The Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) has called on the Australian government to follow the Dutch government’s example and commission a study into Australia’s involvement in the 1969 UN-organised “act of free choice” in West Papua.
In 1961, Indonesian troops began invading the Dutch colony of Nieuw Guinea (now called West Papua), which the Netherlands had decided in 1952 to make fully independent by 1970. Behind the scenes, the United States forced the Netherlands to surrender West Papua to Indonesian rule in August 1962. The Australian government, which previously had been a supporter of West Papuan independence, reversed its policy and supported Indonesia annexation.
Only 1022 hand-picked voters - out of 700,000 West Papuans - were allowed by Indonesia to vote in the 1969 UN-supervised ballot, and under coercion, they voted for West Papua to remain under Indonesian rule.
On November 17, the Dutch government released a 740-page study, An Act of Free Choice, based on five years of research by Dutch author Pieter Drooglever. The government-commissioned study concludes that “The Act of Free Choice ended up as a sham... A press-ganged electorate acting under a great deal of pressure appeared to have unanimously declared itself in favour of Indonesia.”
In a media release issued the next day, Joe Collins of AWPA said: “The Australian government should follow the Dutch government’s example and commission a study into our own involvement in this so called ‘act of free choice’.”
Collins noted that in the then-Australian administered colony of Papua New Guinea, Australian officials removed two West Papuan leaders, Clemens Runawery and Willem Zonggonao, from a plane just weeks before the UN-supervised vote in West Papua at the request of Indonesia. The two leaders were on their way to New York to lobby the UN on behalf of the West Papuan people and were carrying testimonies from many West Papuan leaders calling for independence.
He said one way that “the Australian government could make up for its past mistakes in relation to West Papua, is by using its influence with the Indonesian government to help facilitate talks between the Indonesian government and the West Papuan leadership to help solve the many issues of concern in the territory”.
From Green Left Weekly, November 23, 2005.