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More trouble for Howard and Downer as more Papuans arrive

Darryl Mason runs the blog, Your New Reality, and has recently begun submitting his work to Webdiary. His last piece was Whinging in Innisfail.

by Darryl Mason

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the Papuan family of an infamous political activist, including his two month old baby, have reached Australia territory in the past three days.

The Immigration Department are already aware that the family have landed on an uninhabited island off the Australian coast. They were dropped there, apparently, by local Papuan fishermen in a speedboat.

This event is bound to cause chaos in the already fractured diplomatic relationship between Australia and Indonesia, who have all but demanded that the 43 Papuans who arrived in Australia in January in a dug-out canoe be returned to Indonesia.

But these Papuans have already been granted visas and are now living in Melbourne, where some of them are talking to the media very loudly and very passionately indeed about murders, beatings and brutal suppression of the 'Free Papua' independence movement by the Indonesian police and military.

The Indonesian government were so angered by the Immigration Department's decision to grant visas to these political refugees that they withdrew their Australian ambassador.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has tried to downplay the fury of the Indonesians, but few are buying his story that it's no big deal and merely a blip in an otherwise healthy and productive friendship.

The Herald claims that the matter is so serious the fragile situation has already been discussed by the Australian national security committee, presumably to assess what actions Indonesia may take in retaliation... or more specifically, what action Indonesian terorists may take against Australian interests in the archipelago.

A Cath0lic priest in West Papua claims the six member family now camped out on the Australian territory island is that of a union activist. His wife, their two month old baby and their three other children are with him.

Indonesian official reaction is expected to be fast and loud.

The West Papuans, already granted visas, arrived in Melbourne yesterday and have been recieved with genuine warmth by Australians, who clearly remember the terror and violence and widspread massacres inflicted upon the East Timorese people by the Indonesian military and military-backed militias in 1999 and 2000.

It may be a different government in Indonesia now, but many of the same generals and senior officers remain in powerful positions within the Indonesian military.

There were no war crime trials for the savage slaughter of thousands of East Timorese, and there are serious fears now for what will happen in West Papua as the calls for independence from Indonesia grow louder.

And those calls are not only growing louder in Papua, but in Australia and now, gradually, around the world.

One argument made in favour of the West Papuans is a simple one, although it may not be a 100% correct: How can Australia send its soldiers to the other side of the world to free Iraqis from a brutal regime when West Papuans, so close to Australia, suffer still in their cry for freedom?

There is a long and complicated history behind Papua, and a dark and foul recent past in the way Indonesia has dealt with those who won't sit down and shut up and wish to break away.

The thought of sending any of these West Papuans back to Indonesia, in particular sending back the children, when Australians know all too clearly what happened to hundreds of children in East Timor, is a dark and terrible comprehension.

They will be safe, Indonesia says, they will not be treated harshly.

But few Australians believe them. The bloodshed in East Timor was too recent, and the fear in the eyes of the West Papuans who now call themselves 'temporary' Australians is all too real.

Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Australians want the government to "stand up" to Indonesia.


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has demanded Canberra restate its support for the intergrity of Indonesia as the "festering... row" (as the Jakarta Post called it) over the fate of 43 political asylum seekers threatens to wreak further havoc in the halls of power.

President Yudhoyono now wants "serious" diplomatic meetings between the two countries.

"We need to look at agreements, such as the cooperation in illegal migration that has taken place frequently in the past years," President Yudhoyono told the Jakarta Post yesterday. "(We need to examine) the actual ethics and ramifications of the support that Australia asserts about Indonesia's sovereignty, including Papua."

President Yudhoyono wants Australia to match its good word on supporting Indonesia with action, presumably that would include sending back the West Papuans and not accepting anymore as these actions "diminish Indonesia's sovereignty".

In other words, Don't F..k With Us.

Yudhoyono said he believes the issue of the West Papuans should have been looked at "from the two perspectives like I had hoped for." Australia could have made "a much better choice".

The choice Australia made has now affected bilateral relations, he claimed.

Diminished sovereignty, a festering row, bilateral relations affected... this is making the cartoon 'crisis' look , well, cartoonish by comparison.

President Yudjoyono also denied the West Papuans had no reason to fear persecution and that no members of the group had been sought by the Indonesian military or police.

Yes, that's right, they must be making it all up.

Just like those East Timorese back in the late '90s.

Go here to read the full Jakarat Post story.


