By Chris Latham
On April 1, Indonesian students involved in the National Student League for Democracy (LMND) participated in a national mobilisation in Jakarta demanding that the government abandon plans to cut education subsidies to state universities. The policy is expected to result in tuition fee increases of around 300%.
The cuts are part of the broader austerity measures introduced by the Indonesian government on April 1, under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund and its Coordinating Group on Indonesia (CGI), in order to repay Indonesia's debts to international banks and corporations.
The slashing of subsidies on other basic items such as food, cooking oil and electricity will force workers, peasants and students to shoulder a greater share of the burden of the 1997-99 economic crisis.
The LMND sent a solidarity statement to the March 22 national day of action against education privatisation in Australia. It was read out at many of the rallies and received a good response.
It explained that due to rising living and education costs there has been a large drop in the number of students going on to attend high schools and universities. Of the 4.5 million high school students enrolled in 1996-97 only 2 million entered university studies in 2000. At the same time only around 5 million of the 7.5 million junior high school students enrolled in high school.
The LMND is demanding: no cuts to education subsidies, free education for the people, and for the arms bill to be cut so that more funds can be allocated to education.
ASIET member Kerryn Williams told Resistance magazine, “The fact that the Indonesian and Australian governments are pursuing the same policy of shifting education costs onto students and their families makes building solidarity between the campaigns of students here and there very important.”
From Green Left Weekly issue #400
Thursday, May 4, 2000
By Chris Latham
Wednesday, May 3, 2000
BY CHRIS LATHAM
MOSS VALE — Police forcibly removed people from a picket line at the Joy Mining heavy machinery manufacturing plant on April 27 to allow the removal of the plant's hydraulics workshop equipment. The picket was established last week by supporters of the workers who were locked out for three months on April 17 after injunctions were taken out by Joy Mining against the Australian Workers Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and Electrical Trades Union.
Until April 27, the police had allowed the union and then the picketers to prevent vehicle access to the plant. It now appears that Joy Mining intends to shift all the machinery off site, and that the police will try to ensure this happens.
The removal of equipment from the site and reports from the AMWU that Joy Mining's parent company, Harnischfeger Industries, has filed for bankruptcy in the United States raises doubts about the workers' continued employment.
The picketers are determined to stop any further equipment being removed and are urging others to join them on the picket line on Vale Road (just off Suttor Road) in Moss Vale. For more information, contact the Wollongong Resistance Centre on (02) 4226 2010.
Wednesday, March 1, 2000
By Chris Latham
One hundred and fifty East Timorese refugees refused to leave the East Hills army barracks in Sydney on February 22. The government was determined to remove the refugees from the camp for a "voluntary" flight home on February 22.
Three hundred local Timorese and their supporters facing 100 police blocked the buses bound for the airport. They managed to delay the departures, but the refugees have now been returned to East Timor. These refugees were amongst the last to leave of those who entered Australia after the bloody events in East Timor last year to leave; such betrayals of East Timorese refugees are not new.
In response to the terror unleashed in East Timor after the independence ballot on August 30, the Australian government initially agreed to provide sanctuary only for staff from the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor, plus 350 East Timorese staff and their families. On September 8, immigration minister Philip Ruddock announced that an additional 1450 East Timorese would be allowed into Australia under the safe haven legislation.
This legislation, drafted in early 1999 to deal with Kosovar refugees, allows only three-month visas, the holders of which are not allowed to apply for any other form of visa while in Australia.
The "safe havens" are disused military barracks. Individuals are not allowed to leave; if they do they lose access to government services and the minimum government payments of $27 per week per adult and $10 per child.
In December, when the safe haven visas expired, more than 1000 Timorese refugees were returned. Ruddock said on December 6, "The East Timorese were evacuated in September to stay until conditions in East Timor improved ... The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has provided assurances that it is now safe."
This was described as a "voluntary" return. However, Timorese who opted to remain in Australia would receive no government assistance, had no right to work and constantly faced the threat of deportation.
The government ignored the conditions that refugees were returning to: most buildings, infrastructure and crops destroyed, and mass unemployment. A Fretilin representative in Australia, Naldo Rai, said on February 22, "We have contact with relatives in East Timor who say the conditions are very bad. There is no food, no clothing, no houses."
There are reports that refugees who returned to East Timor earlier were provided with only a blanket and a tarpaulin, without rope to tie the tarpaulin down.
Many refugees entered Australia after the Dili massacre in 1991. In 1994, the Australian government argued that because these Timorese had the right to request Portuguese citizenship, they did not require Australia's protection.
In 1998, the Federal Court decided that the Refugee Review Tribunal should reconsider Kon Tji Tay's application for asylum because there was no evidence that Portugal would provide protection. The immigration department conducted an appeal throughout 1999.
In addition to mounting numerous legal challenges to the granting of refugee status, the Australian government has conducted a war of attrition. Without refugee status, the Timorese are not eligible to work or to enter educational institutions. The government has ended asylum seeker assistance payments.
On November 9, the government announced that it would end its appeal, but informed the refugees that, since East Timor is now "safe" to return to, they must reapply for asylum under the new Border Protection Act.
The act states that Australia is no longer required to provide protection if alternative avenues for protection exist, such as dual citizenship or potential dual citizenship (that is, with Portugal). The applications will be dealt with individually, making it a lengthy process that will further exhaust the resources and resolve of refugees who have been in Australia for up to 10 years.
