Refugee advocates were celebrating yesterday after West Papuan David Wainggai had his appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal
upheld. Wainggai was the last of the 43 Papuans who caused the
government so much angst when they landed on Cape York in January. The
other 42 were granted refugee visas back in March, precipitating a
crisis in Australian-Indonesian relations that is to some extent still
unresolved.

As Michelle Grattan
remarks this morning, “The difference between 42 and 43 visas would
have been minimal to the angry Indonesians”, but having initially
rejected Wainggai’s claims the government now has to face the issue
returning to the spotlight. If it appeals further against the decision
it will be seen as bowing to Indonesian pressure; if it doesn’t, it
risks giving further offence to Jakarta.

Legislation to address
Indonesian concerns by forcing all asylum claims to be processed
offshore is more or less permanently stalled. The reasoning of the
Refugee Review Tribunal in Wainggai’s case will just fortify the
determination of the Coalition’s dissidents who know that, despite its
promises, it is impossible for the government to guarantee that these
sort of safeguards will still be available once refugees are packed off
to Nauru.

Grattan also reports a speech on the issue by Richard
Woolcott, former ambassador to Jakarta, which she says was given “last
night”, although the press release
says it’s tonight. Either way, Woolcott’s argument is entirely
predictable: “we must not allow our relations with Indonesia to be held
hostage to those who seek the unrealistic goal of an independent West
Papua”.

Woolcott represents the “realist”
school of foreign policy in its pure form; in that capacity he was prominent in
opposition to the Iraq war, a case of being right for all the wrong
reasons. But even for a realist, it seems to me that it must be about
time to rethink West Papua.

East Timorese independence, which
realists (including, yes, Woolcott himself) also once dismissed as
unrealistic, didn’t come about because of some sudden attack of
idealism among the political class. It came about because the “realist”
policy of appeasement collapsed under its own weight. One day, our
acquiescence in the occupation of West Papua will also become
unsustainable.

The lesson of history is that running sores like
West Papua – or Palestine, or Chechnya, or Ireland for that matter –
don’t just go away. One day they have to be addressed, either
peacefully or with violence. Australia should be doing whatever we can
to nudge Indonesia along the road to peace.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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