First there was the Indonesian newspaper cartoon showing the Australian Prime Minister mounting his Foreign Minister as he cried, "I want Papua!"

Cartoon wars
cartoon by Gus Leonisky

Then there was the Australian newspaper cartoon showing the Indonesian President mounting a native Papuan.

The Australian Prime Minister laughed off the 'Cartoon Wars' controversy.

The Australian Foreign Minister called them both "offensive" and "tasteless".

But the Indonesian President has said little about either cartoon...until now:

"Such cartoons are agitative, destructive and only act to heighten emotions among the public," said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as quoted in the Jakarta Post today.

"A war of caricature, a war between media, a war of statements won't reach any solution, but only problems. Many big conflicts, including the world wars, started from a mere gimmick."

Mere gimmick?

Ahhh, okay... let's not go there.

The Indonesian cartoonist responsible for the image of Prime Minister Howard taking Foreign Minister Alexander Downer from behind (or "dominating him" as the Australian media were so fond of calling it) has also spoken out about the true meaning of the controversial piece of art.

He told the Jakarta Post the image was not meant to show Downer and Howard during coitus, and was "motivated by a strong sense of nationalism."

From the Post: "He said he could not accept the humiliating treatment his country was given by Australia and her government. Although the many readers who saw his cartoon, which was published last week, could be forgiven for thinking the opposite, (the cartoonist) denied the drawing he made... was of the animals fornicating but of them 'behaving playfully'."

Go here and here to get the background and to see the Indonesian and the Australian cartoons in question.


ABC News is reporting this morning that " a top Indonesian hotel says it will refuse to accept Australian guests after a protest by 20 Indonesian students over Australia granting visas to Papuan asylum seekers.

"The university students were blocked from entering Sahid Hotel in the capital of South Sulawesi province, but they refused to leave hotel grounds until staff promised to turn away Australians.

"The students... (said) they plan to make similar demands to other major hotels in the city.

"Public anger against Australia has risen since the Government granted the visas to 42 Papuan asylum seekers last month."

Although the students got their ban on Australian guests being allowed into Sahid Hotel, it won't make much difference. The hotel has only had one Australian guest so far this year.

But still, it's the principle of the thing... or something.


So angry are Indonesian legislators about the visas granted to West Papuan seekers of political asylum that next week a ten member strong team will arrive in Australia to voice their opposition. The trip is expected to take three days.

Trouble is, there might not be anyone left in Canberra to meet them. The Australian Parliament has taken a break from arguing about wheat and bribes and workplace reform and won't be back until May 9.

The Indonesian legislators don't care. They're still coming.

But they deny they are using the trip as an excuse to go on a shopping and sightseeing junket.

Even that might not be so simple.

The Australian government, or its Immigration Department, may refuse to give them entry visas.

Now that would be a diplomatic crisis. All that shopping, and all those sights, not seen... nor shopped.

One meeting has been locked in, however, with Greens senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle... who are pro-Papuan independence.

The team is seeking meetings with Prime Minister Howard and Foreign Minister Downer.

Howard and Downer might be too busy for all that. They might even be fronting an inquiry, by then, into how an Australian company was allowed to pay bribes to the Saddam Hussein regime, even after the war to get rid of him had begun.

Then again, a meeting with ten very annoyed Indonesians might be exactly the kind of break Howard and Downer are looking for.

They might even want to take their guests out for a little sightseeing, and some shopping, of course.


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A touch of the wayangs makes PM's nose grow longer, bowels run

