Subject: AU: Scott Burchill: Agents of Indonesian influence

Australian

Scott Burchill: Agents of Indonesian influence

16apr04

JUST as fish cannot perceive the sea, humans are often unaware of the ideas and influences that shape their thoughts. Contested political arguments and dubious moral preferences are often presupposed rather than critically examined.

For government officials who prioritised "good relations with Jakarta" above all other diplomatic considerations, characterising this position as an example of the influence of a pro-Jakarta lobby can induce cognitive dissonance and denial.

Allan Behm, on this page yesterday, appears to be suffering from this complaint. In an effort to discredit the claims of Lance Collins and the report of Martin Toohey, which both express concern about the corrupting influence of the Jakarta lobby on intelligence advice to the Australian Government, Behm provides a classic example of the problem Collins, Toohey and others have identified.

Behm's strategy has three components: deny the existence of a Jakarta lobby; claim that Canberra has no choice but to deal with other governments, no matter how unsavoury they are; then argue that governments, "not unelected officials", make foreign policy decisions. Each part deserves to be unpacked.

No concept of conspiracy is required to trace the influence of the Jakarta lobby in Australia's intelligence services, the foreign affairs bureaucracy, journalism and academe.

For the entire period of the Suharto dictatorship, their common cause was to maintain good relations with Jakarta; deflect criticisms of Suharto's brutality as anti-Indonesian and racism (Richard Woolcott); downplay gross human rights violations by the Indonesian military, such as the 1991 Dili massacre, as "aberrant acts" (Gareth Evans); and portray the case for East Timor's independence as a lost cause (Evans and Woolcott).

The lobby worked hard to disguise the nature of Suharto's rule, the illegitimacy of his grisly rise to power and the behaviour of his armed forces (TNI) in East Timor. In one extreme example, Suharto -- whose bloody record, according to the CIA, bears comparison with Stalin, Hitler and Mao -- was described as "a monster of the Left's imagination" (Greg Sheridan).

To deal with other governments, it is not necessary to train with their worst killers and human rights violators (Indonesia's special forces, Kopassus). Nor is it clear how conspiring with another government to thwart the legitimate aspirations for self-determination of another people (the East Timorese) was in Australia's national interests.

When Beam reluctantly concedes that "some policy advisers might have paid undue deference to Jakarta's sensitivities", it is not explained that this meant opposing, and consequently delaying, democracy in Indonesia and East Timor's independence at an enormous cost in lives and suffering for both countries.

The claim that officials are absolved of all responsibility for government decisions based solely on their advice is as bizarre as it is unethical. As Behm well knows, governments often rely entirely on the advice of bureaucrats who can ruthlessly exploit this dependence to further their personal and political agendas.

We are all responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions; public servants are no exception. One degree of separation from decision-making is a paltry excuse for failure and a hollow moral refuge.

It is clear that the Jakarta lobby in the defence department successfully buried Collins's prediction that the TNI would incite militia violence in East Timor after the ballot in September 1999. It wasn't consistent with their nonsensical line about "rogue elements".

Instead of praising Collins for getting it right, he has been denied promotion, had his career destroyed and found his character assassinated by his employer. Behm's interventions only compound the outrage.

Just as no one expected a member of the Soviet Politburo to remark about the influence of communism on their decision-making during the Cold War, it is no surprise that members of the Jakarta lobby fail to notice the effects of preferences and assumptions they have so completely internalised.

Scott Burchill is lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Melbourne.


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