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Wednesday, 23 June 1999
Page: 7253

Mr MARTIN (7:45 PM) —Tonight I would like to pay tribute to a couple of colleagues who recently joined me in representing Australia as an observer of the Indonesian elections. Not wanting to put too fine a point on it, I think it was a tremendous experience and opportunity for us members of parliament who take for granted democracy in this country and the fact that Australians get an opportunity regularly to express a free and fair vote for whom they want to govern them. Yet, in the case of Indonesia, the opportunity for 102 million voters to go to the polls and not feel intimidated while freely expressing their will for one of the 48 political parties that stood in those elections I think cannot be understated.

I was stationed at Mataram at west Nusa Tenggara and was accompanied by Senator O'Chee, Senator Woodley and two officials from the Australian bureaucracy, Richard Mathews from Foreign Affairs and John Willmot from the Department of Defence. In the course of our stay there, we took the opportunity of meeting with officials from the major political parties, with what I guess we would call the Electoral Commission, with people who were going to oversight any disputes sitting as a court of disputed returns. We met with villagers, party workers and some of the 220,000-odd domestic observers who were there.

We participated in the elections themselves by being at a number of polling stations on 7 June to witness for ourselves the excitement and pent up desire of the Indonesians in wanting to express their will freely and fairly as to the sort of government they wanted for the future. It really was an exciting opportunity because, on polling day here in Australia, I—like you, Mr Speaker, I am sure—travel around my electorate and observe in schools and community halls party workers handing out how-to-vote cards and so on. In the case of Indonesia, that is banned. That is not a bad idea actually. But, nevertheless, it is banned.

However, we observed people there from very early in the morning at the polling stations. The polling stations often were under palm trees, with pieces of bamboo holding up some plastic sheeting to cover the polling officials and, at the same time, very importantly, the pot of indelible ink that the voters had to dip their fingers in after having voted so that they could not come back and vote again. We witnessed polling booths themselves often having been made out of banana leaves with some other material—probably, in many cases, somebody's curtain from their front window—draped across to give privacy when people voted.

The method of voting in Indonesia was such that they would take the ballot paper, which had the 48 symbols of the political parties on it, they would go into the privacy of the polling booth, often raising their hands in triumph to the many of their well-wishers and villagers who surrounded them, and when they were inside, using a nail and a hammer, they put a hole in the ballot paper through the party symbol that they wanted to support. When the count occurred later that afternoon, the ballot paper was held up to the light to check for the light shining through the hole and a vote was then recorded for that political party. Interestingly, when the vote took place in the afternoon, literally hundreds of villages and observers were there to see that nothing went awry.

I can say that, from our observations with our group, it was free, it was fair and it was an expression of opportunity for Indonesians. I think as time unfolds and the count is finalised—not being delayed because of any malpractice but simply because of their trying to get it right in that this is the first time and their electoral officials are inexperienced—we will see democracy well and truly emerge in that country. In the past, if you wanted to know the result of the Indonesian elections, you went to the police station on the night of the vote. These days, and rightly so, we are finding polling officials ensuring that a free and fair result will emerge. What that means down the track in terms of the President of Indonesia, of course, will rely on a further ballot in November. I look forward to the results of that election to come and the results of the general election in Indonesia. It was a great pleasure to be there. I would like to thank Senator Alan Ferguson as leader of our delegation and the government for sending us there. (Time expired)