MISSIONARY POSITION LOOMING? David Curry: “I wonder, too, what the Australian community will think, given our reaction to what happened following the referendum in East Timor... we are likely to become directly complicit in rather serious human rights violations. Torture and killings, for example. “...Is there a limit to how low we will go for the sake of mollifying Indonesia?” David, you don’t seriously imagine that Howard, his Private Office or their focus groups give flying f**k about the fate of a pack of fuzzywuzzy coons, do you? I mean, The Australian’s cartoonist depicted them as a bloke with a bone through his nose being shagged by a bloke in a peci. That was to get square with the Indonesian press for showing Downer and Howard, accurately enough, as a pair of wild dogs freshly booked into the Jayapura bum-f**k motel for an evening’s vice. The only real problem with us giving a damn might be if somehow a white person, perhaps even a white missionary or aid worker, is butchered, AND it gets on telly. Perhaps with sexual overtones, like the cartoons. That’s our limit. And even then Howard and Keelty and the bureaucrats at ONAnism and whoever is the Australian military man or woman in charge and a whole skein of gutless drones like Andrews and Downer and Vanstone and Ruddock might jump to attention - but diplomatically. By that stage, the big boys in the metals market and the Reserve Bank of Australia, etc, will have done their sums and worked out what REALLY can be sacrificed. The deal will be done. They did it eagerly enough for Timor Gap. Salivating. Timika and the Sino-American timber nazis will get their cut. The World Bank+IMF will pad the rest for Jakarta’s families. We ordinary taxpayers fork out, of course. These “industrialists” are the ultimate bludgers, on an AWB scale. They own entire governments, after all. A few tunics will bulge ever so slightly more over ceremonial pistol belts. Back in Canberra fat DFAT/ONAn nazis who scorn people who wear penis gourds will also bulge ever so slightly more in their Armanis and Hugo Boss’s. Maxine McKew and Tony Jones will bark at people. And life and death will go on, stream after stream, tree after tree, village after village... Ethnic cleansing on a grand scale ALWAYS follows the money, usually on a raw materials basis, similar to Rwanda/Congo’s rare metals basis, or Iraq’s oil, or Cambodia’ hard precious stones. There’s always a furnace or a foundry or engineering shop or boardroom full of bludgers in Shanghai or Chicago or Houston urging the killing of inconvenient indigenous folk. Just business, as the Mafia says. Nothing personal. And our nation was founded and settled on that principle. God knows Howard is more than aware of that fact – it’s often been enough to get HIS crummy suit shoulders scissoring furiously, like a carpenter’s ruler with St Vitus Dance. Or Pinocchio with a touch of the wayangs, Walt Disney™ style.

But we're not racist, surely ...

Ah, come on Peter, don't you remember Howard assuring us that there is 'no underlying racism' in Australia? It was good enough for me. 

Actually, depressingly, I know you're right.  We don't care.  I just wondered, naively, if Australians might react differently to a group of people who haven't been systematically and unrelentingly smeared by the Howard Government, like the last lot of smelly reffos were.  You know, those burkha-wearing, child-sacrificing Muslim terrorists who wanted to come to Orstraya for a holiday in the sun. 

I think it's safe to assume that this ANZAC day we won't be hearing a lot about the 'fuzzy wuzzy angels' who carried wounded Australians through rivers of mud on the Kokoda trail. It doesn't really fit the new narrative for West Papuans that we'll all have to swallow. You know, that they voted for inclusion with Indonesia (the 'act of free choice') and they just don't know how good they've got it.

Human rights are dead in this country. They're just some berko leftie ideal.

Plus ca change ...

There are some exquisite ironies arising out of the current crisis with Indonesia.

Consider the Howard Government’s inconsistencies in its policy on asylum seekers. It can’t have escaped many people’s notice that the Papuan asylum seekers who turned up in Australia a couple of weeks ago were processed rather more efficiently than normal. There was no four, five or six-year period of soul-destroying detention for them.

The apparent (and uncharacteristic) compassion of the Government in this case is of course to be applauded, loudly. But unless I’m missing something (Marilyn, can you help here?) the normal approach of mandatory detention was almost completely bypassed. My understanding is that any asylum seeker who enters Australia without a valid visa is subject to mandatory detention. The refugees I know from the Middle East all waited more than four years for their applications to be processed. The West Papuans waited, what, a few days? Seems just a little inconsistent to me.

Why the difference?

My take is that there seems to be some community sympathy for the Papuans, which surely relates back, at least partly, to our collective outrage at what the Indonesian TNI forces and their militias did to East Timor.

But maybe there's something else. Let’s be honest; the cultural baggage of the Papuans is different from earlier asylum seekers.  They’re Christians, for one thing. Perhaps more importantly, they’re not Muslim.

If you look back on the Government’s statements on asylum seekers around 2001/2002, they were often voiced in terms of ‘cultural’ differences. For example, in 2002 the then Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock characterised lip-sewing protests of asylum seekers in Woomera as “a practice that is unknown in our culture. It is something that offends … the sensitivities of Australians”. Leaving aside Ruddock’s spurious link between lip-sewing and culture (as if the concept of hunger strikes was unknown in Western countries), the important point is that it’s not a handful of individuals who are offensive to Australians – it’s the culture. 

