Subject: Australia doesn't need a treaty with Indonesia - Kingsbury Jan 2006

8. Australia doesn't need, and shouldn't seek, a treaty with Indonesia

Damien Kingsbury, Indonesia expert and Associate Professor of International and Political Studies at Deakin University, writes:

The history of Australia-Indonesia relations has been characterised by a division of opinion about the extent and nature of the relationship. Since Australia rolled over on the West Papua issue in 1962, under the guide of the Barwick Doctrine, there has been a body of thought that argues for acquiescence to Indonesia's wishes and concerns. There has similarly been a counter position, most marked since the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

Melbourne University Asia Law Centre's Professor Tim Lindsey's response to the issue of Australia's proposed new security treaty with Indonesia (item 9, 12 January) tends to reflect the former view, which finds correspondence with much of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Professor Lindsey suggested that any alternative to the proposed security agreement would be "ridiculous," thereby denying legitimate concerns by belittling them. "How on earth are we going to deal with terrorism that affects our region without a treaty?" he asked.

Interestingly, Australia and Indonesia have conducted very successful counter-terrorism investigations without the need for such a security treaty. Indeed, the recent resumption of training links between Australian army special forces and Indonesian military special forces was undertaken without such a treaty, even though this aspect of the bilateral relationship is itself indicative of why such a security treaty is problematic.

In simple terms, security implies a much wider range of arrangements than just counter-terrorism policing. It also implies support for a fundamentally unreconstructed military that continues to involve itself, albeit at lower levels than before, in the affairs of Indonesia's civil politics.

Professor Lindsey rationalised the proposed new treaty on the grounds that the Keating Government signed such a treaty in 1995. It must be noted that this treaty was negotiated in secret because of what Keating admitted at that time would be a popular backlash against it. That treaty lasted less than four years before running aground on the rocks of geo-political reality.

There is little or nothing wrong with security treaties as such, and it is true that Indonesia continues, if slowly, down the path of political reform. Electoral politics, however, does not equate with a fully functioning democracy, and Indonesia still has a considerable way to go with this. As was seen under the Megawati presidency, processes of reform can go backwards as well as forwards.

The size of Indonesia or of its Islamic population is itself not a rational argument for a security treaty. A common security threat is. Indonesia faces a low level threat from Islamic terrorists, it is true, and many Australians have been killed by such terrorists. But this presents a threat to holiday makers, not to Australia as such. Of course Australia should continue to assist the Indonesian police in helping resolve this problem, and otherwise work towards building a strong mutual relationship predicated upon mutual respect and transparency.

As for suggesting that engaging with institutions that perpetrate human rights will change them, the main proponent of this view, former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, has since said it was mistaken. It did not have any effect then, he has said, and should not be pursued in the future.

To argue further, as Professor Lindsey has, the moral equivalence of militaries flies in the face of fact. Not all militaries are profoundly corrupt, operate in practice largely independent of civilian rule nor engage in systematic abuses against at least citizens of the state, including in the past those who advocated democratic change. And even if some are, this commonality does not then legitimise their support. It just means the problem is widespread.

One might have thought that rule of law would hold perpetrators of human rights abuses to account. In this case, however, a Law professor appears to excuse them.

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