ABC Net News, Thursday, February 5, 2015
MARK COLVIN: Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Peter O’Neill has promised to do more to speak out on behalf of Melanesians in Indonesian West Papua.
In the past, Port Moresby has stuck firmly to its position that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia. It’s been reluctant to talk about human rights abuses or to speak out on behalf of Melanesian separatists.
In a speech to a PNG leaders summit today, Mr O’Neill said the time had come to speak about oppression of brothers and sisters in West Papua.
Jemima Garrett reports.
JEMIMA GARRETT: Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told cabinet ministers, provincial governors, business leaders, and development partners such as Australia that 2015 will be a defining year for PNG in an increasingly uncertain world.
At home, Mr O’Neill sees a year in which core policies such as free education, better healthcare and infrastructure, and stronger law and order, take root, despite pressure on the budget from lower gas prices.
In the wider world, Mr O’Neill said, with increasing terror attacks, there must be no complacency about evil.
In the region, he highlighted the role PNG has played recently in encouraging Fiji to return to democracy, and its support for Melanesians in New Caledonia.
And then he turned to the tricky issue of Indonesian West Papua, and signalled a change of approach.
PETER O’NEILL: Sometimes we forget our own families, our own brothers, especially those in West Papua.
I think, as a country, time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there.
JEMIMA GARRETT: Apart from Vanuatu, governments in the Pacific have been slow to speak out on human rights abuses in West Papua, especially after Fiji was instrumental in getting Indonesia admitted as an observer at the Melanesian Spearhead Group of nations.
With the increasing penetration of social media, Pacific voters have become more vocal about the failure of their governments to act.
Mr O’Neill has taken note.
PETER O’NEILL: Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on the social media, and yet we take no notice.
We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded. Again, Papua New Guinea is a regional leader.
We must take the lead in having mature discussions with our friends in a more solid and engaging manner.
JEMIMA GARRETT: On Friday, the United Liberation Movement of West Papua will submit an application for full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Grassroots campaigners are urging their governments to support their Melanesian brothers.
Indonesia will oppose the move, but with the Kanak Liberation Movement from New Caledonia already a full member, there is a precedent.
The MSG leaders are expected to meet to make a decision in the middle of the year.
MARK COLVIN: Jemima Garrett.