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Good Neighbours, Bad Neighbours book launch

Julie Morgan*

Book launch: Good Neighbours, Bad Neighbours: Australia’s Relations with Indonesia
Kings Cross, Sydney
1 December 2006

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, to pay respects to them and their ancestors, to also acknowledge other Indigenous people here today, and in acknowledging all indigenous peoples I hope that we are reminded yet again of the imperative to stand beside the first Australians in their struggle for recognition, justice and the full respect of their human rights.

It is a pleasure to launch the collected essays that form the Jesuit Seminar Series on the relationship between Indonesia and Australia. I’ve been told that it’s not often in Church history that a Franciscan (even a de facto one!) has been asked to launch a Jesuit publication, so indeed it’s an historic occasion. But we know of course that this invitation springs from the commitment to the people of Indonesia and West Papua that the Franciscans and the Jesuits share. And so from the beginning tonight - on December 1st the day which was traditionally celebrated in West Papua with the raising of the Morning Star flag - I acknowledge out loud and in the light of one of the recurring themes of this book of collected essays – the issue of West Papua.

It seems that throughout the book the ‘problem of Papua’ seems to sneak out of the shadows created by each essayist in their attempt to cast light on Indonesia and on Australia. And of course, along with West Papua other problems emerge when one speaks of Indonesia and tragically we know these wounds by heart now because of the brutal human rights abuses in East Timor, Aceh and Ambon and we know the perpetrators of these wounds, the TNI, who are so menacingly present in this book. But we know too that as Australians these wounds have often been swept away as unacceptable to the national interest. But fortunately we are a group of social justice enthusiasts, advocates for the truth and so our concerns are not purely with Australian foreign policy as a discipline worth reading about but with the scars that result from that foreign policy on the backs of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Tonight in following the tradition that is appropriate in launching a new book into the universe I will, of course, exhort you to buy that book, read it, and then buy multiple copies to give away as Christmas presents! But tonight - because of the nature of this collection - there is also an equally ardent exhortation to engagement: engagement with the people of Indonesia and West Papua, the exhortation to go there, visit, listen and learn from the Indonesian and the Papuan people about their deepest desires for respect and dignity, health, education and development – and indeed their desire for merdeka - self-determination.

If you had the good fortune to attend one of the seminars - or of course when you buy the book - one of the first things you’ll acknowledge is the bravery and sheer audacity of such provocative pairings! As I read their essays I wished once again that I’d been in Melbourne to hear Damien Kingsbury and Richard Woolcott on the same stage! Well done Uniya for pushing us to think again about what one needs to do to redeem oneself! But apart from provocation the Uniya Director and staff are to be congratulated on their capacity to bring together such a diverse array of thinkers and to stimulate the Australian community to think more deeply about, and engage more ethically with, the marvelous differences in our common humanity.

In assembling the speakers and in collating their contributions Uniya offers us perspectives from academics and diplomats with deep experience in Australian foreign policy and Indonesian politics. We have much to learn as we turn the pages and many, many times I found myself nodding in agreement with the wiser writers. There are common threads which tie the essays together and to which we advocacy enthusiasts would readily agree such as the reminder that Indonesia has done extraordinarily well in emerging from the unparalleled carnage and brutality of the Suharto years to become a democracy which is surviving if not yet thriving. Many of the speakers clearly want us to give credit where credit is due. And to all of us who have Indonesian friends, giving credit is a pleasure for we know how much they have wanted and therefore valued their journey from the darkness imposed by Suharto the so-called ‘Father of Development’.

You might find it surprising but Kingsbury and Woolcott actually agree – well at least on one point – that the contemporary conversation about Indonesia Australia relations must start with the recognition that Indonesia does not pose a military threat to Australia and yet the activities of one of our nearest neighbours do cause enormous trouble and tension. Of course they then disagree about what we should do about those tensions – one asks for further military ties citing pragmatism as the overarching principle of neighbourliness while the other argues that the military is indeed the very pernicious cause of the problems besetting the whole archipelago. Australians can feel secure but conversely many Indonesians do not feel secure about our intentions towards their national sovereignty – not of course because of the threat of hordes of invading slouch hats but because many Australians, and particularly all of us, ask disturbing and penetrating questions about the nature of Timor, Papua, Aceh and the Moluccas in the unified but diversified Indonesia.

