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Thursday, 18 November 1993
Page: 3170

Senator LOOSLEY (4.40 p.m.) —I present the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled Australia's relations with Indonesia, together with the transcript of evidence. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

  Leave granted.

Senator LOOSLEY —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

This report of the joint committee endeavours for the first time in the history of the Australian parliament to define Australia's relations with Indonesia broadly and to explore that relationship in detail. The report reflects a very determined effort by the committee to write a comprehensive document covering the totality of Australian-Indonesian relations. I think the detail of the 14 chapters and recommendations serve to underline that determination on the part of the committee.

  The report acknowledges the history of the relationship from the postwar period to the present. It acknowledges the fact that, along with relations with Japan and the United States, Australian-Indonesian relations are among our most important bilateral concerns. The report makes very clear and definite recommendations. I will endeavour to deal with some of the major ones later, especially in the fields of education and culture, defence cooperation and political ties.

  This report represents some 20 months work. I acknowledge at this early time the contribution made by my predecessor, Senator Schacht, and by Dr Andrew Theophanous and Mr Laurie Ferguson from the House of Representatives. Mr Ferguson tabled the report in the House of Representatives earlier today in his capacity as chairman of the foreign affairs subcommittee of the joint committee.

  It is also appropriate at this early time to place on record on behalf of not only the committee as a whole but also the parliament our appreciation of many people in the secretariat who worked so hard on this report—Margaret Swieringa, Judy Middlebrook, Denise Picker, Mearl Price, Margaret Brown and Di Singleton. They all worked on the inquiry in its early stages. Our thanks go to those involved in the later stages or for longer periods—Kate Stark, Elizabeth Robertson and a parliamentary intern, Zoe Chambers. Jane Vincent and Peter Stephens were secretaries, in turn, to the committee. In particular, I place on record the appreciation of the committee—and I believe of the parliament—to Patrick Regan, the secretary of the foreign affairs subcommittee. The performance of those people was utterly outstanding and the report could not have been written without their manifest contribution.

  The joint committee is working its way through a number of inquiries which examine our relations with the countries of our near region. Reports have been tabled previously on the Pacific islands and Papua New Guinea. We have just undertaken to commence a report on Australia's relations with Thailand. The report that is before the Senate this afternoon makes some very firm and unequivocal statements on the universal application of human rights which I believe every Australian would endorse.

  There is no doubt that there has been some improvement in the human rights climate within Indonesia. There is also no doubt that, in respect of Australia's concerns and international obligations, we will continue to make representations at the highest levels from time to time when we believe it is appropriate to draw the attention of the Indonesian government to human rights issues that ought to be subject to focus. It is fair to say that currently Australia-Indonesia relations are at a high watermark. We would like to maintain that circumstance while being able to talk in a very reasoned but very direct manner with the Indonesian leadership about broad matters of mutual interest, concern and obligation.

  It is useful to note at this time that there are currently very good relations, at a personal level, between the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and the President of the Republic and between the foreign ministers of the two countries, and among a great many other Australians and Indonesians. The committee would like to see these kinds of relationships broaden throughout our two societies. We make some recommendations which endeavour to achieve that, particularly in the area of education and cultural linkages.

  There is no doubt that great changes are occurring within Indonesia in a political and economic sense. There is also no doubt that the significance of the President's Indonesian National Day speech should not be underestimated. There is a substantial Australian media contingent now in Jakarta. That presence has been positive and constructive.

  It is a truism to say that the next century will be the century of Asia and the Pacific. I think it is also a truism to say that Australia and Indonesia both have a role to play in that respect, in terms not only of the multilateral agencies but also of the bilateral relationship. The committee trusts that this report is a benchmark by which the relationship between our two countries can be judged, not only in 1993 but also in the years to come, and against which the relationship can be measured in terms of growth and expansion, as well as consolidation and the deepening of the relationship in the decade ahead. I urge all honourable senators to read the committee's recommendations.

  I believe that the report I table this afternoon is significant for two primary reasons: first, because it sets out the unanimous view of the broadest committee of the parliament, a committee that has representation from both Houses, from all the major parties, and from all shades of opinion within the Australian parliament; secondly, because, as I said earlier, the tabling of the report completes the survey of our immediate region that began in 1989 and is now to be extended to cover relations with Thailand.

