The Australian Federal Police (AFP), established in 1979, enforces Commonwealth criminal law and protects Australia’s interests at a national and international level. The AFP also contracts out a general policing service to the Australian Capital Territory Government, where it has recently been accused of torture and other human rights violations.
The idea expressed by Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing in 1829, that police are not merely tools of government but rather are the people’s police, endures in Australia today, as does the theory of constabulary independence. The idea that police exercise a degree of independence in operational matters rests on the belief by judicial authorities that police in democratic societies should not be subject to arbitrary and capricious interference by the executive. While the theory is contested, the common and statute law has bestowed a degree of discretion and operational independence on police.
An issue I have been exploring as part of my Master’s Degree and which I intend to further explore as part of a PhD, is how far the Australian Federal Police adhere to Peel’s maxim that “police are not merely tools of government but rather are the people’s police.” My view is that the Australian Federal Police, far from exhibiting any degree of constabulary independence, are nothing more than the armed enforcers of the executive.
The continuing mystery surrounding the shooting of Australian Drew Grant near the giant Freeport gold, copper and silver mine in the Indonesian province of Papua is an issue which warrants interrogation.
Grant was shot and killed on July 11 2009, while travelling in a car with four other employees of the Freeport Mine. Who carried out the shootings remains a mystery, with recriminations and accusations abounding. To add to this confusion Australian Federal Police officers were sent to Timika to assist the Indonesian investigation.
In keeping with apparent Australian Federal Police investigation protocols, the investigation into the shooting death of Mr. Grant has been far from transparent, which has served no other purpose than to add to the mystery surrounding the shooting.
Evidence was tampered with, and bullets in Mr. Grant’s body were removed before the pathologist was able to conduct the autopsy, whilst in the custody of Australian Embassy officials.
Have the Australian Federal Police been used in an attempt to cover the identity of those who were really responsible for Mr Grant’s shooting? Whilst the actual bullets that killed Mr Grant have gone missing, the Indonesian State news agency Antara has revealed that bullet casings recovered from the scene were specially made by PT PINDAD for the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI). Nick Chesterfield states that “Australia supplies Aus Steyr rifles, which use the bullets found. If the weapons used in the shootings are found to be of Australian supply for TNI use, questions must be raised.”
By having AFP officers involved in this investigation, the Australian government is tacitly condoning ill treatment, torture and arbitrary arrests, acts which are illegal under Australian law.
Interestingly, key targets in the recent Jakarta bombings were Freeport executives Adrianto Machribie and Noke Kiroyan. Profits generated by control of the illegal mining of the rich tailings and massive volumes of waste has been a source of constant friction between the “civilian” (paramilitary) police and TNI, often spilling over into violence. A series of bombings near Freeport in 2008 was widely blamed on BRIMOB police units extracting protection “tax” over their illegal tailings mining.
A lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Clinton Fernandes, said the military was probably behind the shootings and was trying to justify its presence in Papua by raising the spectre of a separatist insurgency. “The Indonesian military need to maintain its presence in Papua and want to ensure that the police no longer try to claim security of the mine area,” Dr Fernandes said. “Without an insurgency, the army has to go back into the barracks and reduce its size and its budget and its influence. By staying in West Papua, the military gets access to funds and resources and arms and promotions.”
What is as perplexing as the shooting of Mr. Grant itself are the reasons behind why the Australian government continues in its obsequious attitude to Indonesia. Granted, there may be some security concerns, especially given the ‘out of control’ nature of the Indonesian military with its impunity over its mafia behaviour, protection rackets, human rights abuses, illegal business empires.
Equally perplexing is the connection, if connection there be, between the Australian Federal Police’s involvement in the apparent cover up over who was actually responsible for the murder of Mr Grant and the deployment of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in July 2003, which marked the beginnings of the former Howard Government’s renewed engagement with the Pacific islands countries. In addition to intervention in Solomon Islands, Australia has become more actively involved in the so-called ‘arc of instability.’
“…The so-called ‘arc of instability’, which basically goes from East Timor through to the south-west Pacific states, means that not only does Australia have a responsibility in preventing and indeed assisting with humanitarian and disaster relief, but also that we cannot allow any of these countries to become havens for transnational crime, nor indeed havens for terrorism…”
There is no official list of member states in the Arc, however it has traditionally been accepted to include South-East Asian and Oceanic nations such as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Indonesia and Fiji.
Contemporaneous with the deployment of RAMSI to the Solomon Islands was the establishment of the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team (TSETT), a unit within the Australian Federal Police which was established in October 2003 to investigate claims of slavery, sexual servitude and child sex tourism. The team is highly mobile, intelligence-driven and able to respond flexibly and quickly to emerging cases anywhere in Australia.
TSETT has been involved in both the Fred Martens case and the Julian Moti case. Both cases involve Australians who were prominent in nations within the ‘arc of instability’ and who were critical of Australian government policies in the region. Both were charged under Australia’s sex tourism legislation and both are claiming that the Australian Federal Police abused due process to bolster their case.
Concurrent with the Marten’s and Moti affairs and later with the Grant murder have been noises coming from Indonesia about it wanting to play a more prominent role in the pacific. Is the Australian government using the Australian Federal Police as mafia style enforcer’s to secure Australia’s interests in the ‘arc of instability’ in the face of a resurgent Indonesia?
It this is correct, and it’s not beyond the realms of probability that it is correct, it spells ill for Australian Democracy and for the indigenous people of the region, including our own indigenous people.