Flashpoint … protesters in Sydney call for Australia to grant asylum to 43 Papuans who arrived by boat in 2006. Photo: Reuters
Just over a month ago, popular Darwin identity Vikki Riley was riding her bike on one of her regular visits to asylum seekers at the Airport Lodge, a motel turned into a detention centre, when she was swiped by a car and killed.
Two days later, John Madigan rose in the Senate and proposed a condolence motion, noting among other things her ''advocacy on behalf of refugees and the people of West Papua and East Timor''.
The sole Democratic Labor Party senator was then approached by floor managers of the main parties and told that unless the Papua reference was removed, his motion would fail. In the vote it did fail, its 11 crossbench supporters outvoted by 37 no-votes, most from Labor, with many absenting themselves.
To human rights activists watching with increasing alarm the rising level of protest and punishment in closed-off Papua, with hardline members of the Indonesian parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee last week calling for the military to be unleashed, it seemed a particularly craven example of expedient silence.
To others it would be an example of how our politicians are now wary about being led into the most explosive issue in relations with Indonesia, if a little excessively in this instance.
''We have at last learnt to be sensitive about Papua,'' says Ken Ward, a former Indonesia specialist with Canberra's Office of National Assessments, although he was not referring to this case. ''That's something you can credit Australian politicians with. They do realise they can't idly talk about oppression in Papua or anything like that without really infuriating the Indonesians.''
The decade since the first Bali bombings is widely seen as a crisis turned to advantage. It wiped away Australia's role in the independence of East Timor as an active Indonesian grievance.
The co-operation between the Australian Federal Police and Indonesia's Detachment 88 special police unit in the hunt for the terrorists became a paradigm for a bilateral relationship rated by Canberra as ''never better'', particularly after the conciliatory Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected Indonesia's President in 2004.
Yet it remains prone to disruption on several hot-button issues. When 43 Papuans crossed the Torres Strait by small boat and were given temporary asylum in 2006, Yudhoyono recalled his ambassador from Canberra, a step never taken by even his predecessors Sukarno and Suharto during much more serious flare-ups.
Indonesian politicians remain alert for even the slightest hint of Australians of any institutional standing questioning the territorial integrity of their country, as criticism about Papua tends to be seen. John Howard's hurried Lombok Treaty gave a specific guarantee on Papua, but suspicion lingers. One Jakarta conspiracy theory even saw the stationing of US marines in Darwin not as a ''pivot'' against China, but as staging point for intervening in Papua.
Yudhoyono and his ministers know that it's not, but it's one of several cases where politicians on one or other side feel compelled to talk more loudly in public than effective diplomacy demands.
With our politicos, it's terrorism and boat people. As Ward notes, Indonesia is willing to co-operate against Jemaah Islamiyah, but the incessant public praise from Australian leaders is embarrassing in domestic politics. ''The Indonesians don't like to hear it because they provide the terrorists that we are co-operating about,'' Ward says. ''We are mindlessly scratching an Indonesian sore.''
Beneath the police co-operation, the relationship still needs a lot more content. Tourism from Australia understandably took a dive after the bombings, but is now well above pre-attack levels, with 800,000 visitors last year and 586,000 by this July. From the 75,000 to 100,000 surfie visitors to the Eat, Pray, Love crowd at Ubud, and Pilbara miners using it as home, the island of Bali is being loved and overdeveloped by Australians - an escapist cliche epitomised by the AAMI ad, showing ''Rhonda'' using her saved insurance premiums for a Bali escape and discovery of a handsome young ''Ketut''.
Yet the government relationship is still asymmetrical, despite a huge aid budget and pledges by both main parties to raise it to a first-grade strategic partnership. Indonesians have little interest in Australia, or much else outside their nervously watched frontiers.
''Certainly in our dealings with the Indonesian intelligence agency, discussions on anything outside Indonesia were always one-way,'' Ward recalls. ''They had no expertise at all. Even now there is no think tank about China.''
Indonesia's ''passive'' international stance is partly a blessing, Ward adds.
Indonesia opposed the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and does not recognise Israel. ''Hidden from the surface at the moment is a very big gap in our perceptions of the outside world, particularly related to the Middle East and American behaviour,'' he says. ''If that comes to the surface it's going to be a fairly nasty shock for Australia.''
The tail of expertise behind Australia's presence in Jakarta has also atrophied. Australian correspondents there are pressed by news editors for stories about terrorists, people smugglers and drug arrests, not profiles of Indonesian politicians, social movements or companies. Indonesian language study has been steadily disappearing from our schools and universities, although Sydney University's Adrian Vickers says student numbers have recently picked up, and an easing of Canberra's travel advice earlier this year has allowed language immersion visits to get insurance cover.
Wider interest in Indonesia expertise might return if more Australian companies, beyond the ANZ and Commonwealth banks and several miners, joined the multinational investment rush into Indonesia, where $US30 billion of foreign direct investment is likely to be approved this year.
Patrick Alexander, a former Australian diplomat-turned-venture capitalist in Jakarta, says Australian business has been generally slow to pick up on the structural change in the Indonesian economy since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
Domestic demand pulled the economy out of a long slump by 2004, and now Indonesia is seen not as a sweatshop manufacturing zone for cheap exports but as the biggest component of a south-east Asia-wide market for sophisticated products and services and it is best placed to supply it. Companies from Europe, Japan and South Korea, America, China and India are piling in.
''I don't field many questions about terrorism these days,'' Alexander says. ''What people are worried about is about infrastructure: where will they be able to locate their factories; is it going to be too difficult to get the goods to the port?''
''The real problem with Australia is that it looks upon Indonesia more as a trading opportunity and less as an investment opportunity,'' he says, adding that with 6 per cent average growth, Indonesia will outgrow Australia in economic size within a decade. ''That will make Australian businesses sit up.
''But they should be sitting up and taking a look at it now.''