Friday, May 12, 2006

West Papua Colonial Shame

Australia’s record of assisting asylum seekers is a disgrace under the Howard Government, but no where near the disgrace of the country’s treatment of some of the regions former small colonies.

We have previously discussed the result of Australia’s meddling in the Solomon Islands in these pages. It is one thing to set a country on a course of self determination, another to hold on tight to the tiller.

East Timor is battling its own way through the process of an emerging nation, on its own now, thankfully. They would have been far more advanced in that task if Australia had not ignored their calls for self determination for so long.

The third arena Australia’s policies of self interest are a continual cause of consternation is West Papua – the western part of New Guinea now controlled by Indonesia.

It is the same the world over where ill-matching borders and cultures are forced, not for their own good, but for the good of the prevailing powers.

The West Papuans are not asking Australia to do battle on their behalf; they are simply looking for a relatively powerful regional ally who will support their rightful claim to independence.

Like East Timor, Australia was instrumental in the deal which put West Papua under Indonesian control. The reasons were and remain fairly simple; it is a costly exercise to aid the establishment and continuation of an economically small nation; far better to simply put them under the control of another willing power. Indonesia was not only willing, but to not cede these colonies to their care was to invite instability driven by tantrums and bully tactics.

Indonesia’s leadership are not unsophisticated in any sense, but their behavior on issues of hegemony creates the impression of insecure, bullying boofheads. I guess it works for them, bluff or not they have generally had their own way.

That leaves the disgrace of West Papua, a people poorly treated by their so called masters. There is no apology from Indonesia, no mea culpa, we will do better. The fact is, they see the Melanesian people of the country as stone age heathens; and we allow them to.

Australia now goes one better, so as not lose their lofty position on the abuse of human rights ladder. Having tried their hardest to turn back West Papuan asylum seekers before they reached the mainland, and failed because their actions were deemed as unlawful, the government is now trying to rewrite the law.

Controversial migration laws have just been introduced to the Federal parliament, and they are already causing division in the government parties.

Under proposed changes, all asylum seekers landing on the mainland will be sent to offshore detention centres in Nauru or Papua New Guinea's Manus Island to be processed. Anywhere but Australian soil.

Human rights advocate and Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy spokeswoman Marion Le said, "It's all very scary - no democracy should be setting this legislation, it's a really serious step backwards into darkness."

It is understood that at least five government MPs spoke against the legislation at a party room meeting this week, with one member opposed outright to the changes.

Prime Minister Howard said this week he was happy to discuss the new laws with concerned backbenchers, he did not commit to changing the bill and said it would not be withdrawn.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone is standing firm on the changes, saying the government will not allow Australia's border protection policies to be undermined.

Immigration parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb, who introduced the legislation into the house today, said the new laws complied with the Refugees Convention.

"The Convention ... does not establish an entitlement for asylum seekers to choose the country in which their claims will be assessed or in which protection will be provided," he said.

No, but conscience and concern for the rights of people everywhere should not need to be enshrined in law, it should be simple duty.

More information on West Papua:

West Papua Action - Home Page

Papua Press Agency

West Papua Information Kit

FREE WEST PAPUA MOVEMENT There are many more sources on the web.

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