IN THE highly complex arena of Australian-Indonesian politics, the recent reduction in live cattle imports points to a deeply troubled relationship, writes Michael Bachelard. AT THE wet markets on the outskirts of Jakarta, the price of beef shot up by 25 per cent in just three days last week. The Indonesian government's unexpected decision on July 10 to slash the quota for Australian live cattle imports means Indonesia's wives and mothers – who are charged with the seasonal responsibility of cooking beef for Ramadan and the feast day following – now confront paying 125,000 rupiah ($12.60) a kilogram for it. So who is our harried Indonesian mum to blame for the decision to cut the quota from 250,000 to just 50,000 head of cattle this quarter? Can it really be a result of delayed anger in the cabinet of Joko Widodo over Australia's campaign to save Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan? Queensland independent Bob Katter? seems to think so. He said last week that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop had gone out of their way in "provoking, confronting and speaking in a most arrogant manner" to Indonesia in that case. The president of the Australia Indonesia Business Council, Debnath Guharoy?, amplified the point, saying Indonesia was not happy with the way Australia was conducting its diplomacy – particularly relating to boat turn-backs. "The megaphone is not working," he said. But if Indonesia intends to punish the Australian government, both the timing and the tenor of the cut's announcement are odd. It comes almost three months after Australia's vocal, principled (apart from Tony Abbott's tsunami-aid remark) campaign to save Chan and Sukumaran from the firing squad. Perhaps Katter is suggesting the pair should have been abandoned to their fate in return for maintaining the size of the cattle trade? On turn-backs: the most recent, in which Indonesian crew were paid by Australian personnel to return their cargo of asylum seekers, was diplomatically dreadful. But it's far from the biggest incident that the two countries have weathered without harm to the beef trade. As for the announcement of the quota cut, it was low-key, almost bureaucratic. No Indonesian official has sought to make political mileage out of Australia's clear discomfort. This is not in keeping with the bluff and bluster that is the signature feature of previous contretemps between the two neighbours. And just a week after the announcement, the cabinet of Joko Widodo appears to be getting cold feet. On Wednesday, Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel? said the decision to cut the quota was only temporary and done because the government wanted to evaluate its own beef stocks amid concerns of an over-supply from eastern Indonesia. That is highly unlikely to be true. Much more likely is that it's an attempt at political cover for a decision that the agriculture minister made but the trade minister ratified. All this has left Australian industry figures and analysts scratching their heads. They had wanted a new quota of 275,000, according to one well-placed industry source, and the agriculture ministry had been hinting they would get about 200,000. They got a quarter of that. The intricate, internecine politics of Jakarta – which may or may not involve jockeying for favour ahead of a possible cabinet reshuffle, conflicts of interest and even corruption – makes interpreting the real reasons behind such decisions extremely difficult. But some things are clear. Indonesian politics has a few touchstones that verge on holy writ. They persist despite all counter-factual evidence, and most of them can be traced to the utterances of the first Indonesian president, Sukarno – father of Joko Widodo's political patron Megawati Sukarnoputri. As former diplomat Ken Ward writes in an excellent primer on the Indonesia-Australia relationship, released this weekend: "Sukarno saw the world in the 1950s and 1960s as dominated by exploitative forces whose interests were incompatible with Indonesia's. "This outlook has endured in one form or another ever since," he writes. "It underlies the continuing suspicion of foreign investment, and the striving for self-sufficiency that appears from time to time. It prompts claims that this or that agreement with a foreign country or deal with a foreign company amounts to Indonesia's being 'bought'." Both Joko and his rival presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto? bowed to the self-sufficiency shibboleth during the last presidential election campaign. Joko has since promised that, within five years, Indonesia will be able to feed itself from its own production of beef, soy beans, sugar, corn and rice. Among some policy makers in Jakarta, there is the apparently sincere belief that self-sufficiency can be achieved simply by cutting imports. From the extra demand for home-grown products, almost magically, beef supply will come forth to fill be void, they believe. This would not be the first time that policy makers in Jakarta have acted decisively and tested this idea. Between 2011 and 2013, the quota was cut after Australia unilaterally suspended exports over animal cruelty revelations. Indonesia then followed with a sustained attempt at achieving demand-led self-sufficiency by maintaining a tiny quota of imports. The result was a fiasco. The price of beef skyrocketed and the local abattoirs started hacking into breeding cows and the dairy herd simply to feed the growing demand for red meat. The size of the Indonesian herd fell, and the prospect of real self-sufficiency was, no doubt, set back by decades. Finally, before the fasting-feasting season of 2013, the policy was reversed and the ships ground back into action. It's hard to believe this is another serious attempt at the same policy outcome, but it's likewise hard to see what other reason could exist. This is not to say that Australia's execrable ongoing relationship with Indonesia is entirely absent from the political calculus. Punishing Australia is, for an Indonesian politician, a victimless crime. We are unpopular there at the best of times, and the Abbott government's tenure has come fairly close to being the worst of times, for all the reasons we already know. So, while this drastic, late and puzzling cut in cattle imports should not be construed as direct attack on Australia, it would be fair to say that few Indonesians will regret that it hurts us. As one commenter on a Jakarta Post story wrote on Thursday: "Aust. is not an important country to deal with". Eventually, though, the women at the wet market will have their say and, just as happened in the past, the quota of Australian cattle will increase again. They may not like it, but Indonesia has very few other options. Michael Bachelard is investigative editor at The Age and a former Fairfax Media Indonesia correspondent.