Australia’s Chief Scientist Cathy Foley will be asked to join a science and research delegation to Indonesia as part of new Industry and Science minister Ed Husic’s plan to forge stronger ties with the regional neighbour.
Mr Husic on Friday flagged the trip and an invitation for his Indonesian counterpart to visit Australia, a week after his own visit to the country with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Mr Albanese made a point in his official speeches in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim democracy – that Mr Husic is the first Muslim to serve in the Australian Cabinet and, along with Muslim Western Australian minister Dr Anne Aly, it shows “we are maturing as a nation”.
Speaking with the ABC, Mr Husic said the Albanese ministry – the most diverse in Australia’s history – represents a better-quality national conversation and better decision making at the highest level.
“That does mean something and I think it was important in the context of this visit [to Indonesia] as well,” Mr Husic said.
“I mean, I went there because I think there’s a lot of options for us, a lot of chances for us to work with our Indonesian friends on common problems that confront both countries.”
To solve some of the common problems in industry and science, Australia will invite Indonesia’s Industry minister for an official visit, Mr Husic said, while Australia’s Chief Scientist will join a delegation to meet with Indonesian researchers and scientists.
The trips are part of the new Labor government’s push to improve its international relations with regional neighbours, particularly Indonesia, an emerging market economy and the largest in South East Asia.
“[We want] to show to the Indonesians that some of the things that have been projected — the suggestions that might be shut, we don’t have that level of diversity and that there isn’t a chance for people to be involved [are not true]. To be able to counter that’s really important,” Mr Husic said.
In Mr Husic’s first address as minister in Australia, he told scientists he wants Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia working together, particularly in terms of digital and innovation.
“We could do a hell of a lot more on science diplomacy,” Mr Husic told the Science Meets Parliament event earlier this month.
“We’ve been talking about that and how do we work with our neighbours on that and build stronger relationships in sorting out common problems.”
The Prime Minister chose Jakarta for his first official bilateral trip in an effort to reset relations more broadly.
Mr Husic joined him alongside Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Trade Minister Don Farrell, and business leaders from Wesfarmers, Telstra and Commonwealth Bank.
The previous Coalition government signed a free trade agreement with Indonesia in 2019, but it wasn’t ratified until the pandemic began in 2020 as global travel and trade was disrupted. Indonesia remains outside Australia’s top 10 two-way trading partners.
The Prime Minister will return to Indonesia in November for this year’s G20 summit.
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