Embassy must face up to consequences of BRIMOB, protected areas lobbying

12 January 2004

Calls are intensifying in Jakarta and Canberra for a full and immediate investigation into violence by paramilitaries at an Australian mine in North Maluku, linked to lobbying by Australian Embassy officials in Indonesia aimed at evicting local people from mine leases and overturning an environment protection ban on mining in protected areas.

The Australian Embassy has involved itself in conflict between Australian-based mining multinationals BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Newcrest and Straits Resources and local Indonesian communities who are opposed to mining projects planned for protected areas. Extensive Embassy lobbying to overturn an environmental law banning mining in protected areas was revealed in answers given by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer to parliamentary questions asked by Australian Senator Bob Brown in 2003.(note 1)

The Embassy's lobbying role in what has become the deadly Halmahera affair did not stop at the forests issue, but has extended to pushing on Newcrest's behest for protestors to be evicted from their ancestral land by paramilitaries. Inter Press Service on 9 January 2004 quoted a spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) who confirmed: "The representation has happened by embassy representatives meeting with the Minister for Energy and Resources (Purnomo Yusgiantoro), the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs (Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti) and the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono)." she said.

Two previous Australian Ambassadors to Indonesia, John McCarthy and Richard Smith and their staff, have worked on behalf of Australian companies to lobby for BRIMOB paramilitary evictions of people "intruding" on the Mt Muro mine lease held by an Australian company (then Aurora Gold, now held by another Australian company, Straits Resources). Ten days following Ambassador Richard Smith's 25 May 2001 speech at the Mt Muro site urging a crackdown on "illegal occupation of mining leases", BRIMOB shot and killed two people at Mt Muro in June 2001, and injured another five in subsequent shootings in August 2001 and January 2002. (note 2)

"We have demanded a full and immediate investigation by DFAT. Alexander Downer has allowed the Australian embassy in Jakarta to be a pressure group for Newcrest, BHP Biliton and other mining companies," stated Greens Senator Bob Brown. "He now owes the Indonesian people an explanation for events at the Newcrest site," Senator Brown said.

"We also call for an immediate investigation. This is a resource conflict issue linking environment protection and community land rights. It can't be resolved through violence, but only through respecting the rights of indigenous and local people to land and sustainable livelihoods. The Australian government lobbying tramples on these rights, and will worsen conflicts," stated Longgena Ginting, director of WALHI, Friends of the Earth Indonesia, who was speaking on behalf of a coalition of Indonesian NGOs opposed to mining in protected areas.

Further information:
Ben Oquist, Senator Brown's office (Canberra): 0362341633 or 0419704095
Longgena Ginting, WALHI (Jakarta) +62 811 927 038 or

Nur Hidayati +62 812 997 2642
Igor O'Neill, MPI (Jakarta) +62 812 8612 286

Editors notes
Note 1: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, Senate Hansard, www.aph.gov.au/hansard/hanssen.htm, questions numbered 116-124, 15 May 2002, pp 1647-1651, and questions numbered 706-717, 5 Feb 2003 pp 8641-8647.

Note 2: Mineral Policy Institute, 'Shootings deaths at Aussie mine', Media Release, http://www.mpi.org.au/rr/page.php?page=75, 24 January 2002; Bob Burton, 'Embassy ignored killings at Indonesian mine, Mining Monitor, Vol 7 No 2, http://www.mpi.org.au/mm/editions/mining_monitor_vol7no2.pdf; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 'Security forces shooting at goldmine provokes protests', www.abc.net.au/asiapacific/location/asia/GoAsiaPacificLocationStories_46..., 25 May 2001.

Note protest: Newcrest Mining Headquarters in Melbourne will be the target of a protest at lunchtime today, for further details please contact Cam