The Guardian • Issue #2092

Serious revelations at South Australian West Papua meeting

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2092

Photo: Ethical Photography – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The recent Australia West Papua Association of South Australia (AWP SA) annual general meeting heard about the  infamous 1969 “act of free choice” which ultimately condemned West Papua to Indonesia’s brutal control.

Under freedom of information, copies of telegrams sent to the Australian government from Indonesia were released. These contained a request to delay West Papuan emissaries who needed to travel through the Australian controlled section of New Guinea in order travel to New York to report to the United Nations on the voting procedures arranged by the Indonesian authorities. Obligingly, Australia under the Gorton government detained the Papuans long enough to cause them to miss the important UN session that determined the fate of the former Dutch territory. Had the Papuans been able to reveal the undemocratic, in fact intimidatory, nature of the voting procedure, their future may well have been marked with a much greater degree of freedom.

Under the “act of no choice,” as the “Act of Free Choice” is also known, 1025 voters in total representing thousands in the territory, about an estimated 800,000, voted in small groups, in eight separate regions across the territory. Voters were surrounded by well-armed soldiers, and forced to vote, usually publicly by a show of hands. Thus a unanimous result favouring Indonesia was achieved.

Today Indonesia promotes a benign image of trying to help West Papuans, but this involves obvious intimidation, for example, soldiers are frequently present in school classrooms and the Indonesian military dominates Papuan daily life, except for those who flee to the mountainous regions where greater freedom is found but community services are non-existent.


Australian collusion knows no bounds, and there is a long shameful history of military cooperation. Furthermore, in perpetuating the deception over the Balibo Five, Australian journalists who were killed in Timor L’Este, Australia colluded with the United States in the deception that the journalists were killed in cross-fire during the invasion when, in fact, they were murdered well beforehand so that they could not report on the atrocities that were likely to happen. Tribute was paid to Shirley Shackleton, especially for her life-long efforts in exposing the deception.

It was suggested that, internationally, a key role could be played by the Melanesian Congress, through lead nations such as Vanuatu in advocacy for a Papuan nation. In any case, the collusion of the United States and Australia needs to be exposed, and even sanctions applied, because our nation’s complicity in deception along with Indonesia.


AWPA has played a vital part in supporting West Papuan students by raising $40,000 to assist them when the Indonesian government suddenly withdrew funding for students around the world. Exposure is greatly feared, especially of such practices as ethnic cleansing, as visits from United Nations rapporteurs are delayed and journalists are restricted from entry into West Papua.

Further alarming revelations came from Dr Jim Elmslie, an authority on West Papuan Politics, who heads the West Papua Project based at the University of Wollongong. The project has undertaken a special program known as West Community Resilience Initiative (WPCRI).

This initiative is focused on the provision of training in the collection of verifiable information on the conflict between West Papua and Indonesia and the recording of the personal stories, especially of the IDPs (Internationally Displaced Persons). The information gathered will help get desperately needed assistance from national and international religious and humanitarian agencies.


World attention has turned to the increasing violence and militarisation in West Papua as the Indonesian government under former President Joko Widodo continued the “developmental” push to build the Papuan Highway through the highlands. Clearly, with such a dubious human rights record, no future improvements in surveillance practices can be expected from the newly elected Indonesian President, 72-year-old Prabowo Subianto, whose record includes being a commander of the notorious Kopassus section of the Indonesian military in Timor Leste and conducting repisals against OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or Free Papua Movement) in West Papua. Papua Merdeka, Free Papua Movement). On one occasion in attacking a supposedly OPM-sympathetic village he deceptively used a military helicopter disguised as a Red Cross aircraft to launch a brutal attack on innocent people.

Papua has now been divided into five new provinces as part of a strategy calculated to increase external migration into West Papua in order to diminish indigenous influence, along with a deliberate strengthening of security forces through new military bases in every province.

Many West Papuan people have been both internally and internationally displaced. Initiatives in community assistance and capacity building from benevolent organisations are virtually banned, and numerous visit requests by the United Nations Human Rights Commission have been consistently delayed by the Indonesian government.

In attempts to flee a life-threatening situation, refugees making the difficult crossing into Papua-New Guinea naturally put pressure on local communities there as well as the central government and so these Papuan refugees face further distress.


Obviously, through strong active community campaigning, the West Papua Association is playing a vital role in assisting West Papuans to achieve their goal of independent nationhood and exposing the continuing attempts to stall the justice and independence that West Papuan people rightly deserve.

Australia West Papua Association, South Australia.

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