Bob Gould, 2006

A protest for West Papuan independence

Source: Ozleft, April 3, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

On April 2, there were protests for West Papuan independence in a number of Australian cities. The one in Sydney had about 250 participants, a modest number, but a very effective demonstration.

It was organised by the West Papua support group in Sydney, the Greens and the Refugee Action Committee and was chaired by a member of the Refugee Action Coalition, who also is a member of the small revolutionary socialist group, Solidarity.

The speakers included a West Papuan who lives in Sydney, several activists in the support group, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, Labor Party NSW Legislative Council president Meredith Burgman, John Collins, an 81 year-old veteran of many struggles, who was the main organiser of War Veterans Against the Vietnam War and was later an activist in the health and research union, and is now active in West Papua support activities.

I hadn’t seen him for a few years, but he was as upright and coherent as ever, and spoke about his wartime experiences in West New Guinea, the struggle for Indonesian independence, which he had supported just after the war, and which in his mind led quite rightly to support of the West Papuan struggle for independence from Indonesia.

When I first knew him in the 1960s he was a member of the Labor Party, now he’s in the Greens. The final speaker was Sister Susan Connolly, a Brown Josephite nun who is the organiser of the Mary McKillop Institute for East Timor, who spoke about the Timor struggle and the struggle of West Papuans against the Indonesian military.

The protest moved to Sydney Town Hall, and in my view was a very useful example of a healthy united front activity.

Both factions of the DSP were reasonably well represented, as were religious groups and a sprinkling of Labor and trade union activists.

There was one member of the ISO and nobody from the propaganda group, Socialist Alternative. That night, on television, Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd responded a bit to the protest. While he rejected the call for West Papuan independence, he said Indonesia should grant full autonomy to West Papua.