  For many Australians, quite justifiably, human rights seems to be the issue they think about first in terms of our relationship with Indonesia. As I will endeavour to make clear, this report is about human rights in Indonesia, but it is not exclusively about human rights. It makes recommendations about ways of improving the relationship with that country. Some of those recommendations apply in the human rights area; others do not—they apply in terms of politics, economics, education, the legal system and the culture of our two nations.

  The committee has sought to give its perspective on the issue of human rights in a manner that is consistent with neighbourliness and also with sensitivity. But our position is entirely consistent with our international obligations, with our views and with our values. Because human rights is an issue in the relationship between our two countries it simply cannot be ignored, and the committee was absolutely determined to ensure that this did not happen.

  Australians may care to reflect on the proposition that Indonesia is perhaps more important to us than we are to it. This point was made on a number of occasions during the inquiry. At one time, though, the slightly more comforting observation was made that perhaps we are more relevant to Indonesia than we were five years ago. To further improve this position is one of the many challenges in the relationship, and the committee hopes its recommendations will assist in meeting that challenge. Our recommendations cover a range of issues set out in the inquiry's terms of reference. Some of them were discussed by Mr Ferguson earlier today in the House of Representatives. I will seek leave at the end of my remarks to incorporate the speech he made today.

  There are a few points I would like to make on certain specific aspects of this inquiry. In previous times, Australians had to rely on images of Indonesia that perhaps were somewhat restricted—to wartime experiences, to contacts made during the Second World War, in later times to images of East Timor, and in more recent times to Bali. Press reportage of Indonesian affairs did not do a great deal to extend the knowledge or the sympathy between our two countries beyond coverage of natural disasters. However, this appears to have changed, and changed for the better. When the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio Australia was readmitted to Indonesia two years or so ago, it sent one of its most senior and experienced correspondents to Jakarta. That person was replaced by another equally experienced person. The change has been evident. Moreover, the quantity and, above all, the quality of reportage of Indonesian affairs by the Australian media has improved greatly.

  Over the past few years that improvement in particular can just about be measured. While perhaps it has not yet reached the standard of routine reporting of affairs in Europe, Japan or North America, coverage of events in Indonesia is now more detailed, more consistent and, I would argue, more thoughtful in terms of its assessment and, therefore, its impact. This development has occurred over a period when not all the news from within Indonesia and about Indonesia was positive. While the Indonesian election of June 1992, for example, was not controversial, the same can never be said of the response to the killings in Dili just over two years ago. Those killings, rightly, caused outrage.

  I should, however, mention that the timing of the tabling of the report has everything to do with the parliamentary timetable. The committee's determination to finish the inquiry this year, in terms of the timing of its delivery this afternoon, is not related to the tragedy in Dili. That there could be reportage of Indonesian affairs of the sort we are now seeing, especially from Australian foreign correspondents located in Jakarta and elsewhere in the country, is an indication that the old picture of an inflexible military-dominated regime, as it often was painted in the past, is now disappearing, if it has not altogether disappeared.

  Indonesia is changing, and some of the dimensions of the changes that have occurred over recent years were clear to those committee members fortunate enough to visit the country in October 1992. This study tour by 10 members was a notable part of the inquiry process. Those who were fortunate enough to travel to Indonesia visited Jakarta, East Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, Surabaya, West Timor, Ambon and Jayapura. Although time was limited, use of a dedicated RAAF aircraft ensured that the party saw as much of the country as was practical in the time limit.

  The emphasis during the tour was on looking at Australia's involvement in the eastern provinces of Indonesia and examining Australian activities, such as mining and joint ventures. The value of the study tour to this report cannot be underestimated. While it is a pity that the party was not able to visit East Timor, it did give members the opportunity to see a great amount of the rest of the republic and to speak to ministers, research bodies, provincial governors, officials and business people. The benefits of the study tour can be seen throughout the report. The committee is of the view that the report gained immeasurably as a result of that direct experience. We also believe that to produce a report of this sort without at least some members visiting the country to make specific examinations would have strained the committee's credibility.

  I would like to use this occasion to thank the Indonesian government for the assistance given during that visit. The committee is also very aware of the contribution made to Indonesian-Australian relations by His Excellency Mr Sabam Siagian, the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia.