Therefore sovereignty is a good place to start the critique which naturally flows after you’ve read the book: sovereignty is mentioned many times but always in the same linear fashion by those Indonesian protagonists who talk about the necessity of understanding Indonesia’s need to protect its territorial integrity. A few months ago I had the privilege of being the only Catholic NGO representative invited to meet the visiting Indonesian parliamentary delegation during their one and only round table closed conversation with NGOS and academics. It was a few months after the Papuan 43 had caused so much trouble and both governments were trying to restore normal levels of diplomacy. We heard many times that afternoon about the necessity of respecting Indonesia’s sovereign rights. On that occasion I had the opportunity to talk with the parliamentarians about the nature of sovereignty from an NGO perspective, that is, that sovereignty might mean rights but it also means responsibility for ensuring the dignity and flourishing of one’s citizens and inhabitants. So while the ‘rights’ that supposedly adhere to borders occupies much of the conversation between and within Jakarta and Canberra, I think it’s our job as NGOs to make sure that we start talking about sovereignty in terms of responsibilities – for when a country for whatever reason abandons its responsibilities for full and equitable human development maybe that’s when neighbours can and should be concerned. To my surprise they agreed with me that criminal negligence, human rights abuses and detainment and containment of indigenous and displaced peoples, the dismissal of civil society and advocacy groups, the concentration of pro-government media ownership and increasing restrictions on media, the growing profile of the military and the increasing dependence on churches and NGOs to provide basic services in health and education and welfare was cause for deep concern. And then we turned our attention to Indonesia. But seriously, the reality of any mature examination of the relationship between Indonesia and Australia means that we have to acknowledge that before we saw ourselves as the Deputy Sheriff imposing law and order we used to see ourselves as offering a model of progressive democracy to Indonesia – when in conscience we ought to acknowledge with deep humility that sorry seems to be the hardest word.

This is of course the best things about this book and the series and again where I congratulate Uniya Director Mary Bryant for her inspired leadership for as organizations involved in shaping and re-shaping the public conversation we are called to ask hard questions about difficult topics but to do so in ways which are participatory. This is clearly Uniya’s place and it is also Mary’s strength for what this book of collected essays offers us is an opportunity to interrupt the public discourse in order to engage with it more constructively and with intelligent compassion. Uniya’s intentions were clearly honoured by Duncan Campbell when he made the astute observation that instead of viewing the relationship with Indonesia as an abstract monolithic reality we should instead focus our attention on the multiplicity of relationships which are possible with Indonesians.

Clearly then there is a place for us at the table even though there were occasions in the book when I despaired about our role as civil society in bringing about systemic change but also in participating in the conversation itself. For example, Richard Woolcott in true style calls for expanded military cooperation between our two countries and then in response to a question from me about how to build civil society Sidney Jones replied that we could try giving scholarships to bright young intellectuals – one could be left despairing about the role of civil society because really it’s all up to military and intellectual elites! What I admire about the approach that Uniya has taken in this series is to take the thorny topic of Indonesia Australia relations right into the space occupied by the vast majority of us, that space between the Canberra elite talking about pragmatism and 2UE talking about Shapelle Corby and the Bali 9.

Without actually naming us, John Bruni and Peter King in their very different contributions remind Australians that Uniya and Franciscans International, Caritas and others are needed and that we must work together and not alone to help build civil society in this country and that at the same time we need to re-commit ourselves to a prolonged and strategic period of building our own bi-lateral relationships between NGOs, Churches, religious orders, and ordinary people here and in Indonesia and West Papua. Leaving the relationship to politicians and the military is not good enough and many of the writers in this book remind us again and again that it is the relationship between ordinary people and community based NGOs which eventually worked for East Timor, much to the chagrin of successive administrations in Jakarta and Canberra.

