Australia-Indonesia: Qualitative research of contemporary attitudes and interventions (2015)

This project explored Indonesians’ and Australians’ respective attitudes toward one another, using a multi-method, two-part approach. A key goal of the project was to form a framework and baseline for ongoing empirical research, in order to contribute to the development of a research roadmap for better understanding of the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

The first part of the project focused on the adaption of the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) software to understand Australian-Indonesian relations, including the development of an Indonesian language version of the software to analyse Indonesian texts.

The aim was to translate, adapt and validate LIWC software, and to trial this LIWC Indonesian dictionary in analysis of online media content. This sat alongside the use of the English-language version of LIWC to analyse Australian newspapers.

The second aim was to provide qualitative baseline data on Australians’ attitudes to Indonesia and vice versa, and to suggest research themes that could be explored further using qualitative or quantitative research methods.

Part one

This stage of the project involved the application of the LIWC software for analysing Australian-Indonesian relations. Most significantly in terms of sustainability, this entailed the translation, adaptation and validation of the software for use in the Indonesian language and consequently as a tool for understanding the Indonesian context. To trial the use of LIWC, we selected two media outlets from Indonesia and two from Australia. We undertook textual data scraping of content from these outlets immediately prior, during and after dates coinciding to key events of interest to both Australia and Indonesia.

With the translation and validation of the LIWC software for use in analysing Indonesian text, we have provided a unique tool that can be used for a wide range of research questions, including (but not limited to) ongoing examination of online media content.

Part two

The aim of this stage was to establish some form of baseline qualitative data regarding attitudes in the two countries by determining themes relevant to the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Qualitative data was collected via focus groups conducted in Australia and Indonesia, followed by thematic analysis of the data obtained. The themes arising from the focus groups were then examined in relation to the initial findings from LIWC, but also from the historical study conducted by Monash in parallel to this study.

While the findings are not new regarding attitudes of Australians towards Indonesia and vice versa (e.g. ambivalence), as these have remained stable over time, this should be included in any longitudinal qualitative or quantitative research, and include concepts such as perceived levels of trust, respect and understanding/knowledge across the two cultures.

Directions for further research

Future qualitative and quantitative research should gather empirical evidence as to the extent to which various factors (such as age, travel experience, person-to-person contact, education, and region) influence perceptions (including stereotypes) of Australians/Indonesians. In addition, future research should consider the themes of national identity and perceptions of intergroup differences from a psychosocial perspective. For example, what does it mean to be Australian, and do various ‘Australian’ identities influence perceptions of, and attitudes towards the ‘other’?

Exploring the role of media

Future research should focus on gathering empirical evidence about how the media reports on Indonesia/Australia and frames key events relevant to the two countries, and explore patterns and biases across various media outlets that may impact on general perceptions and attitudes of the public. The LIWC software can be used as a powerful tool to contribute to greater understanding of the impact that media may have.

Articles around key events in the Australian-Indonesian relationship were analysed from two major Indonesian news outlets: Java Post and Kompas. In addition to expected differences stemming from the differences in ideology and the specific intended audience for these outlets, the analysis produced some intriguing findings. We found, for instance, that articles covering the Australian spy scandal tended to reflect more anger than other articles in Kompas, and more anger coupled with anxiety in the more conservative Java Post. In addition, Kompas tended to use a more objective language that included more quantifiers and numbers when discussing the spy scandal compared to Java Post. The effects of these differences in language on public opinion need to be further investigated.

This could be done by analysing comments posted by the Indonesian public on news websites regarding specific articles. It could be also done by conducting an in-depth survey informed by the findings of this initial study/research.

The analysis conducted on Indonesian media was replicated in the Australian context by analysing articles around the same key events from the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph. We found significant differences in how more progressive media outlets reported the events, compared to the more ideologically conservative ones. These differences and their effects on public opinion, and more specifically on attitudes towards Indonesia, need to be further investigated in a comprehensive quantitative survey and in further analyses of language generated by the public (in online comments about specific articles). Such analysis and surveying would enable researchers to provide more concrete answers and empirical evidence about the effects of the media’s reporting and framing of key events on Australians’ attitudes to Indonesia.

The LIWC Indonesian dictionary should be further developed and extended to include terms that may be used on social media platforms such as Twitter, but also used by the public in comments section found in various media outlets.

Improving cultural awareness and language proficiency

Programs, events, and interventions that improve awareness and visibility of Australian culture in Indonesia (beyond politics and beyond Bali) should be considered. Programs aimed at improving language proficiency (English and Indonesian) should also be encouraged (e.g. student exchanges).



Analysis tool

Development of an Indonesian language version of an existing psychological text analysis software tool (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count or LIWC).


Misajon, RoseAnne; Manns, Howard; Bliuc, Ana-Maria; Iqbal, Muhammad (2017): ‘Australia-Indonesia Attitudes and Understanding Research: Qualitative research of contemporary attitudes and interventions.’ figshare. Paper.

Dr Misajon, Dr Manns and Mr Iqbal presented findings at the Australia-Indonesia Attitudes Seminar in May 2016.