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20 May 2024

From Broadcast to Diplomacy: Meutya Hafid’s Quest for Stronger International Relations

The Winner of the 2024 Alumni of the Year Award

May 1998 was a watershed moment in Indonesian history marked by the resignation of President Soeharto, who had ruled for 32 years, following days of protests and civil unrest in Jakarta and other regions. At the time, legislator Meutya Hafid was a mechanical and manufacturing engineering student at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, on a scholarship from the Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology.

Seeking information about her home country, she turned to Australian television and newspapers but found it insufficient. The limited internet access only fueled her desire to learn more. The moment marked a turning point for her.

”I wanted to find out more about my homeland, to identify the steps ahead and how we could reshape Indonesia,” she shared. “That got me thinking about what I could do professionally.”

Meutya recalled her experience as a volunteer announcer at the Voice of Indonesia radio station on campus, where she conducted her first interview with Indonesian singer Katon Bagaskara. “It was so exciting because I was a big fan of his,” she said, adding that the experience ignited her passion for broadcasting.

“That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a journalist.”

As it happened, Metro TV began operating in Jakarta just as Meutya graduated. Encouraged by a friend, she applied to the news channel, was hired, and her career took off almost immediately. As a news reporter, she covered conflicts in various regions of Indonesia, including Aceh, which was under martial law in 2003 due to separatist movements.

One of her most defining moments in journalism occurred in February 2005 when Meutya and Metro TV’s cameraman, Budiyanto, were taken hostage by the Iraqi Mujahedeen while travelling to Jordan. They were released safely four days later. In 2017, Meutya published a book about the experience, 168 Hours Taken as A Hostage: Memoir of a Journalist in Iraq.

That same year 2005, Meutya received the inaugural Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award from the Australian government. As an anchor for Metro TV’s primetime news and talk shows, she was recognised as a hardworking and dedicated journalist. The following year, she received the Australia Alumni Award in the Journalism and Media category, which honours Indonesians who have studied in Australia and made significant contributions upon their return to Indonesia.

A New Direction

After eight years in the media industry, Meutya took a new turn when she was invited to join the government. “I felt it was an opportunity I needed to take,” she said. Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s push for increased women’s political representation, particularly those with professional backgrounds, was the catalyst she needed to enter politics.

Under the Golongan Karya (Functional Groups) Party, Meutya was appointed to the House of Representatives Commission I, which oversees intelligence, defence, communications,  and foreign affairs. During her years in the Commission, she credited that strong teamwork and collegial collective led them to pass numerous laws and maintain the work established by the previous administration. She was appointed as House Commission I chairperson in 2019.

In March 2024, Meutya was elected for another term in the House of Representatives. She aims to create a professional national army for Indonesia, focusing on soldiers’ wellbeing and modernising the primary weapons system. Additionally, she seeks to contribute to global stability through dialogues with international counterparts.

Meutya is also dedicated to maintaining and enhancing Indonesia-Australia relations.

“The two countries have had a long relationship, and our job in the Commission I is to nurture it and elevate it to the next level,” she said. She emphasises the importance of various communication channels between ministers and heads of state, as well as exchanges among young and women parliamentarians.

She praised Australia as one of the most proactive countries in its relationship with Indonesia, stating that resilient bilateral relations require efforts from both sides.

Meutya noted recent visits to Indonesia by Australia’s Minister of Defence Richard Marles MP in February, who met with Indonesia’s Minister of Defence and President-elect Prabowo Subianto. Additionally, Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Cyber Security, Clare O’Neil, met with Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Minister, Yasonna H. Laoly, and House Commission I to discuss counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and illegal foreign fishing. 

“These praises are genuine, not just because I pursued my education there,” she said with a laugh.

“My study experience taught me many valuable lessons about the country. When my scholarship was terminated in my third year due to economic turmoil, I had to work part-time at a fast-food chain. I got to experience daily life as Australians did. It was hard but also very enriching. Hardship taught us so much and pushed us into making friends,” she shared.

In receiving her latest accolade as the Alumni of the Year, Meutya highlighted the lasting benefits of Australian education and experience. “The country’s academic excellence and multiculturalism provided a space where I learned and shared ideas with many people, enriching my horizons. As Australian alumni, we should contribute to a better world based on freedom, lasting peace, and social justice.”

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