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Keating’s Timor and Carr’s Papua

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Frank Brennan |  29 November 2012

Joel Hodge's Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor (book cover)On Sunday, I was travelling through the idyllic rural north of Bali, listening on my iPod to Paul Keating's riveting 2012 Murdoch Lecture in which he spoke about the 'enormous time and attention' he gave as Prime Minister between 1991 and 1996 to the development of a bilateral relationship with Indonesia.

He said, 'I think I grasped, perhaps more than any of my predecessors, the singular importance to Australia and to its security, of the vast archipelago to our immediate north. I understood that the advent of General Soeharto's New Order government had brought peace and stability to our region.'

I warmed to Keating's self adulation until he went on to describe 'the preoccupation of the Australian media with the events in Balibo two decades earlier' and how he was 'determined to establish a new and durable basis for our relationship with Indonesia other than the one we had which saw everything through the prism of East Timor'. This seemed to me far too simplistic.

Our elected leaders in the 1970s and '80s when visiting Jakarta were right to raise human rights concerns about East Timor. They, like our Indonesian counterparts, were quite capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. It was not as if it was a choice between human rights concerns and the building of a bilateral relationship.

A bilateral relationship posited on a self-imposed ban on human rights discussion would be a very perverted relationship for a robust democracy like Australia boasting adherence to the rule of law and best international practice in human rights protection.

The Keating over-simplification could be relegated to academic history but for its resurgence in recent remarks by Foreign Minister Bob Carr who earlier this month told the ABC: 'There are Australians ... who take an interest in the notion for more autonomy for Papua but I remind them that you'd be doing a disservice to the Indonesian population of those two provinces if you held out any hope that Australia could influence the cause of events.'

I beg to differ. We could be doing a great service to our Indonesian neighbours if we took seriously our capacity for respectful dialogue about the need for greater autonomy in the provinces of Papua.

Think back to the 1991 Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili. While Keating was commencing his strategy of downplaying human rights violations in East Timor, journalist Max Stahl was able to smuggle out film of the massacre which shocked the world. Many Australians for the first time asked how this could be happening on our doorstep, and how we could permit it to go unchecked.

Joel Hodge in Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor identifies this as 'a major turning point for the international community ... Showing the innocence of the victims at the hands of the violent Indonesian state was central in the appeal of the East Timorese to the conscience of the international community — an appeal which eventually overcame 'the logic of force'.'

I first visited East Timor a year after the Dili massacre at the invitation of Bishop Carlos Belo. At that time it was almost impossible for foreigners to gain access. At the end of my visit, Bishop Belo invited me to a party with significant Timorese leaders. He and ex-governor Mario Carrascalao cornered me and asked what I would say about the situation in East Timor upon my return to Australia.

They said I must speak, but under no circumstances should I speak about the possibility of independence. They thought independence very unlikely, and were concerned that talk of independence would only exacerbate the discontent of young Timorese who then risked further adverse attention by the Indonesian military.

They told me I should speak about the need for three things: a decreased military presence, greater cultural autonomy, and enhanced protection of human rights.

On my return to Australia I stuck to this script. Some Australians, especially church people supportive of the Timorese cause, were critical. They pointed out that I had the opportunity to see first-hand the situation in East Timor and that I needed to acknowledge the moral case of the Timorese for independence.

My response was that if the cause for independence was frustrated, it was not my blood nor any other Australian blood that would be spilt, but rather that of the Timorese. I saw myself as having no option but to follow the wise counsel of respected Timorese leaders.

I remain of the view that East Timor would not have become independent but for the Indonesian financial crisis, the enigma of President Habibie and the Indonesian misinterpretation of John Howard's referendum suggestion. There is no failsafe prediction of the political future. Prudent advocacy demands that we be attentive to the voice of those whose future it is, those who will suffer the consequences.

It'd be churlish to question Keating's reflections unless there was risk of the mistake being repeated. I do think more autonomy, reduced military presence and greater human rights protections are achievable for Papuans; and that, despite Carr's comments, principles can be espoused respectfully in any healthy bilateral relationship.