The Government’s statements also clearly aimed to dehumanise asylum seekers. For example, in responding to a Four Corners program about a young boy inside Woomera who appeared to be suffering from a serious mental illness, Ruddock referred to the boy as “it”.

But the Papuans are human, apparently. There was no playing loose with pejorative tags like "illegals". No children were thrown overboard. I don't even recall hearing "queue jumpers" from any Ministers.

Correction, the Papuans were more human - briefly.

The flickering candle of the Howard Government's 'compassion' for asylum seekers has been doused with a fire hose. In a matter of days we’ve gone from fast-tracking refugee applications for West Papuans to offering to assist the Indonesian Navy in turning around any new boats .  We’re now seriously considering giving the Indonesians a sort of right of reply on refugee applications. (It will be interesting to see how we can allow this to occur and still meet our “international obligations”, as Andrew Robb insisted we will.) And the corker: we're going to weigh up refugee applications against the 'national interest'.

The ruthless pragmatism of the Howard Government never fails to astonish me. The rarest of compassionate gestures towards asylum seekers has given the Howard Government a huge headache, so they've gone back to their old ways. You can almost hear Howard asking himself, 'How could I be so stupid as to try to show compassion, of all the stupid bloody things?!'

It will be fascinating to see how the Howard Government rationalises the about-face. Quite apart from explaining away our obligations under the UN Refugees Convention, how will they justify the morality of effectively placing West Papuans under house arrest? They can hardly use the argument that West Papuans are shopping for a sanctuary country, since Australia is the closest safe haven. They can challenge the veracity of allegations of human rights violations in West Papua, but then how to explain the first lot of TPVs?

I notice Howard has already started using the sham ‘Act of Free Choice’ as part of his new narrative.

I wonder, too, what the Australian community will think, given our reaction to what happened following the referendum in East Timor.  Because make no mistake, if Australia gets involved in turning West Papuan asylum seekers back from Australian waters and handing them over to the Indonesians, we are likely to become directly complicit in rather serious human rights violations. Torture and killings, for example.

Howard and the broader Australian community have devalued human rights considerably in the last few years. Is there a limit to how low we will go for the sake of mollifying Indonesia?

And, I wonder, is there any 'national interest' in upholding the importance of human rights?

I partly agree

David Curry, Hugh White has an interesting article in the Age today, urging the West Papuan independence seekers and their Australian supporters to opt for 'autonomy' in the context of Indonesia. Perhaps when the Indonesians have finally deforested West Papua and removed every last trace of its mineral wealth, independence will not be seen by them as such a bogey.

Ironically, the rorted 'Act of Free Choice' was in its own way an acknowledgement by the Indonesians that incorporation of the West Papuan population into the Republic of Indonesia should be a matter for the West Papuans themselves to decide. It was just that the Indonesians organising it could not resist rigging the vote through serious threats to the 1024 selected individuals voting so that it came out at 100%.

Indonesia's claim of 'right' to West Papua is based on the fact that like Java, Sumatra and most other islands of the Indonesian archipelago, it was a former Dutch colony. By this yardstick, India should likewise be able to claim the former British possessions of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, and Singapore, and call the whole collection The Republic of Greater India.

Nuigini is widely regarded as a basket case and a failed state. I am not sure that an independent West Papua would be able to avoid the same fate, even if it joined Nuigini to form one nation on the island of New Guinea. But at least those of its population whose idea of freedom of expression extended to running up the independence flag would not have a late night visit from a TNI death squad. Of course, an independence war in West Papua would be most likely very bloody.

Ultimately, Indonesia's claims to West Papua are as tenuous as Hitler's claims on the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and other German-speaking pockets in Eastern Europe. And the behaviour of the TNI there as bad if not worse than that of the Wehrmacht and the SS.

As for West Papuan asylum seekers: ethnically, they are Melanesians like the rest of the population of New Guinea, and thus have an important historical connection with Australia and place in Australian consciousness, as you are no doubt aware. Nuigini as far as I am aware does not exactly welcome West Papuan refugees fleeing the military forces of the Javanese Empire. For the Australian and Indonesian navies to be cooperating in turning around boats full of people fleeing the murderous TNI is of course a first magnitude obscenity.

