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
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
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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
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
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
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.