Why can’t
all our neighbours be as docile as Kiwis? All they do is give us the odd
mauling in rugby. Indonesia looms over us – literally. All
those people – all those Asians, all those Muslims – in all those islands on
the map to our north, ready to fall on us. No wonder our approach to the nation
has ranged from shameful acquiescence to irrational opposition, let alone our
approaches to its fringe territories.

Both the
major parties demonstrated shamefully servile attitudes to Indonesia over East Timor. At the same time, however, the
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference effectively said we should invade Indonesia’s sovereign territory in the chaos
engendered in the wake of the 1999 independence referendum. Practical debate
was obscured by ideological whipping boys. And it looks as if West Papua is the
new East
Timor.

A Newspoll
out today shows over 75% of Australians support self-determination for West Papua, including the option of
independence. The poll
was commissioned by businessman Ian Melrose, who previously funded an
advertising campaign in support of East Timor’s right to oil and gas revenue
from Timor
Sea
deposits.

The
accompanying media release notes: “Mr Melrose does not belong to any political
party and never has”. Yet the media contact is NSW Greens Legislative Council
candidate and sometime party apparatchik Ben Oquist. Oquist is number three on
the Greens ticket. That doesn’t mean he’s been left out in the cold. It’s
actually a very clever tactic – put someone with a high profile down the ticket
in the hopes that they will carry the candidates above them.

Oquist is
working with Melrose over West Papua. Fair enough. The bloke’s got to
make a living. But one ends up asking whose campaign it is – and what’s the
actual campaign.

We all know
that Indonesia and its government, in 1066 And All That
parlance, is A Bad Thing. But too often our attitudes are only formed in those
sorts of terms – hence our sloppy thinking over Timor.

Richard
Farmer recently wrote in Crikey that “Australian opposition to an increasingly
belligerent campaign by Indonesian President Sukarno to unite West Papua with
‘the fatherland’ would have continued were it not for a change in policy by a United States”.

He, like
Brian Toohey and other commentators, places far too much emphasis on the role
of the US. It’s a nice security blanket for the left to
claim US pressure, but it’s just not true.

Just as
East Timor was a very messy leftover of Portuguese colonialism, debate over
West Papua is unfinished business from the end of the Dutch East Indies – issues of race and ethnicity and identity
unrecognised, ignored or unresolved in the aftermath of World War II.

Human
rights are beyond left and right, yet debating them in a dated Cold War “they
might be bastards but they’re our bastards” caricature of anti-communism
immediately puts them in a left/right context. And who wins? People denied
self-determination – in West Papua or wherever – or people indulging their unquestioned
right to run for parliament here in Australia?

Peter Fray

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