Indonesia: Suspicions about Australia


David Reeve

After the Australian government granted temporary protection visas to 42 Papuans on 23 March 2006, much of the Indonesian press was highly annoyed. Their reports demonstrate a number of continuing themes in Indonesian thinking about Australia, particularly suspicions about Australia and its government. Frequent themes: that Australia had insulted Indonesia, had been unfriendly, showed lack of trust in the Indonesian president, demonstrated inconsistency, betrayed the help Indonesia gave to Australia in entering the East Asian community, and undermined Indonesian sovereignty.

Rakyat Merdeka (RM) saw the Howard government as trying to make capital out of the situation in Papua, for the government's 'private interests'. When the Australian replied to RM's famous 'two dingos' cartoon, RM said that the 'vulgar caricature' had insulted the Indonesian President and the entire Muslim community of Indonesia. RM reported a spokesman from the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, MMI) as saying that Australia had 'trodden the Indonesian nation's self respect underfoot', and that the visas were part of Australia's strategy to internationalise the Papua issue.

An article by nationalist politician Eros Jarot said Mr Howard showed double standards on human rights, 'shouting' about rights in East Timor and Papua, whereas he should be shamed by the situation at home. Howard was still lost in a dream of Australia as a part of Europe, and chose to act as an active agent for America in the Asia-Pacific region. Therefore, the Howard government had a working agenda of trying to create instability in Indonesia. Jarot blames Indonesian politicians for bad and fractured leadership, and accuses Howard of knowing this, and of being able to use local Indonesian issues to destabilise Indonesia and its people. This is part of Howard's ambition to make Australia the super-power of Southeast Asia.

There was a call in Kompas for Indonesian waters to be blocked to Australian ships and cargoes. An article in Suara Merdeka suggested that the refugees had been paid by the CIA, and that the visas were early signs of Australia's plans to detach Papua from Indonesia, most likely with a green light from its 'big boss', Uncle Sam.

There were counter voices in papers including The Jakarta Post, Kompas and Jawa Pos. These tended to warn against excessive anger, emotional over-response, precipitate action, and the need to find an outside scapegoat. There were some frank references to Indonesian brutality in Papua, and the need to do better by Papuans. In Media Indonesia, former president Abdurrachman Wahid said 'Don't blame others, blame ourselves', and called for introspection.

So, there is a range of views in the Indonesian press about Papua, naturally, but on this occasion the voices angry with Australia were much the loudest. The dominant note was that 'Australia' is unrealistic, rude, unfriendly, dishonest, awful; that there are hidden political and religious motives; and that Australians are convicts, barbarians and arrogant. Australian diplomacy has a hard road ahead.

Jakarta has called for a summit meeting between PM John Howard and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to discuss what Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer has called a crisis in relations.

WATCHPOINT: A summit in May 2006? How will it be covered in both countries?


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