JAMES ROYCE WRITES — Indonesia has long been the premier year-round vacation destination for millions of traveling Australians, especially among those looking to escape high-alcohol prices and expensive party lifestyles in their native home country. From Sydney Airport, a flight from from Sydney Airport to Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, Indonesia, can be as cheap as $334 round-trip and lasts just shy of seven hours — convenient enough for any Aussie who wishes to sit back on a Kuta or Seminyak beach so they can sip on a cheap cocktail or go on an affordable Bintang binge while watching the sun picturesquely fall into the tropical sea.
But all this could soon be coming to a screeching halt thanks to Islamic hardliners within Indonesia’s Parliament.
The United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) have proposed a bill that threatens to ban the production, consumption, and distribution of beverages that contain more than one percent of alcohol throughout the country. It would be the first of its kind in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
Introduction of the bill in Indonesia’s House of Representatives has already caused an uproar within Indonesia’s tourism hospitality industry, which warns the effects would be crippling to them if passed.
“If the bill is passed, our business will be done,” Hariyadi Sukamdani, head of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), told the Jakarta Post. “No matter how beautiful the country is, if [tourists] can’t find alcohol, they won’t want to come here.”
More than one million Australians visit Indonesian islands like Bali every year, contributing $1.8 billion to the economy. And while there was a noticeable drop in tourist numbers after terror attacks in 2002 — which killed 88 Australians and 114 others — in 2005 numbers were back up, and have only continued climb throughout the past years
Australians themselves have been verbally up-in-arms about the bill as well. Sharon and Phil Shaw, from Melbourne, VIC, have been coming to Bali every year for the past five years. They said their family enjoys relaxing with a drink on the beach or at dinner but were not heavy drinkers themselves.
“We come here to relax, we work hard and we come to relax,” Mrs. Shaw told news.com.au. “I think for Bali [a ban] would be very sad because I think they would lose so much. I believe the Balinese rely on the tourists to survive.”
Tjokorda Oka Arthana Ardana Sukawati, chairman of the PHRI’s Bali chapter, said that passing the bill would also be concerning as it would most certainly lead to an increase in oplosan, or bootleg liquor, as well. Black market alcohol has killed Australian tourists in the past, as unregulated spirit-based drinks often contain dangerous levels of methanol.
After Perth teenager Liam Davies died from methanol poisoning on New Year’s Eve in 2013, many fear a nationwide booze ban would only lead to an increase in similar methanol related deaths as needy tourists would be forced to look towards oplosan to quench their thirsts.
It’s hard to say if the PPP and PKS will actually be successful in passing their radical new bill in Indonesia’s infamously sluggish Parliament. But for sake of traveling Australians, one can only hope their next vacation won’t be a bittersweet goodbye.