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7 July 1998




“Foreign Minister Downer’s visit to Jakarta tomorrow is welcome, but it falls well short of the level of Australian engagement required in response to In donesia’s ongoing economic and social crisis”, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, said today,


“Mr Downer will be the first Australian Government Minister to visit Indonesia since the installation of the new Indonesian Government in May, but he should have gone to Jakarta weeks ago. Nor should he be going alone. At the very least he should be accompanied by Trade Minister Fischer together with our best and brightest officials, and captains of Australian finance and industry.”


“This is a relationship about which there can be no half measures — and Australia can’t afford well meaning but essentially superficial diplomacy.”


“No one should underestimate the profound economic and social crisis into which Indonesia has descended. It is now expected that Indonesia’s GDP will decline by more than 10 per cent this year. Inflation may exceed 80 per cent. Nearly 80 million people out of a population of 202 million are estimated to be living below the official poverty line compared with 22.5 million in 1996. An Indonesian Government commissioned report released last week states that ‘Indonesia is now confronting one of the most serious food security episodes of the post-independence period’ with at least 32 million people living in households unable to satisfy their basic needs.”


“In these circumstances, what is required from Australia is a strategy of comprehensive engagement starting at the highest levels and working its way down through government, business, the trade union movement and other institutions including our judiciary and Australia’s human rights commission. We should be committing some of our best thinkers, economic and political, to develop a comprehensive program, not only to help Indonesia get through the present difficulties, but to seize the opportunity to build new strategic partnerships - in trade, in investment, in diplomacy, and between our two peoples. Australia should be standing beside Indonesia at every level - and we should be doing so with a level of energy and commitment much greater than that displayed by the Howard Government.”


“A new relationship between Australia and Indonesia must be based on mutual respect which allows clear expression of support for universal human rights and frank dialogue on difficult issues.”


“While recognising the positive steps which have been taken by the new Indonesian Government, Australia should be forthright in urging immediate measures which would encourage reconciliation and build confidence in East Timor, especially unconditional release of Xanana Gusmao and full access to East Timor by international human rights organisations. The Australian Government should be clear about what is likely to be required to achieve a lasting and internationally acceptable resolution of the East Timor conflict — that is a process of negotiation through which the people of East Timor can exercise their right of self-determination. The sooner this reality is recognised, the more likely real progress toward a lasting settlement can be made.”


“Nor can human rights issues elsewhere in Indonesia be neglected. In the light of reports of violence in Irian Jaya, Mr Downer should make urgent and forthright representations seeking the facts concerning recent occurrences and urging the Indonesian Government to allow unhindered access to Irian Jaya by independent media and by humanitarian and human rights organisations.”


Contact:  Philip Dorling (02) 6277 4717 or 0416 203 058