A Melanesian academic is criticising Prime Minister John Key for focussing on economic trade ahead of human rights abuses against West Papuans while he is in Indonesia.
One of the main aims of the meeting between Mr Key and his Indonesian counter-part President Joko Widodo was to increase trade between the two countries – particularly beef exports from New Zealand.
Dr Pala Molisa is a lecturer at Victoria University’s School of Accounting and Commercial Law in Wellington.
He is also a Pacific commentator on the affairs of West Papua – the Indonesian province that borders its Melanesian kinfolk – Papua New Guinea.
West Papua is strictly controlled by the Indonesian army and police with incidences of killings and human rights abuses against tāngata whenua (local people) being reported on regularly.
Dr Molisa said that New Zealand had a record of putting business before human rights in countries where those rights are questionable for more than 30 years.
“We've been prioritising economic development at the cost of human rights and also the civil liberties of people. In fact this whole economic system, especially since the neo-liberal policies that came in in 1984 under the fourth Labour Government,” he said.
A Māori advocate for West Papuan rights, Tere Harrison, agreed with Dr Molisa and told Te Karere she believed the main reason for Mr Key’s Indonesian junket was all about generating more trade over and above human rights.
“Kua haere atu a John Key ki Indonesia, ko te take - ko te moni, kei te whai moni te Pirimia o Aotearoa i ngā moni o Indonesia, auare ake ngā tūkinotanga o Indonesia ki a West Papua. Koia te raru, koia te pōuri nui - kei te kōrero moni a Indonesia, kāore i te kōrero mō ngā tikanga tāngata,” hei tāna.
(“John Key has gone to Indonesia, and the reason for that is for trade. The NZ Prime Minister wants to increase trade with Indonesia, never mind the human rights abuse faced by the West Papuans - and that's a big problem and it's very sad. Indonesia also seems more interested in trade than they are with human rights,” she said.)
Dr Molisa was also quick to point the canon at New Zealand’s mainstream media, who he felt under-reported the plight of West Papuans and their independence movement.
He said that while some mainstream media organisations were doing a good job, others were doing what the Indonesian government would want them to do and not report on the atrocities faced by West Papuans.
“One of the great failures of the free press, so to speak, has been a complete blackout of the issue of West Papua for too long. And that's why shows such as Te Karere and Radio New Zealand with some of the reporters like Koroi Hawkins and Johnny Blades - you do a really good function of calling attention to some of the greatest concerns and sufferings of people.”
Tere Harrison believed journalists in West Papua who were trying to report on the Indonesian military and police brutality have been completely censored.
“Kua herea te ao pāpāho i West Papua, i Indonesia. Nā te ringa tūkino o Indonesia kua herea - kua herea te waha, kua herea te kakī, ēngari i Aotearoa nei kāore he paku herehere, ēngari kei te noho ngū te ao pāpāho.”
(“The media in West Papua, and also Indonesia, has its hands tied by the abusive hand of the Indonesian government, they've been heavily censored. But here in NZ we have the opposite situation and mainstream media is doing nothing about reporting on it.”)
In an attempt at appearing to be more transparent, John Key told ONE News the Indonesian government had actually instigated the conversation about human rights.
“So we raised the issue of human rights, in fact they raised the issue of West Papua proactively with us. They're actually keen for us to understand what's happening there and the issues. They did raise the point quite specifically about human rights and said, look, if there are specific issues with human rights then they take up those issues, investigate them and make sure that they're not repeated,” Mr Key said.
It’s understood the leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom, will be coming to New Zealand next month to talk to politicians about the issue of human rights breaches in West Papua.
The last time Mr Wenda visited New Zealand in 2013, he was blocked by the government from making a speech at Parliament. Some opposition MPs then accused the government of not wanting to upset the Indonesian government, an important trading partner.