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The souring bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia of late is not a new phenomenon and will not affect the country’s people-to-people relationships, alumni of a leadership exchange program told a conference on Tuesday.

REDD+ senior advisor at the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4), Kevin Evans, told the Indonesia Australia-People Talk Series conference that he had arrived in Indonesia during a similar situation back in 1986.

It was the year when Australia relations with Indonesia deteriorated after a report on the corruption and nepotism of then president Soeharto's family was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

This has led to a short-lived ban on Australian tourists to Bali. Despite this, Evans arrived in Indonesia as part of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) and said his experience was not affected by the Canberra-Jakarta issue.

Another alumnus, Indonesian Urban and Regional Planners Association chairman Bernardus Djonoputro, said, similarly, Indonesian students had not experienced any problems in Australia and the program had “built trust and care between the two countries”.

AIYEP is an exchange program, established in 1981 by the Australia Indonesia Institute, which aims to provide young people from both countries with the opportunity to appreciate the culture, development and way of life of each country.

In order to build better relationship between both governments, Bernardus said to further develop the cooperation between cities and towns. "We need to connect our communities more," he said.

Among other ideas, Bernardus recommended regulatory reforms related to service sectors to successfully implement infrastructure projects and support the establishment of institutions that can champion Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), for the private sector to finance infrastructure development.

Another speaker, Wakatobi Regent HE Hugua said that as a regent he cooperated with Perth administration without telling the Indonesian central government first.

“Coordination between local administrations in both countries make it more effective to solve problems rather than coordinating with the national governments first,” he said.

Also present at the conference, Australia Ambassador to ASEAN Simon Merrifield and other alumni of AIYEP.

The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post

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