Of course it's good to see the Foreign Minister deliver his 'wake up to Indonesia' call to Australian businesses to seize the opportunities in Southeast Asia's fastest growing economy.

But while the Minister is urging businesses to act, his Department's Travel Advisory is telling them not to even set foot in the place. The opening line is: 'We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Indonesia, including Bali, at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack.'

Most traveling Australians just ignore the Advisory. The numbers of Australians visiting Bali is back to its old peaks. But for Australian businesses (or, for that matter, government departments and universities) to ignore the Advisory is altogether different. If something happened to an employee while on business in Indonesia, the legal consequences for the firm of ignoring the Advisory would be very serious indeed. In practice, it is a major non-tariff barrier to trade.

It hardly needs to be said that visiting Indonesia carries substantially more risk than staying at home. If DFAT has to spell this out, an enumeration of some of these risks might help the neophytes. For what it's worth, most long-term expatriates in Indonesia say that being blown up by a terrorist is one of the lesser risks they worry about. Mosquitoes, water-borne sicknesses and traffic bring far higher risks than terrorist attacks.

If DFAT does need to be in the business of travel advice, what is a sensible way forward? Why not set out a full enumeration of the key risks (health, traffic, terrorism etc), and stop there: let people (and companies) decide what risks they want to bear, without setting them up for a lawyer's field-day.

While we're on potential litigation that makes it hard to do business in Indonesia, what about this quote from a Business Spectator article headed 'No more brown envelopes under the table', just a few days before Rudd urged Australian business to seize the opportunity:

Regardless, Australian business finds itself in this new era...Australian business should now consider that, to the extent the facilitation payments defence ever had any life under Australian laws, it will soon be dead. Any Australian business operating in countries where demands for such payments are common, including fast emerging African economies, should act to prohibit the making of such payments by their employees and others. Business impacts of refusing such demands will also need to be anticipated and planned for. To do otherwise risks the employee, the business and its directors committing criminal offences punishable in Australia, irrespective of where the facilitation payment is made.

Indonesia is fabulously exciting country and provides a wonderful opportunity for Australia to expand its horizons, to everyone's benefit. But it is a hard country to work in, and the Australian Government makes it just a bit more difficult.

Photo by Flick user danes96.