Canberra returns to discredited Indonesia policy
BY PIP HINMAN
The federal government is secretly trying to return to the widely discredited "special relationship" with the Indonesian government, developed by both Labor and Liberal parties during the 32-year reign of Suharto. And it is doing it at a time when the most anti-democratic and corrupt forces that remain from the Suharto dictatorship are making a serious come-back.
This was bought home very starkly to those of us who were unlawfully detained in the secret police lock-up in central Jakarta on June 8, after the raid on the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference.
Thirty-two foreigners, 18 of whom carried Australian passports, were all trying to contact our respective consular officials.
The first successful contact was made with the New Zealand high commissioner. It was only after about two hours we made contact the Australian embassy officials who, it later transpired, were enjoying their regular Friday evening "happy hour" drinks.
Apparently the embassy officials had first thought the raid had been on a government-sponsored conference underway at Hotel Indonesia — a prestigious hotel built by former president Sukarno. They then found out that it was a little-publicised conference, south of Jakarta, on labour and human rights which was the cause of the heavy-handed police raid.
By around 11pm that same day, the police intelligence "crisis room", where we were being held, resembled a mini-Unied Nations. Embassy officials from Germany, Thailand, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Britain and Australia were all getting details from their respective citizens.
The New Zealand official said this was clearly political harassment.
The German official, having heard what had happened, immediately declared that the police had no legal basis to detain us. He was clearly anxious and agitated.
The Thai officials were similarly solicitous and helped escort a handful of people from the police station at 2am on June 9 to a hotel.
The other detainees stayed behind in solidarity with the Indonesian conference director, Kelik Ismunanto, who the police were interrogating and with those foreign participants who didn't have their passports with them when we were detained.
Very quickly it became clear that the rest of the consular officials, with the exception of the French (who didn't even turn up on the first day of detention), had a different approach from the Australians.
The Australian officials were present — at least two for most of the time — but they were advising us to do whatever the police requested, including to be interviewed separately, to be fingerprinted and to be deported.
They took exception to our insistence that we have our lawyers and a translator present at every interview, telling us that the lawyers were giving us the wrong advice and obstructing an expedited passage through the police station.
They discouraged us from speaking to the media, trying to frighten us with whispers about the unspecified possible consequences of upsetting the police.
It might be argued that the Australian embassy was simply trying to get us out of detention as fast as possible, even if it meant us being deported.
But we had different objectives. We wanted to be freed, but not without helping in a small way to expose and push back this outrageous assault on democratic rights. In any case, if we had rolled over for the police they could have charged us and detained us for even longer.
The embassy officials' objective was to minimise this whole "incident" so that it wouldn't get in the way of restoring the cosy ties with between the Australian and Indonesian governments.
We were told by the officials that we simply had to "obey the laws" while in Indonesia. Our lawyers, mainly from the Legal Aid Institute of Jakarta, had advised us that we had broken no laws — and that was subsequently confirmed by the Indonesian immigration and foreign affairs ministers. It was the police who were abusing the laws.
Yet the Australian embassy issued a statement to the Indonesian press while we were detained that "Australians in Indonesia had to obey Indonesian law" — the implication being that we had not.
At one point, we were told by the senior official to simply "sign anything" even when it was revealed that the police had made up questions and answers while "transcribing" into Indonesian a questionnaire we filled in.
Not one word was ever said about the police being out of line. Indeed the officials did not want us to have a lawyer present when we checked and signed these statements. "They are not our lawyers", one official assured the police interrogators.
When we, and our lawyers, requested a copy of our signed statements from the police, the embassy official protested that we were being difficult. When we finally had our passports returned, the senior embassy official made it clear he was glad to have us off his hands.
In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was happy to repeat Indonesian police lies that we had obtained the wrong visas. DFAT spokespersons described the raid and unlawful detention of 20 Australians as a "consular matter" and that it was simply a misunderstanding — but on our part.
It was only after it became clear that the police had acted unilaterally without the support of the Indonesian ministers responsible (who subsequently offered an apology to Philip Ruddock), after it became clear that we were not in the wrong, that DFAT said it would seek an explanation from the Indonesian government for the raid and our detention.
It was only on June 12 that the Australian embassy sent an "official note" to the Indonesian authorities "inquiring into the circumstances" of the raid, and asking "advice for the reasons of the detention".
Editorials in the Australian, an opinion piece by Hamish McDonald in the Sydney Morning Herald and outraged comments by conservative talk-back show hosts like Mike Carlton reveal that a return to the old "special relationship" is deeply unpopular in Australia.
Despite all this, there has still not been a retraction of DFAT's pro-secret police line by foreign minister Alexander Downer.
In Indonesia, the raid on the Sawangan conference has led to a groundswell of unity among NGOs and democratic forces, determined to use this incident against the right-wingers trying to make a come-back.
Something similar needs to happen here, if government attempts to resurrect the "special relationship" are to be halted.
The government's motives this time around are the same as before. Before, it did not want to offend Suharto or back East Timor's fight against Indonesian occupation because it wanted access to Indonesia's markets and East Timor's oil.
Now, it does not want Australian business to lose out on the giant market that Indonesia provides for Australian-made goods and services, and so is perfectly willing to back the Indonesian elite whatever it does, even if it restores the repression and corruption of the Suharto era.
While Australian investments in Indonesia are tiny in comparison to those of the US and Japan, the "middle-class" market in Indonesia makes Australian businesses salivate. Even if just 10% of Indonesia's 210 million people get to shop in supermarkets, that's more than Australia's entire population.
This is not simply a Coalition policy, however.
Even Labor's foreign affairs spokesperson Laurie Brereton, the man who claims he isn't afraid to ask the hard questions, hasn't been willing to speak out.
While the ALP did end up supporting the Greens' Senate motion on June 19 which called on Downer to "condemn the police raid and seek an appropriate response from the Indonesian government", Brereton's spokesperson told me that the ALP was "concerned about the wording". It's hard to imagine what in this modest motion caused Brereton to be "concerned".
There should be a "special relationship", but one between the oppressed and exploited in Australia and Indonesia.
There is an important political legacy of the East Timor solidarity movement: the Australian public is deeply suspicious of government policy on Indonesia, having seen the atrocities committed by the Indonesian military and the right-wing death squads. They can see the same forces turning on the democracy activists and workers' movement in Indonesia today.