Back in August, when the federal government was trying unsuccessfully to get its anti-refugee legislation through the Senate, its supporters warned that failure would jeopardise the chances of agreement on a new security treaty with Indonesia.

For some refugee advocates, that was just added incentive: they hoped we could get the best of both worlds, with no legislation and no security treaty either. But that hope was disappointed, as the security treaty was duly agreed and signed last night on Lombok by Alexander Downer and Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda.

Jakarta seems to have got pretty much everything it wanted (see full text of the agreement here), including a specific reference to “separatism” and a commitment not to “in any manner support or participate in activities … which constitutes [sic] a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity” of either country (article 2(3)).

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Downer described this bluntly as “a clear undertaking of support for each other’s territorial integrity”, and said that non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries was fundamental to Australian foreign policy.

On Downer’s logic, support for West Papuan independence would amount to “interference”, even though the invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq evidently did not.

But there is an important qualification in the treaty – or at least one that would be important if the Australian government were ever minded to use it. Both in the preamble and in article 2, its principles are said to apply only “consistent with the Charter of the United Nations”.

Yet prominent in that charter is article 1(2), by which signatories – including, of course, both Australia and Indonesia – are committed “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”.

One day we will have to accept that the West Papuans are entitled to that as much as anyone else.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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