COVID-19: New challenges require strong partnerships
By Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Gary Quinlan.
Originally published by Media Indonesia.
2020 has been an exceptional year for Indonesia and Australia for all the wrong reasons.
It began in January with massive floods in Jakarta and Australia’s worst ever bushfires.
By early March, the World Health Organization declared that we were facing a global pandemic.
By mid-April, the International Monetary Fund was forecasting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Today, the global death toll from COVID-19 has passed 415,000 and there are about 7.5 million known cases of infection.
The real figure, both of deaths and cases of infection, is likely to be significantly higher.
The global search for a vaccine continues. In the meantime, we are all having to adapt to new ways of working and living.
It hasn’t been easy – the twin public health and economic crises have challenged all governments and communities – and it’s not over yet.
It will take time for the effects of this pandemic to play out and it is yet to be seen how long it will take communities and economies to recover.
However, one thing we do know is that if we are to make progress against COVID-19, global cooperation will be key.
This is particularly important for the Indo-Pacific region and, as neighbours, comprehensive strategic partners and influential middle powers, Indonesia and Australia can play an important role .
For Australia, we recognise that COVID-19 is causing health systems to struggle and economies to stagnate, with potentially major consequences for all countries across our region.
That’s why we announced a new development strategy, Partnerships for Recovery, which has a focus on working with our neighbours on health security, regional stability and economic recovery and on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women and girls.
In total, Australia has diverted more than AUD 280 million from our global development program to support the critical health and humanitarian needs of neighbouring countries.
In Indonesia, Australia has already redirected nearly AUD 45 million from our budgeted $298.5m development program to support Indonesia’s COVID-19 response. Late last month, Australia announced AUD 21 million in new initiatives to provide immediate support to Indonesia’s health, humanitarian and economic response.
We are providing analysis on the fiscal and economic impacts of the pandemic to help Indonesia return to its economic growth trajectory and ensure its citizens are protected throughout the crisis and supported to return to work, to school, or training.
We are supporting the work of central ministries and key provincial governments to expand the social safety net and provide rapid financial and food assistance, as well as free electricity to those most in need – addressing issues of inequality and vulnerability that are Indonesian Government priorities but are now being further exacerbated.
Working with the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) our new AustraliaIndonesia Partnership in Disaster Risk Management (SIAP SIAGA) is providing technical advisers to the national COVID-19 Taskforce, thus helping BNPB lead the Indonesian government’s response to the crisis.
We are partnering with the Indonesian Red Cross, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, to support COVID-19 public awareness and preparedness to help slow and prevent the spread of the virus. We are working with civil society organisations to ensure women and vulnerable groups access services and alternative livelihoods in the face of COVID-19.
The new Australia-Indonesia Health Security Partnership announced during President Widodo’s visit to Australia in February, will support Indonesia to strengthen its ability to respond to public health threats through community preparedness, information management and surveillance and laboratory support.
Australia is also investing in critical medical supplies, enabling our partners, whether they be multilaterals such as WHO and UNICEF or local community based organisations to scale up their efforts and reach millions more people.
Australia is assisting central and local governments with coordination and reallocation of sub-national budgets for COVID-19 response activities, as well as supporting innovative expert analysis to help measure the impact of COVID-19 at the local level.
Our infrastructure programs are helping to mobilise additional financing from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for sub-national projects in water and sanitation, infrastructure skills upgrading and employment generation, helping to attract the private sector investment so crucial for economic recovery.
In agriculture, we are working with the private sector and poor farmers to help maintain production and functioning markets, thus safeguarding food security throughout the crisis.
Given our very long partnership on development, Australia is well placed to work with Indonesia to overcome the challenges of COVID-19.
When the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement comes into force on 5 July, we hope business in both countries will help boost the economic recovery from the pandemic. Both governments have kept working in the midst of the pandemic to mobilise business interest in the new opportunities IA-CEPA offers.
As neighbours and friends, the futures of Indonesia and Australia are intertwined. COVID-19 has only made that more obvious.
This pandemic has thrown up many challenges for all governments and for people across the globe.
But for the Indonesia-Australia relationship, there have been opportunities to adapt and strengthen our cooperation.
It has been a positive development in an otherwise ill-fated year.
This article by Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Gary Quinlan was originally published in Bahasa Indonesia by Media Indonesia.
This English translation was originally posted on Linked In by Alison Duncan, Minister-Counsellor (Economic, Infrastructure & Investment) at the Australian Embassy, Jakarta.