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Australia Indonesia Relationship

Less and less Australians have any comprehension or understanding of Indonesian culture. At the same time Indonesia must not take it for granted that Australia understands us culturally.

By geographical reality, Indonesia and Australia are closed neighbours and both are multicultural countries. However, in Indonesia, multiculturalism refers to a mosaic of different cultures living together. In Australia, multiculturalism basically means lots of people with different coloured faces living together. The miscommunication that happens between the two countries, reflects a deep and stark difference not only in culture, but in attitude.


Australian colleagues and supervisors tend to be addressed by their first names or nick-names unless they are very senior and old-fashioned. Most times you will be introduced on a first name basis. If you have a long name or a “difficult” name, do not be insulted if it gets shortened. Even common everyday names in Australia are usually shortened wherever possible.

In Indonesia, names are considered sacred and must be treated with respect. You have to make every effort not to mispronounce the names of the Indonesians you encounter. It is uncommon – even rude – to refer to an Indonesian by their full first name, unless that name has only one or two syllables. Most Indonesians are ultra-sensitive to differences in rank, age, gender and formality. Address your Indonesian business colleagues properly. If you know the title of the person you are being introduced, greet them and state their titles. Else, you can simply say “Pak / Bapak or Bu / Ibu” in conjunction to their names.


In Australia exchanging business cards is not as common but is common among professional workers. Don’t be worried or feel offended if you do not get one back, this could be because the other person does not have one or that he does not see the point of giving you one since he is the client.

In Indonesia business cards are essential items as they give the information necessary to decide who are the senior people present. They are exchanged on an initial meeting. You will need to give out cards to everyone you meet. When handing your card, offer it using the right hand or both hands. Take their card with your left hand and, after studying it carefully, place it in your card wallet or on the desk in front of you.

Never toss or “deal” your business card across the table, as this is considered extremely rude. Putting the card immediately into your wallet or briefcase without reading can be seen as an insult to the Indonesian business culture. It’s like saying “I’m not interested in getting to know you”.

Your business card should contain as much information as possible, including your title, corporate position and educational qualifications. People with more qualifications are held in higher regard.


Australians take business seriously, even if it seems relaxed. Punctuality is critical in making a memorable impression. Australians do not need to have long standing personal relationships with people in order to do business, and value individual privacy. They are very matter-of-fact in their communication and business dealings.

Polychromic countries such as Indonesia consider their foreign partners to be obsessed with rules and formalities, while they seek to establish emotional bonding before switching to professional matters.

In Indonesia, time is not money, building relationship is. Punctuality is not always observed, as Indonesians do not like to feel hurried and do not have the western sense of urgency. Indonesian culture demands that time be invested in building relationships, considering ideas, and preparing to act.


English is regarded as the national language of Australia. 85% of the population spoke only English at home. There is little difference in the form of language used between Australian colleagues and supervisors and in most respects every day language is used.

For foreigners, speaking Bahasa Indonesia will give the advantage of building relationship and trust with locals and negotiations can be a whole lot easier. Do not be afraid if you can’t perfectly pronounce some words. Indonesians are psyched when you can even only speak a little Bahasa Indonesia. They are going to cheer you up! And this is a proven fact.


In Indonesia, direct eye contact should be avoided, especially with social superiors as it can be viewed as aggressive behavior. It is considered rude. You can probably look at the person on the chin or you can also look them in the eye for very short periods of time as they will feel very uncomfortable to have direct eye contact constantly while having a conversation with you. But do use your judgement. If you know that the person grew up in Jakarta and has been educated abroad, it should be okay.

In Australia (except in some aboriginal cultures) it is considered very rude NOT to look someone in the eye when they are talking to you or telling you off. If you don’t look us in the eye when we are saying something important, or reprimanding you, we think you are ignoring what we are saying and being defiant. Looking at someone when they are talking to you in a conversation is an indication that you are truly listening.


Australians do not expect to bargain and negotiations are minimal, brief and concise. So the original proposal should leave little room for negotiation. Final decisions are concentrated with the top levels of the company, though consultation with subordinates is vital. However, this may prolong the decision making process.

Indonesians don’t get right down to business. An initial meeting may last 45-60 minutes without accomplishing much. After this amount of time, the visitor should initiate leaving. Patience is a necessity when doing business in Indonesia. Business dealings are usually slow, long, frustrating and they love to bargain.


During conversations like meetings and negotiations, Australians speak plainly and expect that what you say will be taken literally. Yes means yes. When you deal with Australians, you don’t beat around the bush but be straight forward. DON’T agree to decisions or action you don’t understand. DO ask questions and insist on answers when you need clarification.

On the other hand, Indonesians’ communication style is indirect, which means yes can be no. Not willing to be impolite or embarrass, Indonesians end up conveying exactly the opposite of what they actually mean. The native language – Bahasa Indonesian — has several words that say, “Yes,” but actually mean, “No.” Translations in English fail to capture the intent!

Recognize that certain phrases mean NO. They include “it is inconvenient”, “I am not sure” and “maybe”. “We need discuss it internally”. “We’re still processing it”. “We will study you matter first”, “We will get back to you”, “We will look into it”.


Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, which can cause some friction when Indonesians encounter liberals from Australia. Most Indonesians frown upon the consumption of alcohol and the display of flesh by women. In contrast, Australians drink a lot of alcohol, and its women are accustomed to wearing very little clothing.



Source: Geoscience Australia, National Geographic, CIA factbook, SIPRI databases, The Guardian.

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