The Security Treaty between Australia & Indonesia

Late last year, a security cooperation agreement between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia was signed on the Indonesian island of Lombok. As with all international agreements, this one, which has already picked up the colloquial title of the Lombok Agreement, is being examined by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

The Committee is still receiving submissions. You can read the ones which have been made public to date by clicking here. The Committee will be holding a hearing into the Agreement this coming Monday in Canberra. I am a member of 7 policy and legislative Committees, as well as participating in various others from time to time, so I don’t get to focus as much as I would like on some inquiries, but this one is one I am aiming to look at closely.


The history of human rights abuses in Indonesia, and the history of the campaign for self-determination of the East Timorese have led to some degree of antagonism towards Indonesia in Australia. In some cases, this means an instinctive knee-jerk anti-Indonesian response anytime there is any activity or an issue in Indonesia that causes concern. While the reaction may be understandable, it does not always lead to well thought through responses on individual issues. It can also have the impact of obscuring some of the very significant advances that have been made in Indonesia by its astonishingly rapidly move towards democracy. To shift from an era of military dictatorship to what is, in most respects, a functional parliamentary democracy in such a short time is a task that I do not think many Australians fully appreciate – especially given that Indonesia covers such a large area and has a massive, ethnically diverse and mostly fairly poor population.

I often feel torn between being highly critical of continuing human rights problems in parts of Indonesia and wanting to acknowledge and encourage the significant advances that have been made in the face of some very difficult challenges. In the couple of times that I have been there, the people I have met with, including members of parliament and government ministers, have been quite open about those challenges.

The problem for Australia is how we continue to promote the advances of democracy while condemning the failures in human rights, particularly as one inhibits the progression of the other. One issue that does present a dilemma with treaties like this is the central inclusion of a continuing engagement and capacity building with the Indonesian military through exchanges, exercises and education. Whilst there have been some significant advances in civil society and in democracy in Indonesia in recent years, a key obstacle remains in parts of the Indonesian military. While it may be a bit un-diplomatic to say this, it is a simple fact.
We need to walk an incredibly fine tightrope between broader engagement—which I am all in favour of— while not facilitating a strengthening of some of the elements of Indonesian power structures that are a barrier to further progress.

This is particularly so in regards to West Papua, where a combination of a very large wealth generating resource base and a determination to stamp on any push for self-determination by Indigenous Papuans has led to a continuing pattern of very serious human rights abuses by some within the Indonesia military.

There is enormous sensitivity in Indonesia towards the issue of West Papua. A recent example is this story from New Zealand, where a planned performance at the Asia-Pacific Festival of a piece entitled Papua Merdeka (Free Papua) by Australian composer Martin Welsey-Smith was dropped from the program after pressure from the Indonesia Embassy. I am aware of examples of straightforward visitor visa applications from West Papuans being rejected by the Australian government, and it hard to believe that diplomatic relations are not influencing some of those decisions – particularly given the extraordinary attack made by the previous Immigration Minister against so-called ‘Papuan separatists’ last year. I recall speaking at a conference on West Papua in Melbourne in 2003 where major pressure was applied by the Indonesian Embassy towards RMIT, which forced the Institute to withdraw some of the help it was providing in the hosting of the conference.

Any mention of human rights abuses is often seen as being the same as promoting independence for West Papua, which in turn is sometimes seen as risking the break-up of the entire Indonesian state. I occasionally feel this has led to a blind spot amongst some Indonesians rather similar to that of many Australians when it comes to mention of the atrocities and human rights abuses inflicted on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people. As this article by Denise Leith says, “Today the Suharto dictatorship is long gone and a former military general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a reformist president of a functioning democracy where press freedoms abound. That is, until the word Papua is mentioned.”

