Indonesia’s response to the failure of Australia’s “off-shore processing” migration bill reflects its pique at failing to get Australia to comply with the external outcomes of its repressive handling of “internal” matters. Australia’s now withdrawn asylum seeker “off-shore processing” legislation was intended as a direct appeasement of reactionary Indonesian responses to the still volatile West Papua issue.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said that as a result of the failure of the “off-shore” legislation, Australia is opening for the arrival of asylum-seekers including those who have been staying in Indonesia for many years.

This crude threat recalls Indonesian responses to Australia in the 1980s, when Australian journalists were banned from Indonesia for commenting on human rights issues and corruption. In short, Indonesia again favours suppressing expressions of dissent, especially regarding West Papua, rather than addressing the reasons for that dissent. The prospect of internationalising the West Papua issue is especially sensitive for Indonesia’s conservative “nationalists”, who dominate the Indonesian legislature’s Commission on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

Already one group of eight asylum seekers has already reached Ashmore Reef, the timing of which could have been seen as an attempt to encourage the Senate to vote in favour of the now withdrawn legislation.

Indonesia’s increasing pressure on Australia over the possibility of accepting future West Papuan asylum seekers will now likely see a further loosening of restrictions on other asylum seekers resident in Indonesia seeking to come to Australia.

As Indonesia plays hard-ball diplomacy with resident asylum seekers as pawns in the game, the Howard Government will now likely consider alternative draconian responses to this essentially humanitarian problem, both to appease Indonesia over West Papua and to reaffirm its largely artificial “security” credentials.

Peter Fray

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