In his Wollongong address Adrian Vickers offers us the insight that Islam is now regarded in ways reminiscent of the old view of communism and that when the media and others refer to Indonesia as the world’s largest Muslim nation (which it is) they do so mischievously as he sagely points out that this does NOT mean that Indonesia is a Muslim State. Understanding the nuances and the differences provides a space and therefore an opportunity for enlargement and engagement with the vast majority of Indonesians who are just like us - ‘ordinary’ rather than ‘moderate’ in their religious and political identities. One of the insights that Vickers provides that I really like, and this is of course backed up by other writers on West Papua such as Peter Wing and Clinton Fernandes, is that Australia supported Indonesian independence from the Netherlands after the War and therefore a long time before we were dragged into supporting the East Timorese struggle. So one of the ironies in Howard and others arguing that we have no interest in supporting separatism indicates one of two things: either they have a terrible hole in their knowledge of history - or yet again they’re hoping that by telling us often enough that black is white that we’ll agree. Or at least that we’ll give up arguing. Vickers helps us to see the dichotomous and divisive thought of the Prime Minister when he says that “our history is Europe but our geography is Asia”. Which particular history would that be Mr. Howard?

I think the contributions by Duncan Campbell and Tony Kevin are extremely helpful as they voice experienced concerns about the way the relationship between our two countries has been managed and messed up by Canberra over a long period of time and they call us to reconsider the values of respect, decency and care for human rights. It is refreshing to hear their experienced voices decrying so-called pragmatism but it is also sad to realize that their accounts of Australian foreign policy make us realize that for vulnerable people in Timor or Papua Canberra simply cannot be trusted. But in putting the blame squarely at the feet of the politicians they do us a favour for they remind us - without ever blaming us - that we are responsible for the people we elect. So the challenging implication is clear: if we want a better relationship with Indonesia then we must, in paraphrasing John Bruni’s thought-provoking essay keep three things in mind: respect, respect, and respect. Keep it local he seems to say, and don’t allow other geo-political distractions to interfere; keep it personal between real people and not just about the personal relationship between Keating and Suharto, Howard and Yudhoyono; and keep it focused on what can be achieved rather than on amorphous Muslim fanatics.

In my experience the Australian public is genuinely interested in Indonesia and West Papua and that the media both here and abroad are wanting to find out what’s really going on. But they are wary too as much of the profile has been deliberately muddied and the fears are easily massaged. We know from various polls that the Australian community is very interested in the West Papuan story and that the returned soldiers along with others have a very clear memory of history. For example, the media, in Australian and abroad, have peppered my office for comments, for interviews and for back-grounding more this year than ever before. The good news is that we faith based NGO types can provide a glimpse into life in West Papua and we must as it is extremely difficult for the media to gain access.

The serious media is interested in two topics, and they both surface in different ways throughout this book: the issues of genocide and independence. I found it unfortunate that Sidney Jones when acknowledging human rights abuses seemed to downplay their significance because the TNI in her view were getting better. I had to wonder how one measured the ‘significance’ of abuse when it’s happening to you or your family. And of course she is dismissive of the loose talk of genocide by Australian activists. But here I have a problem: for on one hand I think we readily recognize that large scale genocide is difficult to trace – especially if NGOs are hampered from investigating claims and forensic evidence, but on the other hand it seemed pretty clear to me from my brief time in Papua, a time for listening rather than talking, is that it is easy to hear the pain in their voices when they talk about systemic degradation of health facilities, or when they talk about walking for weeks to get to clinics that are no longer staffed, or when they speak of the appalling number of untimely deaths, or when they wonder out loud about the connections between the TNI operated brothels and disproportionate rate of HIV among Papuans rather than the broader Indonesian population. Do the Papuans wonder about genocide? The ones that I listened to were deeply worried and they spoke up openly about their concerns, as they did about their right to self-determination. In fact they floored me by talking about these issues so quickly, so clearly and so passionately. But then again they were ordinary Papuans; so when you get to that part of the book and you read Sidney Jones’ essay, maybe you’ll wonder along with me about the possibility of genocide by attrition. (But to be very clear, the Franciscans are not calling for a genocide investigation nor are they calling for independence from Indonesia but rather they argue that there must be a serious scaling back of the presence and activity of the TNI and that Special Autonomy must be allowed to take root in a genuine way – and of course both these observations about Papua’s present and its future are linked because the whole problem it seems to us is not one of Indonesians in West Papua but of the TNI in West Papua.)

