AFG Venture Group Dispatches

Corporate advisory and consultancy in Australia, South East Asia and India.

Reflections from Peter Church, AIBC’s Inaugural National President

May 4th, 2011

The below article was written by AFG Venture Group Chairman Peter Church who was the Inaugural National President of theAustralia Indonesia Business Council.

Reflections from Peter Church, AIBC’s Inaugural National President

I worked as a lawyer in Jakarta from 1978 to 1981 with the famous and flamboyant human rights lawyer, Adnan Buyung Nasution. He had a private sector law firm in which I worked and which generated the funds for his human rights work in Lembaga Bantuan Hukum (Legal Aid Institute). In fact, I was interviewed for the job with Buyung by Murray Clapham who recently passed away and was the subject of an obituary written by Hamish McDonald in the Sydney Morning Herald.

They were exciting days and it was a time of growing Australian involvement in the Indonesian manufacturing sector – amongst others there was James Hardie (John McFadden), Monier (Don Heath), Rheem (Australian-based Bob Aitken), CSR, Boral, Australian Dairy Corporation, John Lysaght (pre BHP – Australian-based Noel Doyle and Graeme White). Qantas (Peter Stainlay) also had a significant presence.

It was during my time in Jakarta through John McFadden and Don Heath that I became aware of the Australia Indonesia Business Cooperation Committee (AIBCC) and its counterpart, the Indonesia Australia Business Cooperation Committee (IABCC). These bodies met yearly, alternating between Australian and Indonesian locations and the structure followed similar bilateral Business Cooperation Committees for other countries such as Japan and Korea. I believe John Reid, then Chairman of James Hardie, was Chairman of the AIBCC at the time. The bilateral meetings normally attracted around 30 large Australian corporates, a small number of Indonesian corporates and, as now, senior Government representation from both countries. The IABCC was headed at that time by Fritz Eman and ably assisted by Moetaryanto Poerwoaminto, who was recently awarded an AO by the Australian Government for his contribution to the bilateral business relationship.

In those years in Jakarta, Australian businessmen gathered monthly after work at the Borobodur Hotel for what were known as “sundowners” (and which I believe still exists today but meetings are held elsewhere). Attendance was extremely important as it was the main way we kept up-to-date with what was happening in Jakarta as this was, of course, long before email and mobile phones. Jakarta was full of colourful and eccentric Australian expats and I enjoyed every minute of my time there.

On my return to Sydney in 1981, I became active in the AIBCC and became aware of another organisation involved in the commercial relationship. This was the Australia Indonesia Chamber of Commerce (AICC) which had branches in Melbourne and Sydney. The members of this organisation were smaller companies primarily involved in trading. A key member of AICC was the late Bruce Dureau AM who had been involved in Indonesia since the 1920s and was someone I would call a “true friend” of Indonesia. I also became active in AICC and I can remember our regular meetings in a business club which was located in one of the buildings in the small lane behind the MLC Centre. At that time it was difficult to get even six people to attend one of these meetings.

The AIBCC also struggled to find active members and it became clear that the AIBCC and AICC should “merge” to produce a new organisation which created a critical mass and a single focus for Australian business involvement in Indonesia. It was important to create a new organisation so that neither felt there was a “takeover”. As we were establishing a new organisation at the Australian end, we needed to make sure that our colleagues in the IABCC were prepared to establish a similar organisation and merge the IABCC into that. To facilitate the merger I was appointed the President of both the AICC and the AIBCC and subsequently became the inaugural President of the Australia Indonesia Business Council we know today. The merger took place without too much difficulty in Australia and, with the support of the Fritz and Moetaryanto, the counterpart Indonesia Australia Business Council was also established without any major issues.

I think the merging of all Australian commercial involvement with Indonesia into one organisation became a template which many of the other bilateral Asian business councils subsequently followed.

During the early years of the AIBC the annual meetings produced regular drama due to the political dimensions of the relationship between the two countries. Sometimes we did not know until the last minute as to whether there would be Ministerial representation. I can vividly remember one meeting in Bali when somehow someone in the Indonesian delegation got hold of the draft of a speech that was to be delivered the next morning by our then Australian Ambassador. Exception was taken to something in the speech by one of the political “minders” on the Indonesian side and it was indicated if the speech was delivered “as is” there would be serious repercussions. Delicate negotiations followed to ensure the offending language was moderated, but in a way that did not look like a backdown by the Australian Ambassador. During all these “ups and downs” in the political relationship, the business relationship continued to grow.

In the early 1990s, at the end of two terms as President of AIBC, I stepped aside from involvement at the Board level but our firm, principally through Glen Robinson and Michael Fay, has continued to actively support the organisation.

Congratulations to all those involved as AIBC publishes the 100th edition of its newsletter.