Unlike Alexander Downer, I do not 'fear' a disintegration of Indonesia. If individual parts of it wanted badly enough to secede from the Republic, they would probably succeed in time. Life would go on much the same as before, just with less in the way of uniformed gangsters patrolling the streets. An Indonesia without East Timor we now know. One without West Papua is quite conceivable. An Indonesia without Java, however, would be like the British Empire without England.

There has been considerable shifting of public attitudes re the Iraq War, but less with regard to 'asylum seekers' or 'illegals' as the two sides in that debate are inclined to call them. However, Australia could easily fill its annual quota under the international convention on refugees from West Papua alone; of that I am sure. John Howard clearly does not relish that idea.

Who sucks the most?

Ian MacDougall: "Kevin Rudd meanwhile is positioning the ALP to try and outflank Howard from the right on this issue – as in ‘we can accommodate the Indonesians better than he can.’ Historically, such fawning, grovelling and self-abasement has come more naturally to ALP politicians than to Liberals."

While I have never been terribly put upon when people say extremely negative things about Labor, that surely is quite uncalled for. I would suggest that our relations with the US prove the capacity of the Liberal Government, in the act of turning our reputation internationally into a micro-sample of the worst the Washington has to offer, as more than fair sample of sucking up, on a much bigger scale to my mind.

  • World War I - Labor under Fisher. (We still thought we were British)
  • World War II - Liberal under Menzies.
  • Korea - Liberal under Menzies.
  • Vietnam - Liberal under Menzies then Holt.
  • Iraq - Liberal under Howard twice.

Now who were you saying sucks up the most, Ian?

In fact, Labor isn't about sucking up to anyone. They have always stood strongly for an independent country. Just every now and then they can't see clearly who would be the best leader (like now).

How many Australian Parliaments have been pro-rogued Ian? One. This one, handed to Washington in the name of good friendship with the Sheriff of the world.

The issue with Indonesia has to be viewed under the smoky haze of the fires set by Indonesian militias and the army, to kill over 100,000 East Timorese. Indonesia was embarrassed into silence, and it's a fair bet, based on Asian Politics, that more than a few of the murderers were mates of the incumbent "President", Bang Bang Yudoyono.

How will Indonesia deal with this latest black stamp on their International credentials? They will harvest the people who tell the truth and destroy the evidence. If you don't believe me, ask Jose` Gusmao.

Why this sudden concern from Howard over how Indonesia sees Australia? The one certainty, is that it will relate to money and trade, which while Howard and Darling Millie mouth platitudes about moderate Islam and Terrorism, their general catch-all excuse, the real issue is money.

My only question is - who profits the most from trade links with Indonesia? Bet it isn't the Cowra Meat workers.

Good question: who does suck the most?

Daemon Singer, criticism of ALP politicians and policies can always be construed as ‘negativity’ I suppose, but is only “quite uncalled for” if it is not relevant or not true. On this issue, specifically Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, it is both relevant and true. ALP politicians have outdone their Liberal rivals in fawning, grovelling and self-abasement before the Indonesians. Keating and Evans in particular.


Australian independence: Until the fall of Singapore in 1942, Australians generally saw their country as an outpost of the British Empire, which would be protected by the military might of the British Empire should the need arise. But the Japanese advance through SE Asia blew an enormous hole in that comforting illusion. We might add here that it was always Australia that came to Britain’s support (Boer War, Sudan, WW1, WW2, Malaya), not the other way around. The only exception was the British (and US) military support given during the 1999 intervention in East Timor.


After WW2, despite appearances (and under the governments of Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard) Australia has always pursued an independent (of sorts) foreign policy. This policy was first spelt out to my knowledge by Greg Clark in his book In Fear of China (1967).  The policy was, and to a large extent still is, to do whatever is necessary to keep the US engaged in Asia. It explains Australia’s military commitment to Korea, Vietnam and recently to Iraq. This policy has been bipartisan, supported equally by the Liberals and the ALP. Though out of power when Australia committed forces to Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, the ALP supported all three military actions without hesitation when they began, bowing to popular pressure only over Vietnam, which issue was decided for it more by opinion polls than by principle. So it is irrelevant to cite Liberal Party initiation of these actions.


As for the ALP having “always stood strongly for an independent country”: this has been on matters of cosmetics only. (There are probably more republicans in the ALP than in the Liberal Party.) But neither the ALP nor the Liberals have ever crossed whatever regime has been in power in Washington. Ever.