  This inquiry received over 200 submissions and held 18 public hearings. We took evidence from a number of government organisations and from many individuals with interests in things Indonesian and with specialist knowledge of that country. Many of the submissions were of a very high quality. In particular, the various responses by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were of a uniformly high standard. Some other Commonwealth departments distinguished themselves by the ordinariness of their contributions—at least one by the agonising slowness of its response. I believe that 13 months or more is too long to take to provide material promised by senior officers at a public hearing. It is not appropriate to mention names, but the committee is aware of which agencies fall into particular categories. Parliamentary committees have a role to play in scrutiny of Commonwealth activities. They are, therefore, somewhat more than a nuisance for one or two departments to cope with in their normal activities. This simple fact does not seem to have been universally understood, or recognised, or appreciated.

  Before concluding my all too brief remarks on this important report, there is another topic related to administration of committees with which I would like to deal in my capacity as chairman of the joint committee. I paid tribute earlier to the yeoman service given by the men and women of the committee secretariat. I think every honourable senator would be aware that, without the staff of the various secretariats, parliamentary committees simply would not function. Without the skills and dedication of committee staff, committees would not function as well as they do. Staffing does not seem to have very much to do with workload or the pressures generated by particular inquiries. That was certainly true of this inquiry. In many cases it seems that staffing bears little or no relationship to workload. Compared to the resources provided to congressional committees in the United States Congress, our committees are significantly understaffed and under-resourced.

  Of course, we still demand full programs, well-run hearings and high quality reports finalised within very tight deadlines. It is not unreasonable to make demands on staff, but I wonder whether the demands we make as senators and members of the House of Representatives, unrelated to the resources provided, are not beginning to reach excessive heights.

  The theme of this report is opportunity and challenge. The two run together because there are so many opportunities to develop what already exists in the Australian-Indonesian relationship, while not allowing difficulties to dominate that relationship. There is considerable goodwill on both sides which can and ought to be harnessed for the benefit and improvement of the relationship as it currently exists.

  The activities of the Australia-Indonesia Institute, concentrating as it does on people-to-people contact, have done much to benefit the relationship overall. Many witnesses commented favourably about the institute and its work. I add my voice on behalf of the committee to those favourable references. It is, therefore, a matter of some concern that the financial and staffing resources of the institute have been reduced since it was established in 1989. It is not enough that bodies such as the institute exist. For them to be effective and to honour the commitment to relationships with other countries implicit in their existence, resources must be made available. We have, therefore, recommended a reaffirmation of support on the part of the Australian government to the work of the institute.

  This is a substantial report about a very significant neighbour. Many people have made a contribution to it, and the committee is grateful for all those individual contributions. When dealing with a subject as complex as another country and our relationship with it, it is not possible to write everything that people would like to write. Nor, in any event, is it appropriate for us, as outsiders, to try to encompass everything about another people—another nation—between two covers. Because of the volume of evidence and ultimately some limitation on the size of this document, it will probably not be difficult for those who expressed their views to find what they believe are omissions or perhaps even distortions. This report will not, and cannot, please everyone who reads it, but I do believe that it will stand the test of time, scrutiny and evaluation.

  At the commencement of my remarks I talked about human rights in Indonesia. In closing, I want to return to that subject, the most difficult and sensitive in the relationship. I raise it again, not simply to give it prominence—for it deserves prominence—but to address it, to accept that there are different views on this subject in our two countries from time to time. There can be, and there are, warm and fruitful contacts between Australia and Indonesia in a wide range of fields. Provided that the goodwill continues on both sides, as I believe it will, those contacts will improve, broaden and strengthen. Such goodwill seems to be very much in evidence at present and it is up to both countries, to both governments and to our two peoples, to ensure that that goodwill is not in any way dissipated.

  If Australia and Indonesia cannot accommodate differences of opinion from time to time about certain matters for the good of the whole relationship, then that relationship cannot develop in accordance with the hopes and aspirations of our two peoples. This report has sought to recommend ways of broadening and strengthening our relationship. As I said a short while ago, I believe this report will stand not only the test of time, but also the demands of the future for the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. I commend the report to the Senate and seek leave to incorporate Mr Ferguson's remarks in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows

The report I have just tabled completes the Committee's survey of the countries in Australia's immediate region. This survey entailed the 1989 South Pacific countries report and the 1991 report on Papua New Guinea.

