The Australian‘s bearded foreign editor Greg Sheridan and leftist expat John Pilger had a predictable spat on Q&A last night over the question of Indonesia. Sheridan stated the heroic protesters in the streets of Cairo would do well to look to the world’s largest Muslim-majority country as a democratic model. But the Murdoch scribe was careful to draw a distinction between the period after the fall of Suharto and the less palatable previous 32-year period of murderousness, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands — and perhaps millions — of his subjects.

Pilger took the bait, launching an attack over his foe’s well-known support for the Suharto “stability model”, and noting a recent article in which he’d pompously advised Burma to look to Indonesia as a light on the hill. Sheridan bit back, claiming he in fact was referring to “a model of Indonesia after Suharto” (emphasis added). Which, in the context of the previous conversation was strictly true, but in general is utterly false.

In short, Sheridan’s a Suharto shill. Take these sagely pars the day after Suharto’s death in January 2008 in which he fawned over the “most important and beneficial Asian leader in the entire period after World War II.” And then there’s the piece on Burma that Pilger was referring to — from November 20 last year — in which Sheridan dishes out some advice for Burmese struggling under the yoke of General Than Shwe:

“For nearly 20 years, good hearted Indonesians have been telling the Burmese to study the New Order regime that prevailed in Indonesia under Suharto, especially in the early years after he took power in the mid-60s. The Indonesian army, like the Burmese, believed it was the only institution that could possibly keep the country together…but at the same time, especially in the early years, Suharto was extremely consultative. He tried to co-opt as many social forces into the New Order as he could and he took expert economic advice from the famous Berkely [sic] mafia.”

Crikey cannot find a instance where Sheridan had specifically referred to Indonesia’s “great period of stability” in relation to Burma as suggested by Pilger. But for a foreign editor of a national broadsheet to split hairs over his historical support for our northern neighbour seems more than a tad disingenuous. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey