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Call for Aussies to ditch Bali over new sex rule

Australians are being urged to rethink their holiday plans over a draconian new law passed in one of the nation’s most favoured overseas destinations.

Indonesia's parliament approved a criminal code that bans sex outside marriage with a punishment of up to one year in jail – and it applies to both locals and foreigners. The laws would also prohibit cohabitation between unmarried couples.

Australians make up a quarter of Bali’s tourists, according to the Australian embassy in Indonesia, with more than 1 million flocking to the holiday island each year in pre-pandemic times.

 Tourists are pictured relaxing and on colorful bean bags, under the umbrellas at Denpasar, Bali.
Australian tourists may be affected by new laws in Indonesia outlawing sex outside of marriage. (Getty Images)

The laws were passed with support from all political parties and despite warnings from business groups that it could scare away tourists and harm investment. However, the code will not come into effect for three years to allow for implementing regulations to be drafted.

Senator urges Australians to holiday locally

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan appeared on the Today show on Wednesday morning and encouraged Aussies to explore their own backyard instead of travelling to Indonesia.

“Why not holiday in Australia? Why not holiday in Queensland?” he said. “It is so good up here. Come up here! You don't need to go all the way to Bali.”

The new code sparked protests in Jakarta on Monday and Tuesday, but in terms of what Australians can do about it – there’s not much choice.

“It is their country. They can decide the laws. It is not up to us to determine what happens in another nation's country,” Senator Canavan said. “We can't do much at all.”

How will the laws be policed?

Andreas Harsono, researcher for Human Rights Watch, said 'millions' of couples will be threatened by the new code, however he doesn't believe police will crack down on them all.

"There are millions of couples in Indonesia who are not legally married," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday. "They are juristically threatened by this criminal code, but I don’t think the police or the government will enforce this criminal code against millions."

Under the new laws, 'suspects' can only be reported to police by limited parties, such as a spouse, parent or child – but Mr Harsono says this can create a big problem.

A couple lay on the sand of a quiet Kuta Beach on March 21, 2020 in Kuta, Indonesia.
Tourists in relationships with local Balinese people may come under scrutiny once the new laws kick in. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"The danger of this criminal code is what we call selective law enforcement, which means it will only be implemented and forced against certain targets. It might be, you know, hotels, it might be foreign tourists or whatever, that will allow certain police officers to extort bribes or certain politicians to use the blasphemy law...that is the danger of this criminal code."

Mr Harsono said the law could impact an Australia citizen if they were dating a local and were reported by the parents, or the siblings. "Then it will be a problem," he said.

Same-sex marriage is not allowed in Indonesia, he added, so if someone in an LGBTI+ relationship was reported, they also risk being jailed.

The laws also include bans on black magic, insulting the president or state institutions, spreading views counter to state ideology and staging protests without notification.

Critics say the new laws can be used to police morality in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, which has seen a rise in religious conservatism in recent years.

Maulana Yusran, deputy chief of Indonesia's tourism industry board, said the new bill was "totally counter-productive" at a time when the economy and tourism were starting to recover from the pandemic.

"Hotels or any accommodation facilities are like second homes for tourists," he said. "With the ratification of this criminal code, hotels are now problematic places.”

The new laws will also include more lenient sentences for those charged with corruption.

with AAP

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