Dismissing suggestions that Australia might play a role in urging greater autonomy for the Papuans, Carr said: 'Indonesians have been very sensitive to human rights implications of law and order activity in the Papua provinces. I ask those idealistic Australians who might entertain some other arrangement, what would be the cost in terms of our friendship with Indonesia and of our budget of a different arrangement. It's inconceivable.'

While I do think Papuan independence is inconceivable, greater autonomy is not, and it ought not be. President Yudhoyono said early this year that he was willing to have dialogue with Papuans to solve the longest unresolved conflict in our region. Australia should put its weight behind any dialogue initiative. Now is the time for such a stand because Yudhoyono will leave office in two years. His successor might not be open to the same path.


Frank Brennan headshotFr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law, director of strategic research projects (social justice and ethics), Australian Catholic University, adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. This article is taken from Fr Brennan's speech last night at the launch of Joel Hodge's Resisting Violence and Victimisation.


 



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....."a decreased military presence, greater cultural autonomy, and enhanced protection of human rights" could be a contemporary interpretation of Jesus' Kingdom of God vision in the Sermon on the Mount. Dialogue of this sort is the way to go in many parts of our neighbourhood, and indeed, in China, India and Pakistan. But there will always be those rogue regimes that won't dialogue and that is why Keating was wrong in his approach to Indonesia over East Timor. Howard took up both options and will be revered amongst Indonesians in the long-term more so than Keating because, in their own hearts, Indonesians desire the same things, not the fake approval of foreign countries. West Papuans must know that military intervention by Australia is a valid option and Indonesians should expect it, and in the long-term would approve it.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew 30 November 2012

Brennan takes the safe fence-sitting option, not the bold vocal stand for the rights of the people on the ground suffering occupation. The Timorese wanted independence- that is what Ramos Horta was lobbying tirelessly for in the UN. That was what the Falintil guerrillas in the mountains fought for, that is what the student resistance risked their lives for. For 24 years everyone believed that Timor's independence was inconceivable. Viva Papua Merdeka!

Vacy Vlazna 30 November 2012

One thing that changed after Santa Cruz, at least here in the U.S., was that Congress began to put real pressure on Indonesia about human rights and eventually for self-determination in East Timor. Pressed by churches and groups like the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), Congress quickly cut off of some military training, leading to other restrictions on security assistance. Without this, intensified human rights rhetoric would have had little impact on the Indonesians. That problem remains today as the U.S. seeks to expand military and other ties based on the myth that Indonesia's security forces have reformed - despite clear abuses in West Papua and elsewhere. The army and police watch what other countries do, not what they say.

John 30 November 2012

Frank's mention of Paul Keating early in this article made me smile a little. Keating was no stranger to self-belief and his antics in Parliament towards Opposition members can only be described as 'cutting-edge'. However, he did much to strengthen Australia's relationship with Indonesia, to our mutual benefit. In the case of Papua, it is a great struggle (as it was for East Timor) for its people to gain some autonomy. I wonder, though, whether 'some autonomy' will be enough for the West Papuans. President Yudhoyono's willingness to dialogue with the people of Papua is a promising sign and one that should be taken advantage of.

Pam 30 November 2012

Carr said: 'Indonesians have been very sensitive to human rights implications of law and order activity in the Papua provinces. I ask those idealistic Australians who might entertain some other arrangement, what would be the cost in terms of our friendship with Indonesia and of our budget of a different arrangement. It's inconceivable.' To change a current cliche - sometimes it's not all about us. Just as Paul Keating seemed to feel that the East Timorese could be sacrificed for the benefit of our relationship with Indonesia, it seems that Bob Carr feels that the same can be done with the West Papuans. Pragmatism may have its role in foreign affairs, but not at the expense of human rights. Sometimes principle has to play a role - shock horror!!!!

