ADELAIDE - In 1975 I went from Papua New Guinea, where we were working, to Irian Jaya and Indonesia. Nothing prepared us for the scene in Jayapura. The Melanesians were serfs in their own country.
We stayed in a nearby village, which had been the subject of recent transmigrasi, the scheme to populate Irian Jaya with migrants from heavily populated parts of Indonesia, especially Java.
In the village where we stayed, transmigrasi took the form of placing a Sulawesi house and family in the gap between each Melanesian house.
Our hosts were clearly frightened, but welcomed having outsiders to share their story. The only place they would talk was on a long canoe, out on a lake. Their relatives were refugees in Port Moresby.
We compared this with the mood of optimism and safety in the Territory of Papua New Guinea as it approached independence. Australia was doing a good job, in spite of the unnecessary rush to decolonise, thanks to pressure from the United Nations and prime minister Gough Whitlam.
Sadly, it did not take too long before corrupt politicians and public servants began to help themselves, rather than their own people.
PNG still lives with this legacy, which is reducing the country to a broke, failed state.
Australian budget support of half a billion dollars a year is trying to keep the country functioning for the PNG people, not for Australia’s own capitalist interests. PNG has no better friend than Australia.
Australia could best help PNG by a 20-40 year program of agency support in critical areas like health, education, works and electrification - a real Pacific step-up, Mr Morrison, not just a military one.
West Papua should be a matter of great shame to Australia’s, but few people know of it due to the Indonesian armed forces, the TNI’s, almost total repression of news and movement.
Australia and the USA will do nothing to upset the security of the region, which is totally dependent on Indonesia.
The West Papuans may achieve some freedom, but the sacrifices are likely to make East Timor look like a minor skirmish. Either that or the Melanesians will have to accommodate transmigrasi in some form into a new nation.
The young generation and social media are ensuring that their plight is being heard by the world. Benny Wenda has raised West Papua in the United Kingdom parliament.
The MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group] and the Pacific Islands Forum are central to raising this issue in the UN, which Indonesia is attempting to subvert. It is only Melanesians who can make the case for independence.
The recent behaviour of China is a puzzle. For 40 years this country has benefited from commerce and done well for its people. Recently, the Chinese Communist Party has have invested vast capital in military materiel, armed forces and surveillance.
This has turned a once benign and peaceful region, the South-West Pacific, into a big power conflict zone. Why? China’s actions have unnerved South-East Asian and Pacific nations and made enemies in a neighbourhood where once they were considered benign.
They said the reclamation of reefs in the South China Sea was not going to be militarised. They lied. At that time, Obama should have discreetly warned them off, but he didn’t.
Failing quiet diplomacy, he should have sent in the US Navy to restore the status quo that has blessed the region with peace since World War II. Being a weak president, he didn’t, and the Chinese have been emboldened.
We now have to deal with a bully who does not tolerate discussion or dissent. Some believe that China will ultimately fail. It will become old before it becomes rich. It will be like Russia without the resources.
As the world wakes up to China’s totalitarian behaviour, countries and corporations are distancing themselves from it.
Melanesians are rightly wary, as are Australians. Freedom is taken for granted until you lose it.