Australia under Hawke declined to send a contingent to support Britain in the Falklands War, opposed French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and had the usual Cold War issues with the USSR and China. The only sacred cow for both parties has been the relationship with the US.


The second most sacred cow for both major Australian parties has been the relationship with post-Sukarno Indonesia. Both welcomed the fall of Sukarno in the 1965 bloodbath. Both stood by mute as Indonesia ‘annexed’ East Timor in 1975. Both parties followed the advice given by Ambassador to Jakarta Richard Woolcott that a Timor Gap Treaty would best be made with Indonesia rather than Portugal or an independent East Timor. Hence the de jure recognition by Australia, alone in the world as far as such support for Indonesia mattered. This promised huge oil revenue spinoffs for Australia at the expense of the East Timorese. Keating’s secret 1995 treaty with the Suharto government was an election stunt at best, and a total abrogation of the open and democratic principles the ALP had long stood for.


Keating was in Jakarta shortly after the 1991 Dili massacre. At a banquet and in the presence of Suharto he timidly referred to “the recent unfortunate events in East Timor.” Suharto smiled (some would say condescendingly. A non-trivial  statesman, if he had not cancelled the trip outright, would have bored it well and truly up them, openly and in front of all the cameras.) This also after saying nothing about the genocidal policies of the Indonesians in East Timor since 1975, which killed an estimated 200,000 people. This after Bob Hawke reaffirmed the Fraser government’s 1979 de jure recognition of Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor. Barely two months after the Dili massacre, in a plane flying over the Timor Sea, Gareth Evans (the ALP Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Peter Cook (ALP Minister for Trade) signed the Timor Gap Treaty with Ali Alatas (Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs) and clinked champagne glasses.


No wonder then that the only Australian politician ever publicly praised by Jose Ramos Horta for his role in East Timorese history was John Howard. Horta cited Keating and Evans (among others) as “those who betrayed us”.

Howard’s role was crucial but timid. Downer’s in putting the 1999 Indonesian military rampage in East Timor down to “rogue elements” rather than the high command in Jakarta, was somewhere between treacherous and pathetic. But still, they were the best around. So much for the ALP.


Educate yourself, Daemon. Read Scott Burchill on the subject. Read James Balowski.


 (For the record, I have voted ALP for most of my adult life. I was also a member of the party for many years, and held many offices, including delegate to NSW State Conference and President of the Canberra Branch. But I put the Liberal Party ahead of the ALP in the 1992 and 1996 elections, and have never regretted it. If Keating and Evans had been in power in 1999, I am sure there would be no independent East Timor today. Unswerving allegiance to any cause is not always sensible, particularly when that cause has been corrupted to the extent the ALP has. But on present indications, next time I will preference the ALP ahead of the Liberals.)

Now who were you saying sucks up the most Daemon?

We must not bow to threats over refugees

See Tony Kevin's, We must not bow to threats over refugees in the Advertiser.


It is now a large regional security problem for Indonesia and Australia and is likely to get worse. The Indonesian power elite will now look for tangible proof of West Papuan boat people being rebuffed by Australian border protection authorities: not necessarily handed over to Indonesian authorities, but certainly turned back towards West Papuan territory.

It would be hard politically and morally for the Howard Government to do this, given the obvious strength of mainstream Australian public sympathy for West Papuan refugees.

Yet Indonesia has a nasty ace up its sleeve. There are still more than 300 Middle-Eastern origin asylum seekers held in transit centres in Indonesia, who have not yet found permanent refugee resettlement in Australia or elsewhere. Some of these are survivors of previous failed attempts to reach Australia in the years of major covert people smuggling and people smuggling disruption activity, from 1999 to 2001.

A serious kite flown

Darryl Mason says: "One argument made in favour of the West Papuans is a simple one, although it may not be a 100% correct: How can Australia send its soldiers to the other side of the world to free Iraqis from a brutal regime when West Papuans, so close to Australia, suffer still in their cry for freedom?"

It's not 100% correct. It's not even 1% correct. Australia sent its soldiers to help topple Saddam because the Bush administration, with British support, had for a number of reasons decided that it was time for the old US ally Saddam to go. In that context, such minor issues as lack of UN approval could be disregarded. But if any Australian government, having totally taken leave of its senses, decided to invade West Papua in support of the independence movement there, it would not only find zero support in the UN (not even the support of Nuigini, right next door), it would stir up a rip-roaring nationalist fury in Indonesia.

