Subject: Age & AFR: Answering to Jakarta [Op-Eds by Scott Burchill & Geoffrey Barker]

also: AFR: Treaty won't bring true accord [A security treaty between neighbouring countries is by definition a good thing. Geoffrey Barker suggests it may not be so cut and dried.]

The Age (Melbourne) Thursday, June 15, 2006


Answering to Jakarta

By Scott Burchill [Senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University.]

John Howard's political expediency ensures abuse continues in Papua, writes Scott Burchill.

THE Howard Government's decision to subcontract the processing of asylum seekers to Australia's poorest neighbours is more than simply a dereliction of its sovereign responsibilities.

The resumption of offshore processing confirms that Canberra intends to solve its diplomatic problems by altering the nation's immigration and refugee policies. This strategy is unwise, unpopular and guaranteed to fail.

Its primary flaw is that it only addresses the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. By granting temporary protection visas to 42 Papuan asylum seekers in March, the Immigration Department determined that if they were to be forcibly returned home they would face a "well-founded fear of persecution".

Terminate the human rights abuses and the problem goes away. This is the message Prime Minister John Howard should have delivered to visiting Indonesian MPs this week. Instead, Jakarta continues to insist that the problem is of Australia's making, asking for the visas to be revoked while demanding Australia "prove" its commitment to Indonesia's territorial integrity with "action".

Presumably these are the same individuals who object to Canberra's insistence that Indonesia comply with international law after the release of Abu Bakar Bashir, on the grounds that it is interference in Indonesia's domestic affairs. The United Nations obliges Indonesia to freeze the radical cleric's assets and prevent him from travelling overseas and obtaining weapons.

The Howard Government's desire to pass even tougher laws on asylum seekers suggests it is fully aware of Jakarta's crimes in Papua, that it expects them to continue, and that as a consequence more Papuans are likely to risk their lives by trying to escape the territory.

Its response is to ignore the cause of the problem - which would be called state terrorism if it were occurring elsewhere - and make it more difficult for future asylum seekers to establish their claims. The Government refuses even to talk about what it discovered is going on in the province or explain why the persecution continues under what Liberal senator George Brandis described as "the most liberal ruler that Indonesia has had and is likely to have". Canberra's expectations of the newly democratic society seem extraordinarily low.

There is no place for torture, political persecution, grand larceny or cultural genocide in an authentic democracy. By trying to assuage Jakarta's irrational fears, Canberra only avoids the issue and ensures that both the abuses and the paranoia will continue. Has it learnt nothing from Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor? A stable and productive bilateral relationship is important but it will never be built as long as both governments conspire to play down the crimes of one side.

Contriving a moral panic about border protection might have worked once for the Howard Government. However, it may not work again, despite the absence of principled opposition from the ALP. A recently commissioned poll showed that 74 per cent of those who were asked did not want the Government to alter its immigration policies to improve ties with Jakarta. This view is shared by an all-party Senate committee that regards the new laws as unworkable and an "inappropriate response" to pressure from Jakarta. Even the few remaining liberals in the Liberal Party are prepared to break ranks with their conservative colleagues unless they are granted concessions by Amanda Vanstone and Howard.

John Howard and Alexander Downer are as committed to Papua's retention inside the republic as their counterparts in Jakarta. Their preference, however, is not shared by the indigenous people of the province, who want to leave the republic politically and, now, physically. The Government's problem is it cannot resolve the contradiction within its own policy. One arm of its bureaucracy (Immigration) has publicly highlighted a running sore that another arm (Foreign Affairs) has been doing its best to conceal and ignore, rather than treat.

The Government is stuck in a dilemma of its own making, but its response in effect is to tell the Immigration Department "you got us into this mess so you can get us out of it". The department won't succeed because the problem is not its to solve. Canberra's clumsy efforts to make the lives of desperate asylum seekers even worse by incarcerating them in legal black holes such as Nauru only panders to those responsible for their misery.

These efforts may well be "appreciated" in Jakarta because it diverts public attention from what has been going on in Papua since a sham plebiscite on integration there four decades ago. They may not be seen in the same light, however, by a domestic population that is increasingly concerned by a government that so easily trades its legal processes for diplomatic expediency.


Australian Financial Review Thursday, June 15, 2006

Comment & Opinion

Treaty won't bring true accord

Geoffrey Barker [AFR Columnist]

A security treaty between neighbouring countries is by definition a good thing. Geoffrey Barker suggests it may not be so cut and dried.

Australia's first security treaty with Indonesia was supposed to usher in a new era of stable and co-operative relations between the two countries. It was a very short new era.

