the products or companies from New Zealand of which people living in Indonesia might be familiar?

Our profile as an agricultural based country is world-renown. I’m sure that Indonesian consumers here will know about New Zealand dairy products from Fonterra, and the various brand names such as Anchor and Anlene. We also are well known for our kiwifruit from Zespri, and apples from ENZA Foods. Of course, there’s our range of quality red meat such as beef, lamb and mutton. And, increasingly, the green-lipped mussels and our New Zealand wine.

We would love for Indonesians to be eating and importing a variety of foods from New Zealand and around the world. The one good thing about trade is that even though New Zealand is self-sufficient in most things, we are one of the most openly trading countries in the world. We love to try products from other countries. For example, although we have a productive cheese-making industry and we export 95 percent of our dairy, we still love to sample other countries’ cheeses. It’s a win-win for all sides in terms of variety, selection, and affordability for people.

What can be done in order to improve trade relations and boost investment?

I think one of the things we’d like to do is promote each other’s countries better. I still think that many Indonesians still don’t understand what New Zealand has to offer and so part of my role is to explain that a lot more of New Zealand has moved on from just being a producer of agricultural and food and beverage products, but that we are an innovative and forward-looking country.

The development of our creative economy is expanding very well and New Zealand recently has entered the space age with the first rockets being designed and built in New Zealand, taking satellites successfully into space in the Hawkes Bay area of the country. New Zealand is really on the verge of becoming a much more well-known, innovative economy around the world and we want to take that sense of innovation to Indonesia. We’re doing that in the education space by promoting the quality of New Zealand education, which is world-class, but at the same time trying to translate that quality of education into science and technology into business relationships.

At the same time, we see phenomenal opportunities and developments taking place in Indonesia, which will be a benefit to New Zealand. My job is to try to facilitate and introduce businessmen in both countries and try to protect the prospective investors and make those introductions and hopefully those people will be able to take it forward. The focus is on young business leaders, and we have a programme to take these young leaders from Indonesia and ASEAN countries to New Zealand, and reciprocate with our own young business leaders to come to Indonesia. Seeing is believing, and it’s difficult to understand what Indonesia has to offer from back home in New Zealand so we are encouraging Kiwis to come to the market and look for yourself; we will help interested parties through NZ Inc, NZTE, our investment bodies and business councils to help facilitate.

What development activities are being offered by New Zealand in Indonesia?

Our bilateral development programme with Indonesia is the largest outside of the Pacific Islands. It reflects Indonesia’s potential and also the challenges for development here. This is a country which has some significant development challenges particularly in eastern Indonesia so our development assistance is focused geographically on the eastern parts of the country where all of the data indicate the development indices are amongst the lowest in the country particularly in Papua, West Papua, Maluku, NTT, and NTB.

We have three pillars from which our activities are based here. We focus on support in agriculture, renewable energy and disaster risk management. There is also the cross-cutting supports to assist schools and knowledge through scholarships and education, in particular for graduate and postgraduate study. We offer 60 scholarships to Indonesian students to study in New Zealand. We also offer English language training to target ministry officials in our key areas of focus, and we offer vocational training in trying to encourage New Zealand universities and polytechnics to develop relationships with Indonesian schools and to look at the potential for in-country training opportunities here. We know we can only take a small percentage of people to New Zealand and not everyone can travel to study with commitments.

New Zealand has a strong tourism image through its 100% Pure New Zealand campaign. Do many Indonesians make it down to the country, though?

Not as many as we’d like. Three years ago we had only 17,000 Indonesians traveling to New Zealand. Part of the reasons for that is the lack of knowledge of the country and the lack of air connectivity. We don’t have direct air services between Indonesia and New Zealand, and it’s a factor for people’s decisions. We do have seasonal service through Air New Zealand from Denpasar to Auckland, but that only runs May-October. It should be expanded this year and Air New Zealand should be making some announcements soon. In the last three year we’ve worked very hard to promote New Zealand and now we have over 25,000 Indonesians going to New Zealand. The target is trying to get to 30,000 over the next year or two. It’s still small numbers, but it’s very impressive growth we’re seeing in the market and we want to take it in a more orderly fashion to see more travelers going to our country.

It’s not just about numbers, but about people spending more time in New Zealand so that they get value for money and take the opportunity to really see the country. Tourists also should take the opportunity to understand Maori culture as well as the unique fauna and flora in the country.

At the same time, we are very keen for more Kiwis to come to visit Indonesia. Currently, 95 percent of visiting Kiwis travel to Bali, but there’s more to Indonesia than Bali so part of our support is to get New Zealanders to go and see the rest of the country like Lake Toba, Raja Ampat, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, climbing Mount Bromo, the amazing cultural history of Yogyakarta and such. So we are working with airlines to improve connectivity while at the same time supporting many of the tourism opportunities and links that are out there.

Where do you think are some of the best places for a truly unique Kiwi holiday?

There are so many places. My hometown is Rotorua, and it’s the home of Maori culture. It’s also the heart of the geothermal sector, and it’s the home of trout fishing and forestry in New Zealand. It has a unique blend of experiences so I would certainly encourage people to visit Rotorua as a destination for a number factors, and also to get that Maori and indigenous understanding. Have a hangi, spend a night on the marae and get to know Maori people and their background, their culture, their language. For grandeur and truly extraordinary scenery, there’s the South Island. It’s unbelievably beautiful with the high peaks and snow-capped mountains of Mount Cook and its surrounds. Indonesians haven’t really experienced this kind of scenery so it’s quite phenomenal for first timers. There’s also the serene beauty of the Milford Sound.

You have been New Zealand’s Ambassador to Indonesia for several years now, what are some of the events or places you will remember from your time here?

There have been so many amazing experiences. Visiting Papua was something extremely special as I have Polynesian heritage and my mother is from the Cook Islands (Pulau Cook). Pacific Islanders have a close association with the Papuan people and so to go to Papua was special from a cultural perspective. I enjoyed the beauty of the people and the scenery, but also recognize the true development challenges they face. Climbing Mount Bromo was second to none in the world, and to see the sunrise was something particularly special for me. To see the sunrise at Borobudur Temple with my wife was also extremely touching as she is originally from Thailand and a Buddhist, and to have that experience with her as the sun hit the temple in the morning was like nirvana.

Thank you, Ambassador Matheson.


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