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[wp] Labor MPs defy West Papua meeting ban  Tapol
 Feb 28, 2012 07:40 PST 


Labor MPs defy West Papua meeting ban

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By Alexandra Kirk
Updated February 28, 2012 20:43:34
Laurie Ferguson says the West Papuan meeting is long overdue.

    * *Related Story:* Papuan village torched in unrest
    * *Related Story:* Clashes as West Papuans mark independence call
    * *Related Story:* Thousands of West Papuans march for independence
    * *Related Story:* Video shows aftermath of Papua crackdown
    * *Map:* Australia

A small group of Federal Government backbenchers has defied a party
warning by attending an event promoting human rights protection in West
The Greens hosted the launch of the Australia-Pacific chapter of
International Parliamentarians for West Papua in Parliament House today.
West Papua, a province of Indonesia, has been at the centre of a
long-running campaign for independence.
This morning, acting Foreign Affairs Minister Craig Emerson urged caucus
members not to attend the event.
The Greens say Dr Emerson's stance on this issue is cowardly.
Labor backbencher Laurie Ferguson defied Dr Emerson's advice and
attended the launch.
He says he regarded Dr Emerson's urgings as "unprecedented, ridiculous
and ill-informed".
"We're talking about a country where people get 15 years in jail for
raising a flag, where on all common analyses of Indonesian society it is
the second worst province in regards to longevity of people's life,
child, infant mortality, income levels," he said.
Mr Ferguson says there are about 60 West Papuans being held as political
prisoners and there are allegations of heavy militarisation of the province.
"So for a variety of reasons I think this is overdue," he said.
Mr Ferguson says Dr Emerson banned Labor MPs from attending the conference.
"That's the tone I got from him. He had to be told that's not going to
occur," he said.
"He was telling people not to attend. And, as I say, the former speaker
and the chairman of caucus kind of had to clarify people's rights in
this place."

        Poor understanding

Mr Ferguson says Dr Emerson's actions reflect a poor understanding of
what groups like the West Papuan friendship group do in the Parliament.
He says former foreign minister Kevin Rudd would never have banned MPs
from attending today's conference.
"Absolutely not. He's had experience with a variety of similar parallel
groups on other countries, other issues of human rights," he said.
"In actual fact he's been very cooperative with some of those groups.
"There's no way he would have went down this road at all."
Mr Ferguson has compared the West Papuan struggle for independence with
that of East Timor, Western Sahara, Palestine and Burma.
"There's a wide variety of groups in this Parliament over my 20 years
where people from all parties have taken up these issues and this is a
very similar situation," he said.
"What we want to do is make sure that the Indonesian government's
initiatives to have discussions about the form of government in West
Papua are not thwarted by the military and the police and to make sure
that there is a focus on human rights."

        Sensitive issue

But he says Australia's close relationship with Indonesia makes it a
sensitive issue.
"We'd like Australia to be a bit more proactive in these matters, but we
do understand the difficulties and I don't regard the difficulty as
being the involvement of Australian companies by the way in West Papua,"
he said.
"It's more our long-term relationship with the country."
Mr Ferguson says he hopes that if Dr Emerson was to become foreign
minister, he would reconsider his stance on West Papua.
"I would hope it's just a facet of an acting foreign minister who's, I
don't know whether it's Indonesian authorities getting on to him, giving
him a message, or whether it's DFAT giving him a bit of advice and him
not being across the issue. I'm not really sure," he said.
Another Labor caucus source has told PM that Dr Emerson strongly urged
caucus members not to participate on the grounds that the group was
convened by the Greens who advocate independence for West Papua which is
not Labor policy.
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