A Christian Hiccup for the PM? Prime Minister John Howard is again talking tough about making it difficult for asylum seekers from Indonesian Papua to settle in Australia but he risks upsetting some staunch supporters of the Liberal Party in doing so. Mr Howard talked yesterday about manipulation of the Australian asylum system and vowed “I am not going to have the system manipulated by anybody.” The anybody in this case might well be members of the National Council of Churches in Australia, the organisation which is actively working to establish West Papua Support Groups throughout Australia. Such groups now exist in many parts of the country and at the weekend they came together for their third Annual National gathering where they dutifully “affirmed the right of the people of West Papua to Self-determination and decolonisation.” The NCCA claims that over the 26 years that Indonesia has held official control of West Papua, the indigenous population has endured one of the 20th century’s most repressive and unjust systems of colonial occupation. An ongoing war has been fought against a popularly supported indigenous movement opposed to Jakarta’s rule, and against members of the civilian population who stand in the way of Indonesian “development”. An escalation in killings recently, especially around the massive Freeport copper and gold mine in the central highlands, has been widely reported in the Australian and international media.

A Sensitive Sol. The Australian has wheeled out Newspoll boss Sol Lebovic this morning to try and explain what we should make of findings showing Labor comfortably in front in his polls while the accompanying commentary dismisses. Sol goes to his history books to explain his hypothesis that this far out from an election, some voters use the polls to register a protest vote against the Government. In other words even he does not believe that the Newspolls now being published have any relevance to what will happen in the political process. All his hypothesis allows is that Labor’s lead “suggests it is competitive, with the potential to win the next election” but it “needs to lock in these parkers well before the next election with policies that are more appealing.” Thanks very much Sol. That advances the argument tremendously.

Peter Fray

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