About the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR)

The context

When Joko “Jokowi” Widodo became President of Indonesia in 2014, one of his boldest policy moves was to spend big on infrastructure. After decades of under-spending, Indonesia was being left behind with a massive infrastructure gap. In his national plan, he made accelerating infrastructure investment his priority. He pledged to build kilometres of roads, toll-roads and railways. He identified fixing port infrastructure, the shipping industry and maritime tourism as important for improving connectivity. He increased spending on distribution networks and lowered logistics costs to enhance competitiveness. He also committed to spending more than half of the national budget outside Java to address regional inequality.

The problem

As an archipelagic nation, Indonesia’s challenge is connectivity. Connecting port to city to rural to islands is vital for poverty alleviation and for sustainable rural development and urbanisation. By investing in infrastructure that links cities, towns, villages and islands, these new connections will open up new possibilities. The stronger physical linkages between roads, rail, seaports and airports have the potential to stimulate the local economy, boost commodities and transform communities.

Yet, experience shows that investments in connectivity do not necessarily benefit local communities if they are not ‘people-centric’, that is sustainable, affordable and accessible. For instance, businesses are unable to realise a transport’s potential without good planning and design of infrastructure. Or poor intermodal connectivity, scheduling and intervention to encourage use. Moreover, people are likely to remain disadvantaged if they lack the knowledge needed to take advantage of opportunities, and if they lack access to resources, or the skills required to thrive and enterprise.

Our theme

The Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR) is a development initiative that focuses on the theme: ‘Connectivity, People and Place’.

We seek to better understand the challenges and opportunities presented by Indonesia’s rapid physical and economic development. Over 2019-2022, we focus on a segment of Indonesia’s ambitious Trans-Sulawesi railway network infrastructure. By 2024, the Government of Indonesia plans to complete a new 145-kilometre railway line connecting two major port cities: Makassar and Parepare. The railway line is part of the government’s priority focus on Eastern Indonesia and positioning South Sulawesi as a gateway to the region. Along with the railway line, a new port is being built, new industrial zones emerging and fresh investments flowing.

We focus on the new connectivity and communities along the railway line. We investigate what the railway lines mean for local communities, how they respond to change, and how they can take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Our objective

PAIR’s objective is to contribute to sustainable development priorities through evidence-based decision making. By the end of the program, PAIR Research will have been used to address key policy and development challenges and there will be a sustainable PAIR knowledge network which provides a replicable model for evidence-based enquiry to respond to complex development challenges.

Our focus

We focus on four areas: commodities; transport, logistics and supply chain; young people, health and wellbeing; and young people and development.

We examine the areas as integrated, encompassing gender and social inclusion. Our research anchors on one commodity, seaweed, and the new Makassar-Parepare railway development. We focus on young people aged between 16 and 30, Indonesia’s largest demographic group.

By concentrating on a single commodity and linking it to the new transport connectivity and young people, it enables us to evaluate how improved transport linkages influence agricultural sector productivity, commodity value chains and community health, wellbeing, skills and enterprise development.

Our COVID-19 response

PAIR now aligns closely with the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery strategy which aims to understand and support the region as it deals with and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We promptly responded to the Partnership for Recovery in two ways: we shifted our core research program and introduced a COVID-19 rapid research initiative.

Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) pivot: We redesigned our core research program, the Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs), to align with Australia’s Partnerships for Recovery strategy.

COVID-19 Rapid Research initiative: Recognising the need for swift, evidence-based policy response to the pandemic, we used the savings from travel and reinvested in a Rapid Research scheme. This initiative directly addresses Indonesia’s policy challenges by exploring the pandemic’s broader impact on health, connectivity and economic recovery, with strong emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women, girls and the disability community.

Our partners

PAIR is a development initiative supported by the Australian Government.