Vivienne 30 November 2012

I could be wrong here but I think I recall Laurie Brereton forcing the hand on East Timor by speaking out when he wasn't supposed to, against ALP views of the day and highlighting the plight of the East Timorese people, arguably his most useful role in parliament. As for this, "military intervention by Australia is a valid option and Indonesians should expect it", I very much doubt that Fr. Mick Mac Andrew will be sending his kids to war and he shouldn't be wishing away anyone else's kids, ours, West Papuans or Indonesians. It's a great shame John, that the USA doesn't put any pressure on their friends in Israel to pull their heads in, cutting off military and intelligence support on the way. As for Keating, "I understood that the advent of General Soeharto's New Order government had brought peace and stability to our region," being a rightwing Catholic he was obviously happy to gloss over the estimated 1 million murders of Communists (and the rest) that Soeharto's rise to power rested upon. And, wasn't Whitlam's willing aquiesence on Timor linked to the thoroughly discredited 'domino theory', not to mention appeasing the USA who saw Timor freedom fighters as Commos?

janice wallace 30 November 2012

Could it ever happen that the world be divided up into countries in a sensible and just way. The only reason why Indonesia could claim West Papua was that it had been colonised by the same European plower that colonised the real Indonesia. That line dividing the island of New Guinea into two is one of the most idiotic of all the relics of colonialism. As long as it and other similar divisions still exist we can never say that the age of colonialism is over. But yes, greater autonomy must be talked about first, but what hope is there for greater tolerance for a people whose economy is so dependent on pigs, when they are ruled by a people whose religion says pigs are unclean.

Gavan Breen 30 November 2012

A rehtorical question Gavan? The answer is 'no' anyway, sad to say. Nation-states are confected ideas and contested lines on a map, ever changing. Constructs of human minds and power grabs. Nationalism and patriotism, the two major refuges of scoundrels, all too happily coupled with religious forces to sanctify the approval of the gods, ensure this toxic brew is truly potent. Try reading, for instance, Keith Lowe 2012, 'Savage Continent: Europe in the aftermath of WW2', to read just how stunningly brutal we all are to each other, given the chance to operate beyond civil laws or under fear of personal pain. The child abusing priests and Nelson-eyed bishops can be found in these pages, as other forms of bestial humankind (if those two words can be joined in this context). That said, if history were painted as a rising line on a humankind life chart,from bog to paradise, I do believe we are progressing, although 'paradise' can only ever be that inspirational target always just hazily visible on the far horizon, given our penchant for brutality. Which goes someway to explain the willingness of people to give up and believe life is better, behind the green door.

janice wallace 30 November 2012

Alas, both Australia and America are subject to powerful Indonesian lobbies, the Australia Indonesia Institute, and USINDO.org But it is GREAT that you understand Australia should evaluate foreign relations on basis of Australian interests instead of limiting itself to Paul Keating's mantra of Indonesian interests. As our universities have long since been a play thing of corporate interests, it is tragic that educated people in Australia have little if any understanding of the history and geo-political reality that is Indonesia. In the 1930s Sukarno began calling for Japan to declare war, in 1949 he become President of one of the fifteen members of the United States of Indonesia (USI). But by end of 1953 he had declared victory and that the other state had decided to become provinces of his Republic of Indonesia (RI). For the Ford Foundation a central military power made good business sense and once General Suharto took power American corporations got access to the wealth of West Papua as well as Indonesia's work force and occupation of Asian islands. Indonesia does not help Australian interests or UN aim for peace and human rights, it merely helps the corporations that are its business partners.

Andrew Johnson 30 November 2012

I was correct in my assertions on Brereton's role, and a swag of detaill can be found here: http://hass.unsw.adfa.edu.au/timor_companion/fracturing_the_bipartisan_consensus/brereton.php However, even though it all worked out OK for the people of East Timor, it is sad to see the motive for Brereton's actions had little to do with 'humanity' and everything to do with propping up his lacklustre ALP: "It was really about protecting the Labor party. It was about protecting us from culpability and giving us a positive advocacy position which could reunite the Labor party and bring back to the fold a great many people who decided that we'd sold out on an issue. ... [I took] a strategic view of where the Labor party needed to be and where I would need to position us should I be fortunate enough to wake up as foreign minister. What did I need as the foreign affairs spokesman for a new Labor government?" When it comes to politicians motives, nothing ever changes.

janice wallace 30 November 2012

East Timor ? No it was the 1995 International Court of Justice statement that East Timor was a non-self-governing territory (colony) entitled to self-determination. Portugal was suing Australia over Timor oil royalties and that allowed the ICJ a chance to explain the legal reality.

But Australia and Indonesia have evaded the ICJ which is the ONLY authority that can speak about the sovereignty of West Papua.

