Australia Indonesia Relations (plus review of RELUCTANT SAVIOUR)
The Australian government is about to sign a new security agreement with the Indonesian government. I have not seen the text of this agreement, however regardless of any specifics this is not a good development in terms of the Australian government’s intervention into political processes in Indonesia. Any security agreement with the Indonesian government will require intensified cooperation with the Indonesian Armed Forces. (click ‘more’ below to continue reading, incl. for review of RELUCTANT SAVIOUR.).)
At this point in political developments in Indonesia, the Armed Forces as a whole, as well as through its various factions, remain a partisan force in Indonesian politics. They have interests and political agendas of their own. These include protecting their current impunity from effective prosecution for past and present human rights abuses or corrupt practices. It also includes protection of special political privileges in some parts of Indonesia, such as West Papua.
The active defence of these privileges by the Armed Forces in the face of opposition and the struggle for change by a range of other parts of society means that they are not simply the neutral instrument of an elected government (if, in fact, they are really that anywhere). They are a major component of the alliance of political groupings defending the remaining most undemocratic aspects of the old order, connected to the authoritarian regime of ex-President General Suharto.
Apparently the agreement also commits Australia to a some kind of policy of opposing or not supporting separatism in Indonesia. This will also operate as an intervention into the internal political processes in Indonesia. In West Papua there are already groups, and these have been active for some time, who advocate independence for West Papua. At the moment their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of organisation are suppressed. The existence of these groups, and the fact that there are other groups throughout Indonesian in dialogue with these Papuan groups, indicates that in Indonesia itself there is a debate on the status of West Papua. The Australian government is now intervening into this debate within Indonesia on one particular side. It is doing so in a way which seems to imply also that it will take measures against groups taking the opposite or a different side. As regards this issue the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of organisation of people in Indonesia (Melanesian Papuan or otherwise) who advocate independence, an act of self-determination or any such thing should be freedoms that are defended, whatever views anybody holds on these questions.
There is no doubt this agreement will be perceived in Indonesia as an intervention against the struggle to deepen and consolidate democratisation.
In addition, there are already various international processes underway reviewing legitimacy of the UN supervised “Act of Free Choice” held in 1969. The security agreement appears to prevent the Australian government responding to any such international reviews on the merits of the case.
There needs to be more discussion of these issues in Australia. Clinton Fernandes two books on Australia Indonesian relations are important contributions to this debate.
I attach here also a review I wrote of Clinton Fernandes “Reluctant Saviour” book in OVERLAND magazine.