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Truth, West Papua and Indonesia: 2 + 2 really can = 5

By Adam Henry - posted Thursday, 16 November 2006


The enigmatic Jakarta Lobby is “… an informal group of like-minded people who regard Indonesia as a special case”. It is not a clandestine conspiracy, but an alliance of elites although some would deny the group’s very existence.

The Jakarta Lobby operates from a position of privilege within the Australian establishment. Pro-Jakarta advocates have long recognised the dangerous potential for human rights violations in West Papua to become a major diplomatic issue. Fearful of being placed on the ethical back foot, as they had been with East Timor, such advocates have been emerging at regular intervals from within the diplomatic establishment to deliver their message.

The recent Lowy Institute report Pitfalls of Papua, and its endorsement by Paul Kelly (The Australian, October 7, 2006) are but the latest outcomes of the Pro-Jakarta PR campaign.

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Cunningly intelligent Pro-Jakarta adherents must condemn the very notion of West Papuan self-determination, but also publicly refrain from asking the most basic human rights questions over the situation in West Papua.

One of the most significant examples of the Pro-Jakarta call-to-arms was a speech made earlier in 2006 by the Australian Ambassador to the US, Dennis Richardson. Its significance is all the more enhanced when one realises that the very top echelons of the Department of Foreign Affairs must have vetted its contents.

I believe that the ambassador's speech outlined the tactics that would be used to defend the unrepresentative vision of Australian-Indonesian relations constructed by the exclusive elites of the Jakarta Lobby

The recent past - a call to arms

On March 8, 2006 the Ambassador Richardson who is a former director–general of ASIO, addressed The US-Indonesia Society: a group founded in 1994 to counter negative perceptions after repeated TNI (Indonesian National Defence Forces) human rights violations in East Timor.

The powerfully connected lobbyists of the US-Indonesia Society have been described as Indonesia’s “… second Embassy in Washington”. The former director general of ASIO ridiculed the existence of any Australian Jakarta lobby. He said only “some Australian commentators” maintain the existence of a Jakarta Lobby “… who conspire together to pervert Australia’s national interests (this includes) all government officials who have either served in Indonesia, or who have worked on Indonesia in Canberra.”

To deflect criticism over human rights and corruption concerns Richardson placed Jakarta in the frontline in the fight against terrorism and praised the transformation of Indonesia into an apparently utopian example of democratisation and cultural tolerance.

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Indonesia, in some people’s view, becomes a philosophical ideal beyond the cognitive capacity of critics. Even the subtext of the word “Indonesia” becomes an unquantifiable virtue “… beyond government”.

Therefore no matter what the situation in West Papua, or for that matter other eastern islands of the Indonesian archipelago, Richardson’s position means that our political support should never “… be allowed to be held hostage to issues such as (Indonesia’s) corruption and (West) Papua.”

Richardson’s commitment to the values of democratic liberties struggling to take root in Indonesia is required to balance the negative “… voice of critics (which are) always the loudest”. He implies that he, and the audience, are the true oppositional grouping tasked with rescuing Jakarta from policies diluted by unsympathetic foreign policy critics.

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About the Author

Adam is a Visiting Fellow of the School of Culture, History and Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. He is also the author of Independent Nation: The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy 1901-1946 - Australia, the British Empire and the Origins of Australian-Indonesian Relations, published by Charles Darwin University Press

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All articles by Adam Henry

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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