This sensitivity has meant it is very difficult to get clear news about what is happening on the ground in West Papua. Independent observers are often not allowed in, and such news as does appear is usually disputed. But the evidence that has built over the years shows a persistent pattern of serious human rights abuses, with persistent killings, attacks on villages and calculated destruction of local culture. As with Australian governments’ actions towards our own Indigenous peoples over the years, it is sometimes hard to avoid having the word ‘genocide’ spring to mind when examining the cumulative impacts and the willingness to ignore the evidence of what has been done.

Speaking out about such serious abuses whilst also encouraging stronger ties with the democratic arms of the Indonesian government is difficult balance. I’ll be interested in looking at whether this new security agreement facilitates that or not.

UPDATE: Human Rights Watch has just released a new report, which details continuing imprisonment of Papuans campaigning pecaefully for self-determination. Media coverage on the report here and here.

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6 Comments

  1. A bit of confidence ,without embarassing anyone,as a principle is,I think the only way forward.Indonesia does not have to sweep the dirt under the carpet,its critics are also generally concerned about its problems.The military as a large organ of individuals will not all have blood on its hands,or even punishment memories of many.In fact I would say Papuans would be ready to forgive many for tangible results,and the military must be automatically involved in that.Obviously ,with respect rather than criticism,because that is easily implied,the military are still finding their feet in a democratic sense.The fact is,I do not think that Indonesia can really progress without a lot of input from the military,which can also be a great training ground for all sorts of problems in emergency circumstances,non military.Risk taking still essential.The President has already seen this truth and it is a shame in some ways Americans are arent going to him and swap Indonesian and Malay soldiers for their own at the cost involved presently in Iraq.I know to some this might be too leftist to handle,but the U.S.A. is our real problem with Indonesia and reform.Kissinger,and maybe the Papua movement is influenced by the hope of U.S.A.finding a way with Jakarta.Sort of underestimating the intelligence of Indonesians themselves,and Papuans to try something else,maybe like integration and independence at the same time,even via the military,voluntary work where Indonesia has real problems,and where ever mutual advantage,as individuals outstrips the differences,eg. even in the use of guns for olympic matters.So if there was marksmen in Papua Indonesian and Papua set up the targets and practice.Really bloody simple.And that has to be Australia*s attitude simplify for everyone in a way the normal confidence,found everywhere, takes over.For there is little point in even the thought of Independence in some form ,without that amongst the Indonesians and West Papuans.I have more to say I*ll wait.

  2. I think Senator,that the time this post of yours has been here has proven to me the difficulty of having a experimental opinion that is acceptable and valid. Indonesians are normal people I say, although at times their behaviour,would frighten train homebound football fans.Experimenting with opinion isnt really a threat to Indonesia or ourselves as Australians,because experiment doesnt require what is known but can refer to what is known ,and new challenges for Indonesians are obviously always happening ,which are more compellingly anti-human rights than what the military types may do or have done.Eg.,the disgusting spill of underground ooze,which has threatened the normal living of many Indonesians..and well human rights!Flood,and maybe tsunami,and well a different picture of human rights becomes obvious, nature being the process that humanity just cannot find a complete working relationship with.No use cracking the whip over nature,but,if all communication is failing cracking a whip maybe heard in some locations in some circumstances.The President allowing the flood waters to run through the palace,got my respect,but it remains a problem Australian citizens in jail and ,the stuff that upsets some Indonesians re human rights people going missing.Whilst Australians remain in jail as they are ,I think some suggestions need to be made there,including the government of Indonesia should have the right to gainfully employ these people for Indonesians in some way.For example, Corby has written a book under that prison pressure,she could do matters for government along that line during a number of hours a day or night,and still return to prison.The others ,well they need to dig into their being to see if they could assist that government by their skills.I dont automatically feel confident about this though,but, they all need to lift their game,instead of being non assets and embarassment for everyone,including the justice system of Indonesia who are conscious of costs.

  3. It would be nice if someone could find a peaceful way to stamp out the Seven Deadly Sins.

    Even though I think there must really be at least nine – seven would be good for starters.

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