The Jakarta Lobby was an informal group of like-minded bureaucrats (DFAT, Ausaid, Defence), intelligence officers (DIO, ONA), as well as journalists and academics, who argued that Indonesia under General Suharto should be judged by a different standard to the one applied to other governments.
This was despite the fact that Suharto’s rise to power in 1965 triggered one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, and his brutal dictatorship lasted for over three decades.
To the extent that Indonesia under Suharto became a “special case” for Australia, the Canberra-Jakarta axis parallels the Washington-Tel Aviv relationship which developed at around the same time. In both instances a small minority of highly influential people started lobbying their own government (often from within it) to protect and further the interests of another which illegally occupied adjacent land (East Timor, Palestine).
The strategies of both lobbies included – * protecting each state from criticism and scrutiny (downplaying human rights violations in occupied territories (Santa Cruz, Jenin), portraying state terrorism as self-defence, silence on WMD programs, attributing atrocities orchestrated by senior state officials to middle management or “rogue elements”);
* exaggerating their strategic vulnerability (Indonesia’s fragmentation, “tiny Israel” – armed with WMD – surrounded by hostile neighbours – conventionally armed);
* providing diplomatic protection at the UN (Whitlam’s visit to UN, Washington’s Security Council veto); * recognising the acquisition of territory by force and denying rights to self-determination (Canberra’s de jure recognition of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, Bush’s recognition of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the denial of refugees’ right of return);
* portraying critics of the governments in Jakarta and Tel Aviv as being motivated by racism (anti-Indonesian, anti-Semitic); and
* accepting, despite global trends heading the opposite way, the militarisation of politics as legitimate (TNI in politics, former generals as heads of Indonesian and Israeli governments, the brutality of their military in occupied territories – Aceh, West Papua, Palestine, Lebanon).
Since the mid 1960s and occasionally before, the Jakarta lobby in Australia believed that the Republic of Indonesia was beset by centrifugal forces which could only be countered by strong authoritarian rule from Jakarta. Presupposing both the inevitable Balkanisation of the archipelago and the dangers this posed to Australia, its members reflexively opposed secessionist (Aceh, West Papua) and independence (East Timor) movements, regardless of their legitimacy and the fact that their retention within the state was effectively maintained at the point of a gun.
Blind to the normal trends against the idea of immutable political boundaries in international politics, the lobby’s refusal to examine its own flawed presuppositions about Indonesia’s territorial integrity encouraged it to downplay or overlook Suharto’s crimes against his own people and his neighbours.
The lobby has never explained why independence for Aceh and West Papua would inexorably lead to the disintegration of the Indonesian state. Nor have they noticed the correlation between military brutality and separatism in the country’s outlying provinces. Their claims that Canberra “had to deal with Jakarta” regardless of its behaviour, disguised the extent to which they drove the relationship well beyond the level of diplomatic necessity to the point where Australian military forces became morally compromised through joint training exercises with Jakarta’s special forces – notorious for their human rights violations.
Thanks partly to their efforts in securing Canberra’s de jure recognition of Jakarta’s control of the territory in the 1980s, the legitimate aspirations of the East Timorese for independence were ultimately thwarted for 24 years at an appalling cost in human suffering.
East Timor is finally free, but the behaviour of prominent spokesmen in the media over the last fortnight suggests the Jakarta lobby is alive and well, six years after Suharto’s fall from power. Like the ‘Likudniks’ in the Pentagon and other ‘friends of Israel’ who influence the Bush Administration’s approach to the Middle East, the Jakarta lobby still contaminates Australia’s foreign and defence policies.
Currently they are seeking to discredit Lt Col Lance Collins, an experienced intelligence officer in the Army, by portraying him as an ill-informed and bitter maverick, frustrated by a lack of influence and his failure to be promoted within the armed forces. The lobby is also at pains to protect its tarnished reputation and avoid independent judicial scrutiny.
Although he was one of the very few to anticipate the charnel house that East Timor became in 1999, Collins’ principal crime was to expose the litany of policy failures by lobby members, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things in intelligence, consultancies and private think tanks.
That is why their appearances on TV, radio and in newspapers at present, denying the very existence of a pro-Jakarta lobby which they actually comprise, makes for such a bizarre and grotesque spectacle.