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Most Australians don't understand Indonesia: Former diplomat

Richard Woolcott AC (right) with Frank Brennan

Date: 31 July 2006

In a paper to be delivered at the Uniya Seminar Series in Melbourne this Wednesday, former Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott will argue that “well-intentioned advocates of human rights” do not always appreciate diplomatic constraints.

“We need always to keep in mind, on both sides of the Arafura Sea, that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is a complex and fragile one between two very different societies. It requires a continuing and special effort to sustain the relationship,” Mr Woolcott will tell the audience at a seminar titled, “Good Neighbour, Bad Neighbour. What’s the difference?”

Comparing Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations to a rope that is made up of both positive and negative strands, he says in diplomacy there will always be tensions between principle and expediency and the “constraints imposed by existing realities.”

Mr Woolcott, who is the former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia (1975-78) when Jakarta invaded East Timor, will deliver his lecture at a seminar organised by the Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre at the historic Xavier College in Kew, east of Melbourne.

Acknowledging “well-intentioned advocates of human rights and civil liberties [have] genuine concerns”, he says that a close relationship with Indonesia despite its human rights problems should not be seen as “appeasement, as some commentators” suggest, but it is “practical common sense and a recognition of the realities stemming from our place on the globe” to work for a close relationship with Indonesia.

Mr Woolcott will speak alongside Damien Kingsbury, Associate Professor at Deakin University who was the adviser to the Free Aceh Movement in the 2005 Helsinki peace talks, and Fr Frank Brennan, Professor at the Australian Catholic University and former Director of Uniya and the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor.

“Those who believe that the West Papuans were duded in 1969 by the so-called Act of Free Choice and that they should exercise self-determination, are unlikely to see eye to eye with those who believe that any further fragmentation, after East Timor, of the territorial integrity of the State of Indonesia must be avoided in the national interest,” he said.

Controversy erupted earlier this year over a decision by the Australian government to grant temporary protection visas to 42 asylum seekers from Papua. The decision sent Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations plunging to a new low and prompted some human rights and church groups to call for greater autonomy or independence for Papua.

However, bilateral relations slowly improved following Australia’s move to amend refugee laws which would prevent future Papua asylum seekers from applying for protection on-shore.

“Just as we do not allow our relations with China to be dominated by legitimate concerns about Tibet, Taiwan and the mistreatment of members of the Falun Gong sect; and just as we should not have allowed our close alliance with the United States to draw us into a costly, unnecessary, destructive and distant war in Iraq, we must not allow our relations with Indonesia to be held hostage to those who seek the unrealistic goal of an independent West Papua,” Mr Woolcott will argue.

The Uniya Seminar Series were first held in 1999 to mark 150 years of Jesuit work in Australia. The free seminars are given annually and focus on topical social justice issues.

Please visit www.uniya.org or call (02) 9356 3888 for more information about the seminar.


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Good Neighbour, Bad Neighbour
What's the difference? Australia's relations with Indonesia. Uniya Seminar Series 2006

2 August. 7.30-9.30pm
Speakers: Richard Woolcott, Dr Damien Kingsbury, and Professor Frank Brennan
Venue: Xavier College, Barkers Rd, Kew
All welcome. Entry free but donations (suggested $5/10) welcome. Bookings not required. More Info: (02) 9356 3888 or http://www.uniya.org.

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National schedule

Melbourne - 2 August: Assoc Prof Damien Kingsbury, Richard Woolcott and Prof Frank Brennan. Venue: Xavier College, Barkers Rd, Kew

Wollongong - 8 August: Duncan Campbell, Prof Adrian Vickers and Prof Frank Brennan.
Venue: Edmund Rice College Hall, 112 Mount Keira Rd, West Wollongong

Sydney - 16 August: Sidney Jones, Prof Peter King and Prof Frank Brennan.
Venue: Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, 700 Harris St, Ultimo

Adelaide - 22 August: Dr John Bruni, John Martinkus and Prof Frank Brennan. Venue: St Ignatius’ Parish, 137 William St, Norwood

All sessions from 7.30-9.30pm

Media contact: Mary Bryant on (02) 9356 3888



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