The workshop Prospects for regional cooperation: Opportunities for Indonesian-Australian collaboration explores a broad set of questions related to the practice and understanding of regionalism on the part of Australia and Indonesia, two significant but very different states straddling strategically vital Indian and Pacific Ocean littorals. Having been a core battleground of the Cold War, the islands and waterways in the southeastern-most extension of the Eurasian landmass have once again have become a site in the showdown of competing superpowers. Southeast Asia is home to more than 600 million people and is a conduit for nearly two-thirds of world trade. It straddles overlapping American, Chinese and Indian spheres of influence, and hosts middle-power aspirants, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia, as well as smaller but influential players, notably Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Recent standoffs between the Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino navies remind us what is at stake in the region, as do the rising tensions in Sino-Japanese relations and the enduring regional echoes of the global ‘war on terror.’

The workshop is the second in a series of dialogues between principally Indonesian and Australian academics, social commentators, media practitioners, religious leaders, and policy makers. The dialogue is formally sponsored by the Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University and the State Islamic University Jakarta Syarif Hidayatullah. Participants are drawn primarily from Indonesia and Australia, but also from other parts of Southeast Asia. The wide range of disciplinary and professional backgrounds makes for rigorous, innovative and policy oriented analyses, taking into account key factors driving the domestic and foreign policies of Jakarta and Canberra. Over time the ongoing dialogue aims to explore complex and contrasting conceptions of national identity, migration, the broad theme of human security, ties of trade and commerce, cross-border tourism, cultural and educational exchanges and the range of people-to-people relations between Australia and Indonesia.

The workshop in Melbourne needs to be held before 30 June 2013 (11-12 June 2013) because it is part of an exchange of dialogue, following the first workshop held earlier this year on 5-6 June 2012 in West Java hosted by our Indonesian institutional partner. One of its key aims is to consolidate a collaborative research partnership between the two institutions, and to pave the way for one major new research project.

This particular workshop will focus on public policies, elite perceptions and popular narratives relating to the idea and practice of regionalism in the Southeast Asian context. The overriding purpose is to explore ways the Australia-Indonesia relationship can become a significant driver in the development of regional cooperation. In the wake of the European crisis, regionalism itself is no longer viewed as a fail-safe mechanism to respond effectively to the larger crises of human insecurity, or for mitigating, let alone resolving, inherited hatreds. Such groupings as ASEAN, ASEAN+3, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asian Summit, ASEM and APEC have contributed, each in their own way, to Southeast Asia’s expanding regional architecture. Progress has been most evident in trade liberalization and more generally the expansion of regional trade. However, even within ASEAN, which remains the principal motor of East Asian regionalism, the development of cultural, social, diplomatic and security cooperation has been painfully slow. At the same time, old divisions between maritime and continental Southeast Asia are beginning to reconstitute themselves as evidenced by different attitudes to such key issues as human rights, the role of civil society, and the pace of regional institutional innovation. Disappointment and even frustration have begun to set in, especially in the case of Indonesian public intellectuals and social commentators who have given voice to rising levels of ‘ASEAN-scepticism’. Southeast Asian regionalism, it must be admitted, has yet to come to terms with the extraordinary growth of non-state and trans-national actors and influences.

What are the implications of all this for Australia and Indonesia? Can these two societies expand their bilateral relationship in ways that facilitate the emergence of more effective frameworks of regional cooperation?

Indonesia is Australia’s closest and most important Asian neighbour. Yet the relationship, though it has stabilized and matured over the past decade, remains far from realizing its potential. There are, arguably, few neighbouring states with as much mutual ignorance of the other as Australia and Indonesia. Focused on the overarching discussion of expanding Australia-Indonesia collaboration through multilateral frameworks, this workshop seeks to contribute in a modest but imaginative way to a strengthened sense of regional identify on the part of academics, public intellectuals and shapers of opinion in both countries.

The conversations to take place at this workshop will be grounded in expert knowledge, cutting-edge research and close grassroots connections. The Centre for Dialogue at La Trobe University, host institution for the workshop, has pioneered this form of exchange based on the principles, theory and methodology of dialogue. Participants will be asked to contribute to the exchange of views as part of an intellectual, but policy-formulating oriented encounter, in which listening is at least as important as speaking. The aim is to ascertain the gap that separates the positions of key stakeholders, and ways in which that gap can be constructively bridged or at least negotiated.

The workshop is structured in four sessions across two days. The first day will focus on notions of human security in our region with particular reference to four security dimensions: societal security (managing religious and cultural diversity); environmental security (including climate change); cross-border population movements (including refugees and asylum seekers) and human rights. The second day will place the spotlight on the prospects for regional cooperation, with particular reference to economic and educational policies on the one hand and regional institution building on the other.