West Papua is a special case because it is a United Nations Trust territory, the only remaining trust territory. Under UN Charter article 85, General Assembly resolution 1752 (XVII) made West Papua a trust territory.

I'm happy to answer questions about this and you can read my page about this at http://colonyWestPapua.info

Andrew Johnson 30 November 2012

There are three positions illustrated here on the question of the defence of the rights of Papuan citizens for life, liberty and perhaps even their own country. There are those who want to excoriate the Indonesian military aparatus that currently runs that sorry, divided country; there are those like Frank who would listen to the call for moderation and the working through of substantive issues for the betterment of lives right now. And there are those, like our devious modern Metternich, the Foreign Minister, who would prefer to leave the poor and the helpless to the mercy of their colonial masters.

If my country was in the hands of a merciless colonial overlord, I would want its defenders to tread warily, and take the long view; better to save lives, and win some freedom, so that the people of Papua can work out their own destinies within or without the Republic of Indonesia, as fate and the conscience and diplomatic agencies of the international community will decide.

Pat Mahony 30 November 2012

We trade cows and humans with Indonesia and sit on our hands through every massacre.

Then we sink to their level of human rights rather than ask them to lift their game.

Evidence that it has taken until Omid is near death before they bring the man to hospital, DIAC stating that he will go straight back if he survives, and our insistence today on forcing 16 more people to Manus when the PNG PM said yesterday that they will not be allowed to stay for a long time.

Marilyn 30 November 2012

Frank Brennan's statement on this matter is immoral and profoundly unChristian. A people's aspiration for self-determination cannot ethically be denied or subverted by the "comfort" requirements of an external power, ie. Australia.

In other words Australia's cowardly self-interest(let's not offend the Indonesian military/political elite)must be preserved and social justice and the dignity of the Papuan people should be sacrificed, in the same manner as we should have sacrificed Timor-Leste's right to self determination.

Gerard ahearne 01 December 2012


Let's first reflect on some of the history of West Papua.

In 1969, Indonesia conducted a rigged referendum on West Papua called the 'Act of Free Choice'.

Only 1025 Papuans, out of a population of one million, were picked to vote. Under severe duress, including threats of mutilation, these people voted to remain part of Indonesia.

In spite of a critical report by a UN official who was present during the voting process, the UN wrongfully sanctioned this vote. West Papua thus officially became a part of Indonesia.

Papuans rightfully regard this referendum as the "Act of No Choice".

Human rights violations at the hands of the Indonesian Military have continued unabated to this day.

I therefore strongly support the people of West Papua in their goal of independence.

If we Australians were in a similar situation, would we endorse the position taken by Frank Brennan, or would we want other countries to support our quest for independence, even if it cost us dearly? I think the latter! George Allen

George Allen 02 December 2012

Indonesia is red in tooth and claw. It is guilty of human rights atrocities on a massive scale. It has no right to be in Papua. We should be calling on Indonesia to withdraw and leave the Papuans to have their own country back. The bottom line shouldn't always be the budget. Bugger the budget. Let's look after the people.

Bernadette 03 December 2012

Keating and Carr are wrong. In their over concern to be 'nice' to Indonesia they lost sight of its constant record of human abuse that is a feature of Indonesia's push to 'populate' the Outer Islands with Javanese at the cost of indigenous peoples. As an Australian Army Officer in the '60's, we resisted Soekarno's attempt to derail Malaysian Independence. My Regiment fought him in Borneo. Then Howard waged a successful war against their flagrant attempt to annihilate the East Timorese. Keating's response to Balibo was a disgrace. Australia needs to let West Papua know that military intervention by Australia on their behalf is a valid option. Indonesia should be made to expect this via 'Power Diplomacy'. Currently the pictures I have show increasingly arrogant Indonesian infiltration into a powerless West Papua where torture by Indonesian 'police and militia' is preferred to negotiation. Christopher Koch, one of Australia's finest living novelists has much to say about the Australian Government's naive, ignorant and seemingly desperate need to be 'friends of Indonesia'. We can foster rewarding economic ties. But not at the cost of our integrity as a Nation in an Asian environment, where strength of purpose is respected.

Dr Karl H Cameron-Jackson 03 December 2012

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