Former Labor frontbencher and chair of IFM Investors Greg Combet will lead a high-powered delegation of leaders from the superannuation industry to Jakarta next month as part of efforts to turbocharge the economic relationship between Australia and Indonesia.
Combet has confirmed the group will examine the viability of investment opportunities in infrastructure on the back of a successful visit in June, when Anthony Albanese took a business delegation to Jakarta during his first visit to the country as prime minister.
While the new Labor government is attempting to reboot Australia’s fractured relationship with Beijing, and the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, could meet her Chinese counterpart at a G20 event in Indonesia later this week, Albanese was clear in June business leaders needed to find investment links and export markets elsewhere.
During his visit to Indonesia, the prime minister said candidly the country was “central to our trade diversification strategy”. Albanese said Australia needed to move past its reliance on China and business needed to prioritise new commercial opportunities in Indonesia.
Australia has complained about China’s trade sanctions against a range of exports including meat, crayfish, timber and coal and is currently pursuing trade disputes in the WTO over anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine and barley.
Combet told Guardian Australia the delegation to Jakarta would include “high-level people in the superannuation and funds management sectors, and we are aiming to go in late August”.
“We will be particularly interested in infrastructure investment opportunities – seeing what they look like over there,” he said.
“There’s clearly a recognition – encouraged by the new government and the prime minister’s [recent] visit – this is a huge population and rapidly growing economy on our doorstep.
“There has not been significant investment and trade opportunities developed between the two countries in the past and I think there is broadly a recognition of how important this is for both governments.”
In June, against a backdrop of escalating strategic competition in the region, Albanese said Australia’s commercial strategies needed to be rebalanced. During a visit to the city of Makassar, the prime minister noted that at one point “the trade proportion for China was up above 45%”.
Albanese said there were opportunities in Indonesia because there was “significant economic growth [and] significant growth in the middle class”. To illustrate the point, in a speech to local students, the prime minister drew on historical links between between Makassan seafarers and the Yolŋu people of Arnhem Land.
Indonesia was Albanese’s second overseas visit after being sworn in as prime minister, and Wong has been engaged in a high-profile swing through the Pacific and to south-east Asian nations in an effort to reset relationships.
Albanese used his visit to Jakarta to confirm Australia would attend the G20 leaders meeting in Bali in November – a significant diplomatic overture given some world leaders are threatening not to participate because of the presence of Vladimir Putin.
He also characterised president Joko Widodo’s planned capital, Nusantara, as “an incredibly exciting prospect – a nation‑building project signalling where Indonesia’s headed”. He said he was “pleased to offer Australian technical expertise to help you plan a clean, green, hi-tech city”.
Wong is currently in Singapore and will travel to the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Indonesia.
Since the Albanese government was elected in May, Australia and China have tentatively reopened lines of communication, including the deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, meeting China’s defence minister in Singapore in June.
Australia’s new trade minister, Don Farrell, told Guardian Australia this week Australia had “differences of philosophy” with China and the Aukus deal was another point of tension, but both countries had an “interest in trying to get the trade relationship back to where it was”.
“It would be good if in my time as the minister we can get back to some sort of sensible arrangement with the Chinese [government].”
Farrell confirmed that Wong was in talks to meet China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi. Asked if the pair could meet soon, such as at the upcoming G20 meeting in Indonesia, Farrell said: “I don’t exactly know, but it looks like the answer to that is yes. I think there are positive signs.”