The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, November 18, 2006


© Duncan Graham 2006

There’s a critical five-letter word absent from the Framework for Security Cooperation agreement signed Monday 13 November in Lombok between Indonesia and Australia.

The missing word is ‘Papua’.

Despite its invisibility this is at the heart of the seven-page document dubbed the Lombok Treaty by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda.

Discussions leading to the pact have been running for two years. But the decision by Australia to give asylum to 43 Papuan refugees who sailed to Australia last January put fuel in the negotiators’ tanks.

The document is full of motherhood terms and rubbery words – diplomatic delights like ‘reaffirming’, ‘recognising’ and ‘emphasising.’ If these help establish trust then quibbling is out of place.

Inevitably the Lombok Treaty is short on what will actually be done in real terms, although Article 6 includes an ‘implementing mechanism’. This commits the two countries to ‘take necessary steps’ and ‘meet on a regular basis’.

When there’s a dispute – which is certain given the great gulf between the two countries’ values and cultures – this shall be ‘settled amicably by mutual consultation or negotiation.’ There are no sanctions.

One issue has already been determined: If there’s any strife about interpreting the bi-lingual document then the English text will prevail.

Although the emphasis is on security this isn’t a military alliance. Such a treaty is prohibited under Indonesian law. The issue here is terrorism and just seems to reinforce already existing arrangements with the police and the military.

Nor is the treaty a law. Ahead lies ratification by both governments. In the wash-up only mutual goodwill will make this agreement work.

As anticipated there’s a clause on drug trafficking. Watch out if death penalties are enforced against Australian drug runners and the talkback radio vitriolic shock jocks start slandering Indonesia again, demanding Canberra intervenes. Then the lines on ‘good neighbourliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another’ will get a real acid test.

There’s no doubt the Australian government and opposition fear the ‘Balkanisation’ of the Republic and want a unified and stable Indonesia.

Canberra, the region’s perceived deputy sheriff, is facing multiple crises among the alleged ‘failed states’ of the Pacific, along with problems in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. It certainly doesn’t want more regional hassles.

The key point on Papua is Article 2, Item 3 – a black-letter lawyer’s gem:

“The Parties, consistent with their respective domestic laws and international obligations, shall not in any manner support or participate in activities by any person or entity which constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other Party, including by those who seek to use its territory for encouraging or committing such activities, including separatism, in the territory of the other Party.” (‘Party’ means nation.)

Does this mean that any future boat people who dig their toes into Australian sand won’t have claims for refugee status recognised?

The answer will come when and if that happens. But any careful reading of the words above – particularly the phrase about ‘domestic laws and international obligations’ - doesn’t score out a repeat of this year’s successful bids for asylum.

At that time the Australian government said it was powerless to act under law once an administrative decision had been made. It also knew the electorate was backing the Papuans.

When the government tried to buttress immigration law this was interpreted as an attempt to appease an inflamed Indonesia. The bid failed in August when Prime Minister John Howard withdrew the Migration Amendment Bill once he foresaw defeat. Even a few members of his own coalition were barracking for the Papuans.

If that same Papuan refugee scenario is rerun in the months ahead, the Indonesian outrage that led to ambassador Hamzah Thayeb being recalled for three months could erupt again.

Indonesians who recall with pleasure the Suharto New Order administration still find it difficult to understand that in a democracy governments are not all powerful.

The shrill lobby groups in Australia seeking a free Papua (which they call West Papua) are unlikely to be muzzled by this treaty. They won’t get any taxpayers’ money. Their demands will be ridiculed and rejected by the government - and probably the Labor Party opposition that has so far given the treaty its cautious blessing.

Yet none of this is likely to quench the determination of the NGOs, church groups and minority party politicians. In fact it could help their cause. In the court of Australian public opinion where ‘getting a fair go’ rules debate, being the underdog is always the favored position.

So the more the Papua separatists are rubbished and their statements undermined, the more their allegations of human rights abuses will get an airing and an audience. These claims will infuriate the Indonesian government and people, and ensure Papua remains the new pebble in the shoe of relations between the neighbors.

Unless serious political and administrative reforms are made to the satisfaction of the locals, effectively neutering the Australian agitators.

It happened in the most western province of the Republic – so why not in the most eastern part?

(First published in The Jakarta Post 17 November 06)




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