Last week’s ambush in two remote Papua areas that killed eight Indonesian Military (TNI) members and four civilians is a strong reminder to the nation that peace remains elusive in the natural resource-rich province.
If deadly attacks target security personnel, who are normally fully armed while on a stint in Papua, it is not exaggerating to jump to the conclusion that unarmed civilians will become easy prey to the gunmen.
Your comments: -- Your editorial asks the question, does separatism remain alive in the province after almost 50 years of integration with the Republic? The answer is it does.
There have been a large number of peaceful rallies held by West Papuans in the past year with demonstrators holding banners calling for a referendum or self-determination.
This should confirm to Jakarta and the international community that the issue of West Papua is not going away. Your editorial points out that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opts for the welfare approach but all this is doing is avoiding looking at the real reasons why West Papuans are still protesting and suffering after 50 years of Indonesian administration.
If Yudhoyono is opting for the welfare approach, other officials are not.
Antara News reported that Indonesia`s Deputy Defense Minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin said that the TNI will take a firm stand by conducting tactical action against the armed groups that killed the soldiers and civilians in Papua last week.
“The tactical action includes to chase, apprehend and destroy”.
Statements such as this create fear in the West Papuan people, who are well aware of what sweeping operations against so call separatists mean. The West Papuan people have been calling on Jakarta to dialogue with their representatives for years to try and solve the problems in West Papua.
Now would be a good time to start. As Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”.
2) Alexander Downer: Time to start caring about Indonesia next election
I DON'T know about you, but these days I'm beginning to wonder about Australia.
The newspapers are filled with melodramatic stories about how hopeless the Prime Minister is, what Caucus members are saying about her behind her back, what Kevin Rudd is up to and how the latest Government announcement on health or industry policy has turned out to be an own goal.
Whatever. I'm no supporter of the Government but even I am getting bored with these stories.
There are a plethora of more important things for us to contemplate than political gossip.
Let me give you an example.
It never ceases to a amaze me how little interest we show as a nation in our next-door neighbours.
Sure, we enjoy American films and culture. And we speak the same language. Certainly, a growing China now takes around one quarter of all our exports, so its prosperity is our prosperity. And yes, there are the lands of our ancestors which still mean a lot to us.
But the only way our security will be directly challenged is if our own neighbourhood falls apart. That's what happened in the 1940s when the Japanese swept through Indonesia and the South Pacific attempting to take over Papua New Guinea.
We need to make sure those countries remain stable and secure. More than that, we need to engage constructively with Indonesia and the small and often unstable countries of the South Pacific. Paul Keating as prime minister made the decisive point; if the relationship with our neighbour, Indonesia, collapsed, we'd have to spend twice as much as we do on defence.
Frankly, it is astonishing that our media and the public more generally write, talk and think so little about Indonesia.
I was told recently that a senior member of the SA Cabinet had to ask where Yogyakarta was! I'm too discreet to tell you who he is. It's not only a large city in Java but it's the cultural capital of Java.
Indonesia is our neighbour and it's huge. It has 10 times the population of Australia but with a smaller GDP. It is 6000km from one end of the Indonesian archipelago to the other and it straddles some of the world's most important and sensitive trade routes.
Over the years, our relations with Indonesia have been troubled. During the Sukarno era, Australia's relationship with Indonesia was tense and at times bellicose, particularly at the time of confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia.
For many Australians, the arrival via a coup d'etat of president Suharto was seen as a godsend. Sure he was a dictator but he was anti-communist during the Cold War and he seemed interested enough in a stable relationship with Australia.
Well, you'll remember that Paul Keating invested heavily in his relationship with Suharto. Frankly, he was right to do so. But surely Tim Fischer went too far when, much to my amazement, he announced Suharto was the greatest figure of the second half of the 20th century!
Suharto was the embodiment of that old American saying: "He may be a son of a bitch but at least he's our son of a bitch." When I met with him in Jakarta from time to time I found him austere and patronising. But at least he wanted to keep things with Australia on an even keel.
But of all the presidents Indonesia has had since independence, the most overtly pro-Australian has been the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
He was the co-ordinating minister for security at the time of the first Bali bombing. It was out of that tragedy that John Howard and I were able to build a strong personal relationship with him.
I well recall the moment in Jakarta in January 2005 just after we pledged $1 billion to Indonesia to help fund the post-tsunami reconstruction. President Yudhoyono came across the room and took my hand in both of his hands. With tears in his eyes he said he would never forget Australia's generosity to Indonesia in its time of need.
Now you can have a debate about how well we've handled relations with Indonesia over the past five or so years. The big point is this. In just over a year's time, President Yudhoyono's term will come to an end. That's all the time we have left to deal with this most pro-Australian of presidents of our huge and vital next-door neighbour.
Once he goes, it will be, for Australia, the end of a golden era.
Australia has to make the most of this period, because no one knows yet who the next president will be.
