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Response to Mr Carr on West Papua

Wednesday, 7 November 2012  | Robert Wolfgramm

West Papua is not a boat Australia can turn around. It is right there permanently on the northern border.

And West Papuan dreams for justice – to regain the independence promised and fleetingly realised decades ago under their former Dutch colonisers prior to Indonesia’s invasion that came with U.N. cooperation, U.S. expectation, and eventually Australian acquiescence – will not fade.

If anything, and quite contrary to Mr Carr’s verdict of being ‘inconceivable, utterly inconceivable’, West Papuan hopes are galvanising through Indonesia’s repressive put-downs of their struggle. And by recent injustices inflicted through superior Indonesian firepower - courtesy of Australian and U.S. government military assistance.

The West Papuans and a considerable number of concerned people in the region are now enlarged and enlivened by ‘awakenings’ and ‘springs’ of other long trodden-under peoples far from their shores (thanks to Twitter, Facebook and You Tube).

When will the Australian foreign policy establishment realise this?

Australia cannot spurn West Papuan claims forever any more than it can ignore the more violent, eruptive claims of the Syrian democratic uprising.

What is occurring in West Papua is with no less conviction and serious intent and it is simply liberation at a slower, more tropical pace than in the Middle East.

 But it will come here and Australia cannot talk itself out of its responsibility. It should act now to mediate a just and peaceful solution.

All the trips to Jakarta, all the grandstanding with Bambang, all the bilateral rhetoric about Indonesian sovereignty are merely rearrangements of the furniture on a sinking Titanic discourse.

Mr Carr may not hear the band playing, but West Papuans have been suffering and singing for decades and Australia will have to listen at some point.

It is not often that historic chance and geographic necessity combine to present opportunities for a bold and righteous approach in foreign policy, but this is what West Papua presents. When will Australia seize it?

The Gillard government rightly wants to engage with the greater Asia-Pacific, but it wants to do so by leap-frogging the exigent needs of those most proximate to it.

This won’t work. Any more than John Howard's engagement with the region could do so as long as reconciliation was denied.

It is all very well to want to sit at the top table with the big boys of globalisation, at the U.N. Security Council, with Asia rising, and the like, but never at the expense of talking down the hopes of indigenous peoples whose futures are being left to jackboots.

Mr Carr, either West Papuan aspirations are in a dreamland, or your perspective is – both cannot be true. Look again at their situation and experience, it certainly predates yours.  Listen again to their viewpoint, it is consistent and ancient. Do you not see that their cry for justice, freedom and sovereignty is nothing less than a local echo of the universal cry for of the human spirit. And more to the point, that it is pressing, insistent, and immanent.

Mr Carr, put your faulty policy logic into reverse. Let it be seen and known that Australia’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific century will be one of moral consideration. Make it plain that Australia has nothing in common with demagogic state power that characterises so many of the neighbours with whom you seek to do business. Do you truly want your government to be complicit in regional brutalities exercised now to maintain past ill-gotten gains.

Rather, define your nation’s economic and security interests through the prism of Australia’s Christian heritage and democratic capital that historically have set it apart.

That course alone will not only rebound positively to West Papua, but be in Australia’s true, long-term self-interest.


Dr Robert Wolfgramm

Retired Monash University sociologist,

Suva, Fiji

6 November 2012

(Forwarded to Ethos by Bruce Wearne)

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