This report into relations with Indonesia results from a reference to the Committee on 20 June 1991. In its activity, the Committee received over 200 submissions, and held 18 public hearings in various capital cities and one in Broome, WA. The report makes 36 recommendations about the relationship with Indonesia.

The Committee also received a reference to examine the 1990/91 and 1991/92 annual reports of the Australia-Indonesia Institute.

Before outlining some of the more significant recommendations in our report, I would like to make some more general comments on the relationship this country has with Indonesia.

While the current relationship is open and positive, it has not always been this way. There are still issues of the greatest sensitivity which must be dealt with on a regular basis. Rather than concentrating on the difficulties of the past, the Committee has sought to emphasise ways to broaden and deepen what currently exists.

While our two nations do have contrasts, these differences should not be over-emphasised.

One of the differences which is significant is the major role played by the Armed Forces in Indonesia, compared with the role of the Defence Force in Australia. Because of the role the Indonesian Armed Forces played in the struggle against the Dutch after 1945, they have a special place in Indonesian society. A significant number of positions are reserved for military representatives in the Parliament. Many officers work outside what we might consider formal military structures. The military have an important nation-building role, in addition to the one we would recognise.

It seems, at times, that it was easier to concentrate on the differences, rather than on the similarities. Reactions on both sides to the actions of the other have sometimes smacked of xenophobia.

It has also been easy to ignore or play down the similarities and the things which bring Indonesia and Australia together.

In a regional context, the two nations have outlooks which are surprisingly similar. For example, we both value the concepts of `self reliance' or `national resilience'. Moreover, Australia and Indonesia share fundamental security interests in a strong, politically stable and economically dynamic region, free from the involvement of external powers with interests inimical to our region.

Indonesia is a central player in ASEAN, consistent with having the largest population and GDP. The ASEAN Secretariat is located in Jakarta. Australia is one of ASEAN's seven Dialogue Partners and meets annually at Ministerial and official level to discuss economic and a range of other issues. In recent years, Australia has aspired to an acceptance of a closer relationship on these fronts.

Although still cautious about the way APEC might develop, Indonesia has shown a lively interest in a range of matters involving that body. It is an active contributor to several of the APEC work projects and has provided valuable support to Australian activities.

Indonesia and Australia have cooperated in other international matters such as initiatives for a settlement to the Cambodian tragedy, and on the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations. Indonesia's international role has been augmented by its leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement and its re-election to the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights.

Fortunately, it is not now difficult to provide a range of examples of cooperation and ties between Indonesia and Australia, in both regional and multilateral matters. One of the more surprising features of this inquiry was discovering just how many and deep these ties are. The relationship has grown and developed substantially over the past five years or so. The intensity and diversity of State-provincial connections also impressed the Committee.

The welcome the Study Tour, by ten members of the Committee, received throughout Indonesia in October 1992 was clear evidence of Indonesia's interest in Australia. Members were generally impressed by the willingness of Indonesian authorities to enter into dialogue on matters of Committee interest.

As this report makes clear, there are many opportunities for Australia in the relationship with Indonesia: in trade, education and technology particularly. The defence links are very concrete, and significant personal relationships have arisen through exchanges and visits of the Service personnel of each country.

The flow of tourists between the two countries is, perhaps fortunately, now more two-way than it used to be and not only to/from Bali. Thanks in part to the work of the Australia-Indonesia Institute, people-to-people contact has increased. Some high level cultural programs and exchanges are also taking place.

All of these positive developments bode well for the relationship and it is pleasing to document them briefly in this House.

Inevitably, during any discussion of relations with Indonesia, the issue of human rights is raised. This issue engendered the greatest amount of interest in the inquiry. Many witnesses with deep interests in these matters made valuable contributions. The Committee has made a number of recommendations on this subject.

Two major concerns guided our considerations.

The first was the recognition of the limits of national sovereignty, together with the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.

The second was an earnest desire not to sermonise or be offensive while, at the same time, being fully aware that many Australians are deeply and justifiably distressed about general and specific abuses of human rights in Indonesia. To ignore the strong input of the evidence on human rights in Indonesia would also deny a significant strand in Australian foreign policy.

