There has been too much excitement about the West Papuan asylum seekers currently in Australia.

First up, the Greens along with some refugee advocates, some Church organisations and some journalists, erred in appearing to associate themselves with the West Papuan independence cause. There appears to be no prospect of Jakarta giving independence to any of the Indonesian provinces. Consequently, it was counter-productive for the West Papuans, who arrived in Melbourne following the receipt of their protection visas, to be filmed waving the “Morning Star” independence flag.

This made any long term resolution of this matter even more difficult. According to the International Crisis Group’s Sidney Jones, there is no evidence of Indonesia initiated assassinations or attempts at genocide in West Papua (Lateline, 20 April 2006). In short, there is a need to cool the debate. In this context, Labor’s allegations about the (alleged) appeasement of Indonesia do not help.

Second, the Coalition seems to have over-reacted. Sure the long term relationship between Australia and Indonesia is very important. However, so far at least, only one boat containing West Papuan asylum seekers has arrived in Australia. The relationship between Canberra and Jakarta is better now than when the new legislation was first introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament but failed to pass before the winter recess.

It was always going to be difficult to expect the likes of Judi Moylan and Petro Georgiou to back down on what they regarded as a firm understanding reached with the Prime Minister in earlier times.

In my view, the legislation is not necessary right now.

Peter Fray

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