When you point at someone you have more fingers pointing back at you. There are too often people wants to point out the sin of others and ignore their own sin. The situation represents the involvement of Australian activists on how Indonesian government deals with Papua issues. There are several Australian activist figures who declare themselves as a supporter for Free West Papua Movements such as Anthony Craig (the president of FWPM in Australia), Jennifer Robinson (Human Rights Lawyer of Benny Wenda and United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Peter Arndt (Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane). There are three are few from many others public figures who speaks for West Papua. However, as an Australian themselves, the ultimate question is, does their action truly speaks for humanity? How we ensured that there were no political agenda involves? How about similar cases happened in Australia?

If we look back into the historical relationship between Indonesia, Australia and the issue of West Papua, we will understand the standpoint of Australian government on this issue. In Lowy Institute Paper 13, McGibbon stated that Australia had backed the Dutch claims over West New Guinea. This policy was based on ensuring security from the unstable and dangerous region to Australia’s north.

The island of New Guinea that took in both the Australian-controlled territories of Papua and New Guinea in the east and Dutch New Guinea in the west was viewed as a key link in Australia’s security cordon. In Soekarno’s era, as he stepped up his campaign against the ‘imperial Western forces’, Australian and Dutch officials emphasized the ethnic differences between ‘Asian’ Indonesia and ‘Melanesian’ West New Guinea, stressing the rights of Papuans to self-determination.

In 1957, a joint declaration by Australia and the Netherlands to increase cooperation in administering their respective territories became the basis of a new policy initiative on promoting self-determination; this initiative canvassed the possible future establishment of a federation of Melanesia. However, in the early 1960s, as the dispute escalated, however, the Dutch looked to Australia to provide a military commitment to respond to any hostilities.

However, Australian officials sought to steer a course between support for Dutch control over West New Guinea and continued diplomacy with Indonesia to avoid a total breakdown in relations. In seeking to advance the latter, Australia hosted a visit by Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio, resulting in a joint declaration that indicated Australia’s shift away from support for Papuan self-determination.

The history says it all. Australia has responsibility on developing a discourse of separatism movement in West Papua long time ago. While it is undeniable, the Australian government shows good respect to Indonesia along the way. In 2015, the Indonesian defense minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, has reach an agreement with Australia to respect his country’s sovereignty over the troubled region of Papua, as meetings with Australian ministers, Julie Bishop, ended in mutual agreement about the strength of the bilateral relationship.

However, the agreement does not reflect the reality on the ground as the Free Papua Movement in Australia has been already very popular among Australian citizens. There have been many underground campaigns in the city or online promoting West Papuan’s independence against Indonesian sovereignty.

This condition is critical because although bilateral relationship on country to country has committed to respect each other, the Australian government is unable to influence its citizens to respect other country’s independence especially because Indonesian government has their own way to deal with this issue. The Australian government seems powerless to persuade the Australian grassroots movement that supports the Free West Papua Movement to respect Indonesian sovereignty.

For instance, there were many public dialogue and campaign on Free West Papua Movement such as Jennifer Robinson’s speak at TEDxSydeny in September, 2016 on West Papuan leader, Benny Wenda. Not to mention countless underground campaign that involves music, arts performing and book discussion that nourish the spirit of separatism.

Further, despite the Australian public who clearly has much sympathy for West Papua, Jennifer Robinson, Anthony Craig and other West Papuans activist seems to forget their own unfinished business with the indigenous population within their country. In Australia, the Indigenous population is composed of mainland Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, who live in northern Queensland on the islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

One shocking fact is, indigenous men between the ages of 25 and 29 have the highest suicide rate in the world, with 90.8 suicides for 100,000 inhabitants. And the issue is growing: the last decade has seen a 56 percent rise in hospitalization rates for self-harm. “As a wealthy country this continues to be our shame,” said Romlie Mokak, chief executive of Australia’s Lowitja Institute, which conducts research into the health and well-being of indigenous groups.

“The answer to why this is happening is complex. The underlying issue is that of collective trauma, inflicted on indigenous people by past racist policies,” Sara Hudson, a research scholar at the Center for Independent Studies, told DW. Up until the 1970s, indigenous children were taken away from their families and forced to assimilate into white Australian culture. Australian government has been trying to break this cycle for years, with large-scale programs. The government has also pumped billions of dollars over the years into indigenous-specific programs, but it’s showing little difference.

This condition is not realized by the Australian public when they pointing fingers on West Papuan issues. The condition is similar. Indonesian government has done something wrong at the past, but they look forward to develop West Papua. It is the same with Australian government and its indigenous community. There were hundreds of racisms issue going on between Australian government and their aboriginal society.

One thing that should be understood by the Australian crowd is, there is no point on supporting Free West Papua Movement against Indonesian sovereignty instead they should support Indonesian government effort in building West Papua towards better future. Just like what the Australian government did to the aborigines.

Reference:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/21/indonesia-warns-other-countries-to-respect-its-sovereignty-over-papua

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/28/west-papua-my-people-need-australias-help-before-it-is-too-late

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/26/asia/indigenous-australian-australia-day-statistics/index.html

https://www.dw.com/en/how-australia-is-failing-its-indigenous-people/a-36573151

https://www.lithgowmercury.com.au/story/5198987/lithgow-to-host-forum-on-human-rights-in-west-papua/

https://rp-www.arts.usyd.edu.au/peace_conflict/docs/reports/Pitfalls_of_Papua.pdf

Written By: Kyana