Louise Byrne, Australia West Papua Association (Melbourne)

This article was twice presented, twice ignored to The Australian Weekend Magazine ‘Letters’ section.

The 43 West Papuan asylum seekers canoe after landingnear Weipa, Cape York, Jan 2006 (Photo: Damien Baker,

Rocking the boat (The Weekend Australian Magazine 9/7/2011) attempts to bolster the legal case for diluting the post-asylum rights of unaccompanied minors to family reunion. The Murdoch journalist and her angry informants prosecute the offensive by nit-picking the effort of one West Papuan parent—whose sons arrived in a traditional outrigger canoe in 2006—to remove his twelve-year-old daughter from the war zone as well. This 3,500-word construct will be no doubt bower-birded by lawyers involved in the Supreme Court case in September. The reading public however needs to be aware that it is full of unfounded generalizations and misleading information, and succeeds, with Machiavellian ease, in lampooning the West Papuans long and costly struggle for human rights and democracy … and yes, indeed, their very survival.

The Papuan parent cited is heavily misrepresented as a ‘savvy, middle-class immigrant aided by lawyers’ who sent his sons to Australia as an ‘advance party to enhance the prospect of family reunion’. In fact, the documented intent of this parent in putting his children on the boat was to ensure their survival. He is a leading Protestant priest and independence leader who after years of incarceration as a political prisoner will never—short of independence—be free of the republic’s notorious intelligence agents. He and his wife, also a pastor, run a Christian college in the highlands, providing indigenous adolescents with a curriculum and standard of education otherwise unattainable. Their sons, on their own initiative, called upon family reunion principles to deliver their teenage sister from a militarized hellhole where the rape of Indigenous girls is almost a rite of passage. None of the other West Papuan refugees from 2006—whether unaccompanied minor or adult—have made application for family reunion.

The article imputes that the West Papuan who organized the canoe of asylum seekers in 2006 is a people smuggler (‘parents of children as young as 11 had paid for them to make the crossing’), and furthermore ‘coached’ them on how to report to Australian immigration officers. This Papuan is, in fact, another committed activist and independence leader, also with years of experience as a political prisoner. The article conveniently ignores the Howard Government’s People Smuggling Taskforce, which met on thirteen occasions between 16 January and 13 April 2006 before closing its investigation, satisfied that no money was paid to any organizers of the trip. (Hansard, 22 May 2006, which also mentions the taskforce included the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Federal Police, Attorney-General’s Dept, Customs, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Office of National Assessments). To the allegation of ‘coaching’, the fact of 564,126 West Papuans ‘missing’ since 1962 (Jim Elmslie, University of Sydney, 2007) would mean that few of the living need advice about persecution and human rights violations. (Any foreigners who do should consult the independent media portal, or New York based blog West Papua: exposing a massacre (, or the recent Australian documentary Strange Birds in Paradise).

Even if The Australian isn’t interested in the plight of the West Papuan people (who in 2010 have an annual growth rate of 1.84% compared to the non-Papuan of 10.82%), it should address issues that intersect with Australia’s national interest. The militarized Islamisation of the territory as a tool of intensifying colonization, for example, correlating with unprecedented levels of Wahabbist cash and Islamic investment that criss-crosses a nexus of radical Islam, the military-intelligence ‘security’ network, and clandestine cells of fundamentalism in the Indonesian civil service. Should we also not be concerned by the refusal of the Australian Federal Police to release its report into the assassination in July 2009 of Drew Grant, a young Australian employed at the Freeport mine? What about the AFP community-training squadron getting kicked out of Indonesia in 2009 (despite Australia’s contribution of $36.8m to the development of the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation)? Then there’s the Indonesian government’s supply and training of PNG police and military since 2006, and its own commandos training in the jungles of Fiji since 2010.



Rebuttal, Pam Curr, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Melbourne

 The article that appeared in this weekend’s The Australian is yet another negative asylum seeker story in typical Murdoch media fashion. I would like to straighten the record on a few factual errors. Murdoch media do not worry about such things but since they quote me, I do.

 I did not ring Frances Walton immediately after The Age published her letter on 8 June. I read the letter and thought—what a pity to write about a small group and one individual experience as if it was emblematic of all child asylum seekers experience. I knew how the letter would be received by those who wish to believe it or those who do not know otherwise, but it is a free country and we all have the write to speak our minds. End of episode.

Kate Legge rang me on the 20th June. At the same time I was alerted that the Australian was looking at running a story about boat children following a letter to The Age. I knew then that The Australian, never likely to overlook a potential negative line on refugees, had run Frances Walton to earth to run the boat children exposé and it was unlikely to be favourable.

It was only at this point that I rang Frances and asked her if she was aware that The Australian had a particular negative line on refugees and that her experience with a few children and families from one background would be likely to be written in such a way that it would generalise the experience of all unaccompanied minors.   I knew that Frances had experience only with the West Papuan children and none with Afghan Hazara teenagers or others. I made a point of saying that it was her right to say what she liked but to be aware that her words could be used against a broader group.

I told Kate Legge that I knew many teenagers who had come here as unaccompanied minors, particularly from Afghanistan, and that most of the boys I knew had no fathers and some no parents at all after Taliban and Pashtun attacks. I explained that they had come here after Mothers, Uncles or Family friends had helped them to escape because they were at risk. Clearly, since they were not reported, the experiences of this group of kids were not as interesting.

Please leave a comment. Keep it nice to other users, and remember, no disrepect tolerated. Yell at the killers, not each other; Criticise the abusers deed, not their race or faith.. And please keep it relevant and punchy.

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