This leaves West Papuan independence supporters with an invidious choice. The Indonesian claim to their territory is tenuous at best, being based on a rorted 'Act of Free Choice' by a tiny hand-picked minority of the West Papuans in a plebiscite which even then was not independently scrutinised. They can fight on, and be systematically slaughtered by the Indonesian military, or they can move across the water to Australia, to form communities here.

Out of Indonesia’s reach they can campaign on; having right, but very little might on their side. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia clearly wishes the West Papuan refugees had stayed home. He does not want this to become a habit among West Papuans, because it will not look good for his country on the international stage. Neither does John Howard.

As for Indonesian assurances of the safety of the West Papuans, Darryl Mason is right - ”… few Australians believe them. The bloodshed in East Timor was too recent, and the fear in the eyes of the West Papuans who now call themselves 'temporary' Australians is all too real.”

”Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Australians want the government to ’stand up’ to Indonesia”. I am not aware of the polls, but the appeal of the West Papuans was not so much to the Federal Government as directly to the Australian people. That has clearly left Howard floundering.

Kevin Rudd meanwhile is positioning the ALP to try and outflank Howard from the right on this issue – as in ‘we can accommodate the Indonesians better than he can.’ Historically, such fawning, grovelling and self-abasement has come more naturally to ALP politicians than to Liberals.

But one wonders if any of the participants in all of this have ever bothered to find out (or indeed if they even care) how many billions of dollars of Australian taxpayers' money Australian politicians have given as aid to Indonesia since the Suharto coup of 1965, in the course of the ongoing attempts made by successive Australian governments to buy the friendship of the Javanese elite. ‘We’ equipped and trained a large part of their air force; ‘we’ helped train their murderous Kopassus, and ‘we’ quietly picked up the $1 billion tab for the reconstruction of East Timor after the likewise murderous rampage of their army there. Yet with them, ‘we’ continually pussyfoot around, cap in hand.

An indication that the Indonesian government is thinking of desisting from action against people smugglers was provided by Dewi Fortuna Anwar, (formerly a senior adviser to President BJ Habibie and presently a research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences) in her interview with Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7:30 Report, of Wednesday April 5.

KERRY O'BRIEN: When the President says that cooperation with Australia to stop illegal immigration is now being reviewed, what's he saying - that Indonesia might withdraw cooperation to stop asylum seekers from the Middle East and other locations passing through Indonesia and on to Australia?

DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: Well, that might be the case. As you remember, before the the cooperation was put in place, Indonesia was often blamed by Australia for aiding and abetting this refugees coming from the Middle East; for allowing, for example, Indonesian boats - not government boats, but private boats - to take these refugees and give them waters and food and put them into the Australian waters. That created quite a bit of a problem for Australia - remember the 'Tampa' incident, a few years back. But after the restoration of the relations between Canberra and Jakarta and the increasingly close relations between our two navies, the Indonesian Government, in fact, has been very helpful to Australia in screening the refugees. So, if the Indonesian Government has said "You know, OK, so Australia now has changed its policy regarding refugees, it's now much more generous, it's going to open up its waters to refugees and give them temporary visas within a few days of arrival", then, maybe that could be seen as a signal that Australia is now open.

So for aiding the West Papuans, the Australian Government might just have to deal with a new onslaught of Asian refugees. That will force Australia, should the game flow in this direction, to play one of its high cards, and review all aid, and particularly military aid, to Indonesia. This if only because it will need all the funds it can find for ramped up border protection.

Indonesia’s internal problem is the old one encountered by the Soviet government: how do you run an empire while pretending to the world that you don’t have one? It is trying to export this problem, and to make Australia deal with it.

making a claim when the borders have been shrunk

From the ABC News:

"A customs spokesman says the area is too vast to launch a search and Coastwatch is conducting its normal aerial surveillance of the area."

A 'normal Aerial surveillance' is totally inadequate... what length of search for lost wealth lone yachtsmen do we go to!!

If indeed the latest West Papuan family reported to have arrived, are on an Island in the Torres Strait, then they are outside the Migration Zone and will not necessarily trigger Australia's protection obligations under the Migration Act and there is no legal compulsion or basis on which Australia can process an asylum claim.

Howard (further) shrunk the borders last year (on the day they let kids out of the detention prisons) and with that he now faces his own untidy bed.

The past policy in these circumstances of not reaching the migration zone has been to tow back asylum seekers (mostly Middle Eastern) to Indonesia or Pacific Solution Islands.