Barely four years after the treaty was signed by the Keating and Soeharto governments in 1995 it was abrogated by the mercurial president B. J. Habibie. Australian troops were leading United Nations forces into East Timor to end violence ahead of a vote on independence from Indonesia.

Now, seven years later, Prime Minister John Howard and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are set to commit themselves at a meeting this month to a security treaty being developed in Canberra and Jakarta. The question is, why bother?

Because, says international analyst Allan Gyngell, there is a black hole at the centre of Australia's regional security arrangements. It has the five-power defence arrangements with Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and the UK and the statement of principles with Papua New Guinea. But there is no similar arrangement with Indonesia, our largest and closest neighbour.

Gyngell, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, and an architect of the Keating treaty, says: "It has always seemed odd to me that in our relationship with our largest neighbour, with whom over the long haul we have the most to gain from closer security co-operation, there is nothing to say where we want to get to."

And because, says former ambassador Richard Woolcott, Australia and Indonesia have a shared interest in the security of the South-East Asian region and waters between Australia and Indonesia, and because Australians need to move away from their perception of Indonesia as a potential military threat.

Woolcott, former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and former ambassador to Indonesia (and other nations) says: "Anything we can do to underpin and give substance to the relationship is worthwhile. A treaty gives a higher degree of access to policymaking than ad hoc statements by ministers".

Others are less certain. Defence expert Paul Dibb acknowledges the importance of friendly and co-operative relations with Indonesia, and supports declaratory statements by Australia supporting the territorial integrity of Indonesia. But he is concerned that a treaty would be hostage to cultural differences between Australia and Indonesia. Dibb, a former senior defence official and former head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, says treaties usually occur between countries with similar cultures and interests. He gives the US-Australia alliance and the five-power defence arrangements as examples.

"A security treaty with a large neighbouring country with very different attitudes can become hostage to issues like the recent imbroglio over West Papuan asylum-seekers," he says.

Perhaps the two key questions given the short, unhappy history of the first Australia-Indonesia security treaty are: why have both countries revived the issue so soon, and what are they likely to sign onto this time that is different from the Keating treaty?

Indonesia has undergone major political change since the fall of Soeharto, Habibie and Megawati Soekarnoputri. President Yudhoyono is an elected leader presiding over a quasi-democratic regime struggling to overcome a legacy of corruption. The country has borne the terrible brunt of terrorism in Bali and natural disaster in Aceh.

At least three years ago Yudhoyono, then co-ordinating security minister in Megawati's government, declared his interest in a new treaty during a visit to Australia. Last year the issue was discussed in detail by foreign ministers Alexander Downer and Hassan Wirajuda as well as by Howard and Yudhoyono.

Now it appears the treaty discussions are being fast-tracked as part of the diplomatic reconciliation taking place after Indonesia's angry reaction to Australia's decision to give refugee status to 42 West Papuan asylum-seekers.

Yudhoyono favours the treaty which he wants to formally declare Australia's respect for Indonesia's territorial integrity - code for turning a blind eye to Indonesian actions in West Papua. (In return, one foreign policy joker says, Indonesia will pledge to respect Australian sovereignty over Tasmania).

Downer has said the treaty will also bring together areas of co-operation such as counter-terrorism, dealing with people-smuggling, and co-operation between police and defence forces, all of which worked very well without a treaty in the aftermath of the Bali bombings and the tsunami disaster.

Downer will insist that the new security treaty is superior to the Keating treaty, but there will not in fact be much substantial difference. It will not, Downer says, be a defence pact like the ANZUS treaty. Neither was Keating's security treaty.

Of course the new treaty will, like the old one, reaffirm the respect of both countries for the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of all countries. That is already Australian and Indonesian policy.

Of course there will be an agreement for regular ministerial meetings. That happens already - at least unless Indonesia, quick to take offence, goes off into one of its periodic hissy-fits against perceived Australian insensitivity, as it did over the asylum-seekers.

And of course the treaty will agree to co-operation between police, intelligence and defence forces, which already happens.

So it will be rather over-egging the pudding if Australian and Indonesian leaders hail the treaty as ushering in a new era of stability and co-operation. The relationship will continue to be the same rollercoaster ride that it has been for years. Indeed, as Gyngell says, the ups and downs may intensify as Indonesia democratises and politicians in both countries respond to their domestic lobbies.

The new treaty will not ease legitimate Australian concerns about the behaviour of some elements of the Indonesian military in West Papua, and about issues like the early release from prison of the extremist Islamic cleric Abu Bakir Bashir.

Perhaps the strongest case for the treaty is summed up by Gyngell: "International agreements are not simply intended to underline the status quo but also what you want to change in the status quo. International agreements are going to push countries in new directions . . . That is a good thing."

---------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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