Of the current likely candidates, any one of them could present Australia with some difficulties. For a start, the current favourite is the son-in-law of president Suharto - a former general called Prabowo Subianto. He was the head of the Indonesian special forces known as Kopassus in the 1990s.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Prabowo was wildly unpopular with many Australian NGOs because of alleged human rights abuses in East Timor. He is unlikely to be a fan of our great country.
Now, General Prabowo may not win the election but the point is this: Whoever does, the golden era of the Yudhoyono administration is drawing to a close.
Australian leaders should be thinking about this. It matters.
It matters because we need a stable, friendly and economically prosperous Indonesia as a next-door neighbour.
Yet you seldom hear a word about Indonesia unless it relates to one of our foolish drug traffickers locked up in a Balinese jail.
Or unless it's the latest saga in the boat people scandal.
Well, I'll tell you this; without the co-operation of the Indonesian government, we have no hope of stopping the boats. That's just one more reason why we should care about who wins next year's Indonesian presidential election.
Alexander Downer was foreign affairs minister in the Howard government from 1996 to 2007
photo .Indonesia and Australia ace many similar challenges, such as intense flooding. AAP/Bagus Indahono
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman does not often make it into the Indonesian press, but he did in reports on theQueensland floods. These reports shared news space with coverage of the even more devastating flooding in Jakarta. Newman and the governor of the province of Jakarta, Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – have much in common.
They face enormous challenges in trying to manage the recovery of their regions from the flooding, and more importantly, trying to ensure that the impact of future flooding is mitigated, if not entirely eliminated. Newman’s experience as Brisbane Lord Mayor during the 2011 floods may give him particular insights into the problems Jokowi faces.
They also face the daunting challenge of electoral success: both were recently elected on platforms of shaking up a tired regional government. Citizens’ expectations of their administrations are high – perhaps unrealistically so. Newman has already had some of the gloss knocked off his administration, while this dubious pleasure still awaits Jokowi.
Consideration of the political relationship between Australia and Indonesia usually focuses on the national level of government. From an Australian perspective, the dominant issue at this level for some time has been asylum seekers. The problem here is what is of major interest to Australia is of relatively minor interest to Indonesia, as I have previously suggested.
From an Indonesian perspective – there probably isn’t a dominant issue in terms of Australia. Concern is routinely expressed about Australian support for the separatist movement in Papua. There is also the occasional mixture of amusement and bewilderment about the degree of inconsistency – not to say downright instability – in the federal government and its policies. But that’s about it. Australia simply doesn’t loom large on the national radar.
Recently two respected Indonesian journalists urged their fellow-citizens to “be nice to Australia, not for the sake of being nice, but for the sake of our national interests”. The phrase “whistling in the wind” comes to mind.
This focus on national politics is understandable, and perhaps necessary in terms of the formal relationship. But it is always going to be an imbalanced focus, more significant to Australia than to Indonesia. And the Australian public as a whole has shown a distinct disinterest in national political issues in Indonesia. The government’s Asian Century White Paper can insist on the diplomatic and strategic importance of Australia to Indonesia all it likes, but Australians simply aren’t listening.
The White Paper is right, and efforts to stimulate such interest in national politics in Indonesia need to continue. But the focus on national politics obscures the fact that – for the majority of citizens of both countries – it is decisions taken at the regional and local levels of government which impact most directly on their lives: issues such as flood mitigation, education, work opportunities, health services. It might, therefore, be more useful to focus efforts more at trying to stimulate Australians' interests in Indonesia at the local level, rather than the national.
Indonesia is still struggling with the effects of the massive wave of political decentralisation put in place following the downfall of the Suharto government, with its powerful centralising imperative. With a few exceptions – including foreign affairs, defence and religious affairs – regional and local governments now effectively control day-to-day politics in Indonesia.
By contrast, Australia has a long history of decentralisation, as a federation. The word “federal” is the F-word as far as Indonesian politics is concerned. But in many respects, Indonesia is moving towards a quasi-federal system of government. At this level, Australians and Indonesians have a lot they could talk about and experiences they could share – outside the more complex national political issues.
Yet we have seen relatively little activity at this level. Western Australia is perhaps the most advanced state in this regard, maintaining a very active and successful trade office in Jakarta. This is perhaps all the more surprising given that the state Premier, Colin Barnett, seems adamantly opposed to setting foot in the country.
But where is the local government and community involvement, in both countries, in the exchange of ideas and information on fire services, flood rescue, culturally inclusive education, sporting competitions, the management of regional newspapers and television stations?
State and local governments, and local community organisations, should be thinking about their own foreign policies – in the context of the Asian Century, and in particular in the context of relations with their counterparts in Indonesia.
National political issues remain important. Australians and Indonesians alike should remain interested in what happens in the Canberra-Jakarta relationship. But this should not be at the expense of activity at the regional and local levels.
Campbell Newman and Jokowi face many of the same challenges. When are they next scheduled to meet?