In addition, there are still more than 100,000 East Timorese being forced to stay in camps in West Timor, where they were driven in late 1999. The Australian government has done little to secure their release.
A report in the Bali Post newspaper on February 22 said that at least 700 people had died in the camps in the last six months. The refugees are frequently harassed by militias and the military.
Punishing the victims
In November, the government passed the Border Protection Act, among the harshest legislation dealing with refugees in the world. While whipping up nationalist and racist sentiments about "boat people" and "illegals" to justify these legislative attacks, the government tries to assure us that it is nevertheless humane.
However, the government's treatment of the East Timorese refugees is consistent with its general approach of blaming and punishing the victims of Third World poverty and imperialism.
For decades, Australian governments supported the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia because it gave Australian companies access to Indonesia's natural resources and markets and provided a "stable" environment in which to make profits. Australia gave diplomatic and military support to Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and Australian companies secured access to rich oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap.
But Australian governments weren't just complicit in the deaths of more than 200,000 Timorese since 1975. The Coalition government continued to support Indonesia last year while it displaced more than half of East Timor's population and destroyed most of its economy and infrastructure.
The Australian government rejected evidence of the links between the Indonesian military and the pro-integration militias and in the United Nations, Australian officials argued against the deployment of a non-Indonesian security force during the independence vote.
Now the government is punishing further the victims of its own policy.
For real justice
It should be left to each East Timorese refugee to decide if they want to stay, and much more aid should be made available to rebuild East Timor, thereby giving East Timorese refugees a real choice about returning home.
To assist refugees to return, and to allow visits by East Timorese to Australia, where many will still have relatives and friends, the government should establish a special category of visa, similar to that granted to New Zealand citizens, which allows them to travel freely between the two countries.
To aid development, the government should fund 1000 new scholarships per year for East Timorese to attend Australian higher education institutions.
Massive non-repayable grants and reparations for Australia's support for the war on East Timor should be funded out of a levy on all Australian businesses that have profited from investment in Indonesia and East Timor.
It is vital that the Australian people act now to safeguard the human rights of East Timorese in Australia and East Timor. Resistance is supporting a national day of action on May 13, organised by Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, to demand "Justice for East Timor! Justice for all refugees!".
From Green Left Weekly #395
Resistance magazine and Green Left Weekly will keep you informed about the struggle for justice in East Timor and the solidarity campaigns.
Wednesday, January 26, 2000
By Chris Latham
The withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor was a significant victory for the East Timorese resistance movement, and the international solidarity movement. But the struggle for independence came at a price.
Since the Indonesian invasion in 1975, more than 200,000 East Timorese have been killed. After the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence on August 30, the Indonesian army (TNI) and police, and their gangs of “militia”, killed and forcibly deported thousands of East Timorese and destroyed East Timor's infrastructure. More than 85,000 people remain unaccounted for.
There was a massive response from working people internationally. In Australia, thousands mobilised calling for an immediate armed intervention to stop the violence. In Australia, the federal Coalition government was forced to act, going against 24 years of support for the Indonesian occupation.
Australian support for genocide
Throughout 1999, Prime Minister John Howard's government denied that the terror gangs in East Timor had any links with the Indonesian military and claimed that any problems were due to “rogue elements” in the TNI. It argued against a United Nations security force overseeing the ballot, despite widespread violence having already twice forced the referendum to be postponed.
Canberra supported the Indonesian government and the TNI because it saw this as vital to maintaining the stability required for Australian business to make profits in East Timor and Indonesia. Despite being forced to act to help East Timor, political stability and profits continue to be the driving forces behind Australian foreign policy.
The government continues to protect the TNI. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has blocked the International Commission of Jurists from interviewing East Timorese refugees.
As well, the Australian Federal Police have initiated disciplinary action against an intelligence officer who was in East Timor because he reported to a parliamentary standing committee on the collaboration between the TNI and the militia.
The government has spent $1 billion on the military operation in East Timor, but has committed only $6 million to rebuilding East Timor. It continues to push for the deportation of East Timorese who are attempting to obtain asylum in Australia following the 1991 Dili massacre, despite the fact that much of East Timor remains in ruins.
Meanwhile, the Howard government is attempting to turn its foreign policy defeat into a victory -- making the Australian people pay for strengthening its capacity to intervene militarily in the region. The government's “Timor tax” -- an increase in the Medicare levy -- will help to cover the costs of having troops in East Timor and the establishment of two more combat-ready battalions.
People aid not militarism
The Australian government should pay massive war reparations to East Timor, funded by a levy on the businesses that have had made profits in East Timor and Indonesia.
Much of the aid that is going to East Timor is not finding its way to the people. Most well-paying jobs go to non-East Timorese and those locals who do have jobs are paid wages that are the same as during the occupation. Since the arrival of Western non-government organisations in East Timor, the cost of food and basic goods has risen dramatically.
On January 5, the Timorese Socialist Party led a workers' protest outside the United Nations building calling for the employment of East Timorese, increased wages, an increased minimum wage and a reduction in prices. The solidarity movement should support such actions, and the right of the East Timorese people to control the transition process.
Resistance demands that East Timorese refugees be able to enter Australia without visas, be allowed free access to Australian universities and be provided with support to return to East Timor if they choose.
There is still much to be done. Resistance will continue to build campaigns alongside the solidarity group Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, and will keep young people informed through Resistance magazine.
From Green Left Weekly issue #390