Indonesia will be watching closely to see if policy (they have cooperated with in the past) is breached.

I hope a reasonably responsive search is not restricted to achieve the easier diplomatic solution for the Australian Government, NOT to locate these West Papuans

If found...

Taking the new group to Christmas Island will not trigger our protection obligations as it too is excised and if we are to implement the law then Australia must bring the new group to the mainland to legally process.

up the Bensbach - a story of two maps


In late 1985, some West Papuan blokes rolled up on Boigu, among the Torres Strait’s most northern islands, and very close to the Papuan coastline.

One of the blokes had a large map of the island of New Guinea tattooed on his back emblazoned with the words “Papua – Paradise in the Pacific.”

He also was festooned with many scars, some obviously from bullets, and told me that he was running away from torture and persecution.

His mob was Papua Merdeka, the West Papuan self-determination crowd.

The Indonesian army, he said, was systematically pursuing and murdering, often after brutal maltreatment, people who shared his beliefs.

A West Papuan companion stood beside him under a massive tree, with the nearby Papuan coastline clearly visible.

A solid bloke of mature years, he nodded assent.

The refugees had fled from near Merauke in a dinghy, and made it to PNG territory, possibly Daru or beyond, in the Gulf of Papua.

Sympathetic PNG officials and others had fed them, told them where they were, and equipped them to shoot through to Australia, notably with a Jacaranda™ school atlas to help navigation (just you try it!).

They showed me the tattered book which had led them along the mangrove coast in a stormy Wet.

They had probably struggled past Daru (PNG), past Bramble Cay (Aus), past Deliverance Is (Aus) and eventually to Boigu (Aus).

Boigu is a deeply civilised and hospitable place, enjoying a long history with the Papuan mainland.

I had earlier seen on the breach of nearby Masig (York is – Aus) several lakatois drawn up after considerable voyages from PNG.

Their passengers and crew were ashore enjoying traditional news, trade and ceremony with locals.

The Strait has been a place of voyage and trade for for centuries.

It would seem as absurd to restrict that movement as it would be to draw a line on a map smack down the middle of New Guinea.

But that line separates Indonesia (and the immensely rich Freeport mine) from PNG, and the people of West Papua from self-determination of one kind or another.

Now the Indonesian raj, after its leader was briefly in Merauke, has announced a naval crackdown on its sea border with PNG (and effectively with Australia).

Now leaving a horrible question: is this month’s missing West Papuan family, still “undiscovered” by HM Customs Thursday Island and Australian Coastwatch, another SIEV-X?

Have they been murdered at sea or in the mangroves by a raj desperate to suppress insurrection, contain embarrassment and retain a wealthy possession?

Or is it, like SIEV-X, a case of “services rendered” for the Kirribilli gang itself embarrassed in January by a boatload of Melanesians gaining refugee status?

Those voyagers had dodged the Kirribillis’ dirty little trick of excising from Australia our offshore islands by bumping up against the Cape, just north of Weipa.

There, friendly and compassionate Australians gave them succour, and a tiny newspaper from TI recorded their arrival for the world to see, despite stern instructions to the contrary from the Supreme Soviet of the PM’s Private Office.

Until the missing West Papuan unionist and his family roll up somewhere, hopefully on the mainland and not in the belly of a crocodile (or a kopassus), we must keep asking these questions.

We can’t exclude from our speculation that they have been murdered.

We ignored ethnic cleansing in Cambodia under Lon Nol and Pol Pot; we ignored it in Bosnia and Kosovo; we ignored it in Rwanda.

Can we ignore it on our doorstep, just to benefit a huge mining company and any number of utterly corrupt and brutal timber interests feeding the maw of China’s economic miracle?

Of course, if there’s a quid in it, we’ll always ignore rhe utmost savagery, provided it don’t get on the telly and give us fat somnolent punters a tummy ache.

Or our elderly democrat-warrior leader a head ache.

Not a good look

If the princes of Java can't muster at least half a million students to protest in the streets, then their hearts are not in it.

I'd like to see John ("WE will decide ...") Howard order the sinking of the next boatload of fuzzy-wuzzy angels. Then send a small expeditionary force to recapture Kokoda, as the bridgehead to an all-out assault on Jayapura, via Wewak.

We haven't heard from Usama, yet, so it's early days in the cartoon wars.

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