Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bali's horror and Australia's quandary

A friend of mine was planning to go to Bali for a holiday. She's been working in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory) for something like two years now, and was really looking forward to the break before coming back to Melbourne. With the bomb blasts in Bali, I started to worry.

Had she already gone to Bali? If so, was she okay? If she hadn't left for Bali yet, would she still go, or would she cancel her trip? After all, the local press reported some airlines were saying they wouldn't penalise passengers who'd changed their minds and didn't want to go to Bali after all. Shouldn't she take them up on their offer and not go?

I emailed her to check if she is okay. I hoped she hadn't gone yet, and wouldn't go after all.

She replied – she was meant to fly out Sunday night (the day after the bombing!) but was going to cancel her flight. She wasn't going, but was really angry with the crazies who had done this. I was relieved to hear she isn't going.

This very debate is now preoccupying the local media, on top of covering the bombing and the hunt for the bombing conspirators. The letters pages, talk-back radio, even today's editorial of The Age, have taken up the issue of whether Australians should stop holidaying in Bali, or should not 'abandon' Bali, and Indonesia generally, when the local people are so reliant on the tourist dollar to keep their economy – their very livelihoods – afloat.

Tough call. My response – as it was for my friend – would be DON'T GO!! It's too dangerous. Besides, there are many other places people can go for holidays that are just as interesting, and in need of tourist dollars – whatever they're worth.

I don't for a minute believe that tourism – especially the forms preferred by better-off Western and Japanese tourists – is the key to overcoming poverty and unemployment in developing countries. It can be incredibly destructive to local economies, cultures and social relations. Think of booze-fueled Aussies in Kuta's bars, sexual exploitation, drugs, the list goes on.

But at the same time, I don't accept that other old furphy – that cultures like that of the Balinese are delicate, rarified things that are in danger from Western decadence, or in need of protection through curtailing tourism or other contact with the rest of the world. Believe it or not, that one has come up in the recent debate.

What is real is that there are many people in places like Bali whose very livelihood is dependent on their jobs or other income from the tourist industry. And they will suffer the effect of Australians choosing not to travel to Bali in fear of the terrorists. And many people fear they could lose their lives if they travel to places like Bali.

It is such a difficult quandary. And I'm just asking the question – not proposing any answers. This is no Gordian knot. Somehow, I don't think simply 'cutting through' this is going to solve this one.


At October 16, 2005 5:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Bali so dangerous?

I would like to see some perspective on the numbers of people involved. Now don't get me wrong, one dead kid from a bomb is of course one too many. But I have seen no attempt in the media to investigate how the bomb "death rate" compares to other deadly things that can happen to us anywhere, or even in Indonesia in particular.

Why is this important? Well, if I am more likely to die in an Indonesian car accident, an Australian car accident, or for that matter from falling off a ladder, then it would seem silly to change my holiday plans due to the threat of a bomb.

It would be even sillier to trade away basic freedoms if the bomb threat turned out to be less significant than (say) sun cancer (see Howards new terror bill). So again, it would be good to see this statistical comparison as some of the above scenarios seem quite likely.

At October 20, 2005 9:20 am, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

I agree we musn't trade away our civil liberties for the government's promise of greater security from terrorist attack. The threat from the proposed beefed-up security laws to our political freedoms is too great.

But on the point of whether people should change their holiday travel plans and habbits of this is interesting: I don't buy your comparison of potential accidental death rates with terrorist violence. I don't believe we should compare accidents from stupidity or carelessness (why else are they called accidents?) with death from deliberate political violence.

Perhaps we should only compare death rates from preventable diseases and poverty in places like Indonesia with death from political violence if we are exploring what motivates poor (albeit deranged) people from taking up such violence; or questioning how much our governments spend on military and intelligence versus health and poverty alleviation.

At October 24, 2005 10:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the motivation of those involved in deliberate acts, acts of ommission, and plain bad luck, makes a moral difference.

When making a risk assessment of the safety of me and mine, however, I see no difference. Dead being dead (and hurt being hurt), it does not matter to me if the risk is from a "terrorist", a "freedom fighter", a car accident or indeed from falling off a ladder.

What is clear is that the chances of injury in Bali have recently gone up by a very very small percentage due to politically inspired violence. This is to be condemned. We should not lose sight, however, of the fact that the total risk of injury (from all causes) has probably dropped. Why? There is now much better health care facilities from the resulting Australian funding - available to address injuries from any cause, whatever the motivation.

I find it interesting that this is not an angle that is popular in the media. "Bali a safer place due to decent health care" clearly sells less papers than "be afraid".


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