So our concern has to be two-fold as we read this book and as we consider the ways that we can be engaged with Indonesia, with Papua and with our own social justice issues: the language and mechanisms of international human rights must be used by us as our new second nature as this language rightly helps us to place our concerns squarely within a cohesive and consistent concern for the most vulnerable and therefore away from the accusation of bias towards Christian victims. Our consistent and professional use of this language and of the right mechanisms is essential if we are to assist the international community to understand what’s going on and therefore assist vulnerable people to achieve true justice.

Secondly faith based individuals and agencies have a preference for the poorest which must mean that we will not get drawn into false choices between Indonesians OR Papuans. Rather we will and we can love both and engage with both but our preference will mean that we will side always and consistently with the weakest – and for now that means choosing to engage with West Papua no matter what Canberra says. But this is also going to mean some hard choices, for while I love Timor and have definitely left bits of my heart there in over a dozen visits I also recognize that on every second street corner in Dili there’s an Australian NGO worker or Australian nun. But in West Papua you could count us on one hand. The reality is that we as Australian Church, as Australian religious, as Australian NGOs are appalling NOT present in West Papua. Absence rather than presence - keeping the international community at bay – is clearly the deliberate policy of Jakarta and AusAID yet I have to wonder about our naïve complicity in that policy as surely we must also acknowledge that we in the international Catholic community have the greatest natural arm span on the planet – we reach everywhere! So the exhortation to engagement meets a hard choice, a choice which, once again we’re lucky to have because the vast majority of Indonesians and most particularly the Papuans have no choice. So, read this book before the first round of strategic directions planning meetings at the beginning of 2007 and see what you come up with! The need for advocacy is obvious but so too is the need for health, education and development – things that we Catholics are not bad at. And that reminds me that Br Budi Hernawan the Franciscan Friar who is the Director of the Office for Justice and Peace in Jayapura believes that the greatest mistake that the Indonesians made in Papua was to send troops instead of teachers.

Finally when you read Frank Brennan’s final chapter you’ll see that once again the similarities between East Timor and West Papua are abundantly clear and that the conversation between neighbours is more vital than a conversation about the neighbours. Frank recalls that on his last night in Dili back in 1992 Bishop Belo asked him to go home and speak publicly about Timor but to do so without speaking about independence. Instead Belo and Carrascalao urged him to speak of three things: the need to reduce the Indonesian military presence in Timor; the need for greater respect for human rights; and the need for greater cultural autonomy. In my meeting with Bishop Leo Ladjar the Franciscan Bishop of Jayapura the request was virtually word for word. And when Frank said that he knew he was disappointing his Australian audiences by not calling for independence for Timor we too in Franciscans International know that we upset many by also refraining from calling for independence. It therefore seems clear to me that in reading this book we remind ourselves of those who stand in the background both ordinary people and genuine leaders – even though they couldn’t be present on an Australian stage - who have experienced deep trauma and suffering in their own lives for the cause of justice. And in remembering them and honouring their quiet perseverance we recall that it is our role to interrupt much of the public discourse in Australia by bringing the real situation of the ordinary people into the public arena so that their voices will not be silenced by the TNI, nor right wing journalists, nor timid NGOs, nor AusAID, nor by any others who wish to sacrifice Papua in the same way that they tried to sacrifice Timor.

In conclusion, in reading this book and in having the privilege to launch it into your universe today I hope it inspires all of us to create arcs of solidarity where others see arcs of instability, I hope it will challenge you as it challenged me to read the signs of Indonesian reformasi but also to reacquaint ourselves with our own heritage of aggiornamento and see in these approaches the capacity to create space and dialogue, fluidity and plurality – approaches that are needed today as never before. So in exhorting you to buy and read this great book may I also exhort you to meet with ordinary Indonesians, ordinary Muslims, ordinary Papuans just as you now know so many ordinary Timorese and discover in them the extraordinary, and in relating to them as neighbours who share more than geography but also history may we rediscover in ourselves the desire and the capacity for mutuality.

I congratulate the Uniya Director and staff for their insight that we needed this conversation. And on your behalf may I thank them and toast them on their grand accomplishment of creating for us – yet again – the space to dialogue.

Julie Morgan is the Promoter of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation for the Franciscan Friars in Australia

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