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Meet the Indonesians Trying to Repay Australian Aid Money in Spare Change

They're mad at Tony Abbott for suggesting Indonesia repay $1 billion in Tsunami aid by staying the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
February 25, 2015, 3:28am

Images via Twitter user @GeraldTahapary

Last week, Prime Minister Abbott told reporters that Australia's $1 billion in aid after the devastating 2004 tsunami should be considered when deciding on the fate of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who are due for execution early this year. "Let's not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars worth of assistance," he said. "I would say to the Indonesia people and to the Indonesian government, we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time."

In response, Indonesians have started the "Coin for Australia" campaign to repay the debt with spare change. First appearing on Twitter, young Indonesians posted pictures of themselves collecting change along with the #KoinUntukAustralia hashtag. The movement has since moved offline, with a protest at Jakarta's Hotel Indonesia where attendees scattered coins over comical images of Tony Abbott with a red cross taped over his mouth.


VICE spoke with several of the young people involved with the campaign who say they joined out of patriotic pride and insult over the remarks. As one Twitter participant named Jessica Lona explained, "I'm an Indonesian and I'm doing my responsibility to defend my country against any form of insults. It's not about the coin or cash or check, it's about self-esteem."

Fellow campaigner Zayyin Biliman agreed that aid and the death penalty shouldn't be linked, "I think the statement from Abbott hurts Indonesians' hearts, especially the Acehnese."

Zayyin has now joined hundreds of other Indonesians collecting loose change. "Indonesia never asked help from Australia," adds Indonesian Rio Wiranata. "They offered it to us, and we as a nation will pay back the PM through the coins we have collected."

The campaign initially began in Aceh—the area worst hit by the Boxing Day tsunami—and in the space of a week has spread across the country to Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, and Denpasar. It's now reached as far as the Indonesian government, with vice-president Jusuf Kalla saying they're willing to return the aid money. "If the aid is deemed not humanitarian in nature, we will pay it back," he told the Jakarta Post. For a lot of Indonesians, it seems to also be the sense that another country is interfering with their justice system. "We don't want another government from another country to intervene in our government and law," Wiranata says.

Despite the reaction, many of the Indonesians we spoke to were clear that the anger was directed at Tony Abbott, not Australians in general. "Abbott's statement was very childish, arrogant, and also insincere," Lona says. "I have many friends in Australia who don't agree with the PM," Wiranata continues. "I know Australia's aid was given to us before he became PM."

Although the reaction against the Prime Minister's comments are largely universal, they're not necessarily reflective of people's feelings over the death penalty. "We all understand that many people disagree with the death sentence. I personally disagree with it as well," Lona explains. In contrast Biliman fully supports his government's huge crackdown on drugs. "I think it's a good punishment from our government and for every drug smuggler, not only Andrew and Myuran, because now Indonesia has an emergency of drugs," he says. "Our government wants to stop the drugs."

But one thing remains universal, the desire for an apology from the Australian PM. "The people of Indonesia are taking Abbott's statements very seriously, and we won't stop this campaign until Tony Abbott apologizes to all of us Indonesians." Lona says.

Follow Denham Sadler on Twitter.