In this report, there are a number of references to an earlier report by this Committee: A Review of Australia's Efforts to Promote and Protect Human Rights. It provided a useful reference point on these issues and a valid framework for our ideas on human rights in Indonesia. That also was a unanimous report. It is reasonable to point out that, in that report, the Committee was critical of some aspects of human rights in Australia; it was tabled in December 1992.

Our major recommendation in this matter is that the Australian Government should continue to make representations about the principles and practice of human rights in Indonesia. East Timor, Irian Jaya and Aceh are areas of special concern. We have also recommended the re-opening of the Australian Consulate in Dili. The Committee believes this would be a recognisable and diplomatic statement of Australia's concerns about East Timor and provide the Australian people with worthwhile information of any advances in this matter. It was unfortunate that the Study Tour could not enter East Timor.

The other subject which generated a great amount of evidence was fishing by Indonesian nationals off the north and north west coasts of Australia.

Many of those who fish illegally have been forced to do so because of economic necessity. Some species have been so over-fished in Indonesian waters that it is understandable that attempts are made to seek stock in southern waters.

The 1974 Memorandum of Understanding with Indonesia was negotiated to solve a number of problems. Among other things, it governs the right of traditional Indonesian fishermen to visit and fish in waters on the outer edge of the Continental Shelf.

Since then, other situations have arisen and the MOU does not deal with all categories of fishermen who should be considered as `traditional.' Moreover, arrangements for fishermen of both nations in the Arafura Sea are not satisfactory.

We have recommended a thorough examination of all aspects of Indonesian fishing in Australian waters:

  to renegotiate the MOU with Indonesia;

  to define `traditional' fishermen more appropriately; and

  to arrive at more satisfactory arrangements for fishermen in the Arafura Sea.

While we made a number of suggestions about human rights and fisheries matters, we also made recommendations to encourage Australian business in Indonesia.

In this area, we recommended that the Australia-Indonesia Business Council and the Chambers of Commerce and Industry be involved in the distribution of a publication: Austrade's Business Guide to Indonesia. The Committee has also recommended that an Australian consulate be opened in Surabaya in East Java, an area of growing importance to Australian business in Indonesia.

It was, however, in the scientific/educational field that the Committee made the greatest number of recommendations.

Principal among these was a proposal that there be consultation with Indonesian authorities about providing additional resources to schools in the eastern provinces of Indonesia.

During the inquiry, we took evidence about the importance of the existence of the Australian Studies Centre at the University of Indonesia in providing Indonesians with the knowledge to explain Australia and its ways to other Indonesians.

The eastern provinces of Indonesia are significant recipients of Australian development assistance. In addition, because of the proximity of Darwin to such places as Ambon, there are already other connections between these provinces and Australia.

We have therefore recommended that there be a study of the costs and feasibility of establishing an Australian Studies Centre in the eastern provinces. If the outcome of this study is favourable, we believe there should be an approach to an appropriate university in these provinces to assist in the establishment of such a centre.

The Australia-Indonesia Institute was set up in 1989, among other things, to increase people-to-people contact. Members were concerned to discover that, not only has it to cope with the same allocation of funds as in 1989, but it now also has to pay for the printing of its Annual Report and for administrative expenses incurred in supporting its Board. Of greater concern is a proposal to reduce the Institute's dedicated staff from four to two. The Director's position, which would be downgraded as part of this proposal, has been vacant since February 1993.

The Committee does not regard this as a satisfactory state of affairs for an Institute central to our continuing relationship with a neighbour which the Government itself acknowledges is of crucial importance.

Although there are now a number of such bodies within the Department of Foreign Affairs, their future effectiveness is by no means certain. To restrict their activities by limiting their funds and staffing makes a mockery of their existence.

We have recommended that there be a strong re-affirmation of support for the Institute, its staff and programs, and that its funding be increased to offset the additional costs it now has to absorb.

This was a long inquiry on an important neighbour. My colleagues and I hope that it will be received as a thoughtful contribution to the relationship.

We also hope that the Government's response will not be tinged with the patronising overtones which were detectable in the response to the Committee's 1991 report on relations with Papua New Guinea.

Finally, as is customary, I would like to thank all the staff, past and present, of the Secretariat who worked on this inquiry. We owe them a debt for the standard of their work, and for their dedication to the Parliament.

I commend this report to the House.