Blind Spot Image Credit: DFAT / Timothy Tobing

Blind Spot

Why Australia needs a South-East Asia step-up


As COVID-19 swept through Asia earlier this year, Australian officials made some calamitous calculations about the likely trajectory of infection. While the worst-case projections were grim for several nearby countries, particularly Papua New Guinea, for Indonesia they were catastrophic: by the end of 2020, a possible death toll in the millions. The social, economic and security implications were almost beyond comprehension. Yet there was no boost to Australia’s aid budget to help address the threat.

In late July, four months after these projections, the government donated 100 ventilators as part of a $2 million coronavirus aid package to Indonesia for virus-related medical and laboratory equipment. The contribution was announced in a statement to the Indonesian media by Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta, Gary Quinlan. Underlining its security dimensions and the straightened diplomatic and aid budgets, it was funded not through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) but through the Department of Home Affairs.

Friends, Allies and Enemies

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