Indonesia is bigger than Australia, in public-private partnerships (PPP) terms, but in absolute GDP terms, it is forecast to be bigger than Australia. Asia-Pacific Journalism profiles New Zealand trade with Jakarta.
Special Report – By Johan Chang
A recent seminar on human rights issues in West Papua has focused questions about New Zealand’s priority on trade relations over press freedom and rights violations.
Hosted by the law faculty of the University Auckland, the seminar featured the first West Papuan journalist to visit New Zealand, Victor Mambor, and Paula Makabory, a Melbourne-based West Papuan human rights activist.
With a history marked by human rights abuse, Indonesia has been identified by the New Zealand government as the next superpower in the South-East Asia region, according to Catherine Delahunty, a Green Party MP.
“We [New Zealand] have a lot of interest in building up trade relationships, both exporting and strengthening ties, and that’s across a range of goods and services,” she says.
“It’s about our prime minister being very interested in talking to the president of Indonesia about trade opportunities, and exporting our products and basically having a cosy relationship.
“It’s about opportunities for money.”
At the seminar, Delahunty expressed her belief that it was this focus on financial trading between New Zealand and Indonesia, alongside the blanket media ban Indonesia imposes on the Papuan region that has meant the New Zealand public has been kept in the dark.
“They [the government] want to have a relationship with another superpower, so therefore they will not upset that superpower by referring to the political integrity of West Papua,” Delahunty says.
A seminar political panel comprised Internet-Mana party candidates James Papali’i and Roshni Sami along with Delahunty.
Information released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade shows Indonesia has become New Zealand’s 11th largest trading partner.
In December 2013, New Zealand’s export to Indonesia has reached $886 million – nearly 20 percent of New Zealand’s total exports to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with New Zealand having become a leading supplier of dairy products.
Dr Chris Wilson, a political science and international relations lecturer at the University of Auckland, says the New Zealand government recognises Indonesia as an incredibly important part of New Zealand’s trade scheme with South-East Asia.
“Indonesia is bigger than Australia, in public-private partnerships (PPP) terms, but in absolute GDP terms, it’s forecasted to be bigger than Australia,” Dr Wilson says.
“It’s a very important market, with a huge middle-class growing rapidly, so it’s important to New Zealand economically, but it’s also huge politically in the region.”
Currently, a bilateral aid programme has been developed with Indonesia that is the largest outside the Pacific. The total indicative aid flow, including scholarship funding and activities funded by the New Zealand partnerships Fund is up to $20 million each year.
Interests in renewable energy, disaster risk management, and agriculture have been co-developed, with an emphasis on New Zealand as a priority international educational destination.
However, strengthening ties between the governments has not meant a greater access to Indonesia by journalists to cover New Zealand interests, as well as conflicts and human rights violations within the region.
Australian SBS Dateline reporter Mark Davis became one of the first journalists issued with a foreign journalist pass in more than a decade, in a special report broadcast in June.
Yet during the course of his sanctioned visit he was “constantly followed and filmed by seen and unseen forces”.
Such scrutiny against journalists attempting to seek entry into the West Papua region persists despite changes in Jakarta.
Corruption an issue
Corruption and a lack of centralised control on local government and military is a major part of the issue, according to Dr Wilson. Even if the central government supports change, there are possibilities that orders from Jakarta are ignored.
When asked if the local government and military could be acting without the consent of the central government, he believes that it is a real possibility.
“The military is decentralised. There are military command units in various particularly sensitive areas of Indonesia that will be acting, not entire autonomously, but certainly won’t be entirely under the control of Jakarta,” he said.
However, New Zealand journalists face a different issue.
An article critical of the police training exchange programme New Zealand funds in Indonesia took four months to achieve publication.
Paul Bensemann, the freelance journalist who wrote the article, said the reason the article took so long to publish was mostly due to a Catch-22 situation.
“Because we haven’t heard about the issue, and many of the editors and chief reporters have very little knowledge of the West Papuan conflict, they saw it as non-news,” he said.
“It wasn’t news. It wasn’t an issue that they were publishing on a daily basis”.
Another factor is the lack of foreign correspondents in any of the major media organisations.
“We don’t have anybody in Asia, as far as I know, looking at things from a New Zealand perspective,” Bensemann says. “We certainly don’t have anyone stationed in the Pacific working for us”.
The programme trained Indonesian police that after having returned to Indonesia, committed acts of violence against Papuans associated with the independence movement, as well as ordinary civilians.
The training programme, which started in a resumed cooperation with Indonesian armed forces at the end of 2006 as part of the bilateral relationship established, has ended.
Johan Chang is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Inclusive Journalism Initiative (IJI) programme at AUT University on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course.