People to People Conference promotes regional solidarity

Issue 

By Nick Everett

SYDNEY — The People to People Conference held here over the weekend of August 14-15 to discuss issues of common concern to people in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, West Papua, East Timor and Bougainville was attended by some 140 participants.

Conference participants included activists from Indonesia and PNG as well as East Timorese, West Papuans and Moses Havini from the Bougainville Freedom Movement. Australian participants came from a wide range of organisations — Aboriginal rights, environmental and peace groups, trade unions, as well as solidarity organisations such as AKSI (Indonesia Solidarity Action). The conference was convened by a broad organising committee initiated by the Sydney-based Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP).

Conference themes included the environment, women and workers' rights, struggles for national independence in Eat Timor, Bougainville and West Papua, people and culture. Workshops later presented recommendations on issues such as a code of ethics for companies operating in the region, a campaign targeting the role of Australian mining companies in the region, defence of workers' right in Indonesia and possibilities for networking among women's organisations and independence movements in the region.

Max Lane, a member of the conference organising committee, spoke of the significance of this gathering of activists: "This conference is timely given Australia's increased role in the region. While Australia has traditionally had a colonial relation with Papua New Guinea and supported Indonesia's occupation of East Timor since 1975, the current recession has motivated greater penetration of Australian capital into the regional economy. Today a wide range of Jakarta- Canberra collaboration is happening: ministerial exchanges, the Australia Indonesia Business Co-operation Council, officials within the ACTU urging support for SPSI (the government backed official 'trade union'), and there is increased military co-operation between the two countries.

"Unfortunately, however, these forms of co-operation aren't aimed at solving the problems of the peoples of the region but rather are, in fact, a part of the problem. In Indonesia, the major problems that are faced are related to extreme forms of social injustice and lack of basic democratic rights."

The aim of this conference was to bring together activists working at a grass-roots level to discuss ways of collaborating to challenge these injustices. Indonesian activists attending the conference include Didit, representing the Forum for International Solidarity in Indonesia (FISI), Mone, from the Advance Together Foundation (YMB), Rungtri from the Cultural Studies Centre and Eko, from the Komite Rakyat (People's Committee). Representatives from Papua New Guinea included Peti LeFanamu, secretary-general of MelSol — Melanesion Solidarity, Dorothy Tekwe Ortlauf, a project co-ordinator with the UN Development Program and Lucy Goro, from the Maprick District Council of Women.

The conference was also to be attended by Moses Werror, chairperson of the Free West Papua Movement (OPM). However, the Australian government refused to grant him an entry visa. A spokesperson for immigration minister Senator Nick Bolkus, said the day before the conference that Werror's visa application came under the Australian government's "controversial visitor" policy, and the visa had not been issued as Werror "is a member of the OPM". The spokesperson said that the visa hadn't been refused, "it just hadn't been granted".

"I have not said anything bad about Australia," Werror said. "We look to Australia for help with the [West Papua] refugees in the camps in Papua New Guinea. They are thinking about the situation with Indonesia."

In the final plenary session it was decided that conference organisers should work towards convening another People to People conference next year. Participants agreed that the discussion over the weekend had been very fruitful and brought about closer links in a growing solidarity movement.

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