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Indonesia pre-nup won't lead us to wedded bliss

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 21 November 2006

The latest security agreement between Australia and Indonesia represents another attempt to patch up an unstable relationship. It resembles the sort of prenuptial agreement that Liz Taylor and Richard Burton might have put together prior to their second attempt at marriage.

The agreement is a grab bag of issues. There are nine separate arrangements placed under an umbrella of what is termed, “The Framework for Security Co-operation”.

As a document it sets out, with admirable brevity, the fears of both parties. It anticipates areas of future difficulty and seeks to put in place mechanisms to protect national interest. It reeks of mutual suspicion. Rather than build bridges it builds walls and it is full of silly, meaningless statements such as ( Article 2:3 ),”… including by those who seek to use its territory for encouraging or committing such activities, including separatism, in the territory of the other Party.”


Things are bad in Australia but they are not that bad. What sort of separatist activity in Australia did those drafting the agreement have in mind?

Who drafts these agreements? Who checks them? What influenced the collective Australian mindset to agree to the above flight from reality?

How is it possible that anyone in DFAT or in government believes that a positive relationship could be built from such a negative document?

Article 2:6 boldly affirms that, “Nothing in this agreement shall affect in any way the existing rights and obligations of either Party under international law,” which of course negates Article 2:3 above.

The separatist movement in West Papua exists because of the human rights abuses of the Indonesian Military (TNI). The Australian Government is a signatory to UN conventions on human rights, refugees and children to name but a few which relate to the current situation prevailing in West Papua.

Before foreign aid workers and press flooded into Aceh following the tsunami at the end of 2004, the region was under military law. There was a civil war. Human rights were being transgressed daily. The presence of outsiders meant the TNI had to lift their game, so much so, that they were forced to enter into meaningful negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM ).Outside pressure, as a result of the natural disaster, has brought positive benefit to the people of Aceh in their struggle against the TNI.


The primary role and function of the TNI is to hold the Indonesian archipelago together. Without the TNI fulfilling this role the archipelago would break up. To prevent this happening the TNI has, from time to time, felt constrained to use force. This has been accomplished with the use of weapons, beatings, detention, rape, extortion and other forms of intimidation.

It is the accomplishment of unity by these means that many countries object to. In the past, when it was felt necessary, Australia also made its objections to the use of military violence and intimidation known. The TNI is supported in this role by the Indonesian government.

Just as the territory of Indonesia cannot exist without the military neither can the “fledgling” democracy, as it is referred to in some sections of the Australian media. Because of the nature of the Indonesian state, outlined above, democracy in Indonesia is forced to exist within the framework provided by the military. The strength of the democratic process diminishes with the distance from the city state of Jakarta.

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First published in the Canberra Times on November 18, 2006.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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