News Release: Australia West Papua Association
Parliament’s new Speaker is embroiled in his first fight, before he’s even had a full day in the debating chamber. West Papuan freedom fighter Benny Wenda is on his way to New Zealand, and while he’s spoken at parliaments around the world, he won’t be allowed to in Wellington.
Mr Wenda is a colourful character. He starts his talks with a traditional greeting, and then a song. He’s done this all around the world – at the British Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, and even the United Nations.
But Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says he’s being blocked from talking here.
“Benny Wenda has spoken at many parliaments around the world, but it appears the New Zealand Parliament will shut its doors.”
Mr Wenda says the people of West Papua have suffered atrocities at the hands of the Indonesian military.
In 2002 he was arrested for promoting independence. A year later he escaped prison and fled to the United Kingdom, where he was granted political asylum.
In 2011 Interpol issued a red alert at the request of the Indonesian government. But last year, after an investigation, that was removed. It was deemed to be politically motivated.
The Greens, Labour and Mana applied to the new speaker David Carter to have a function here, in the west foyer, but that was refused.
Labour MP Maryan Street says the decision goes against the spirit of Parliament.
“Parliament is exactly the place where people’s points of view should be aired,” she says.
In the past, Parliament has been used for everything from Ahmed Zaoui’s book launch, to a wedding.
But the Greens say the Government doesn’t want to upset the Indonesians, a big trading partner.
“I think it’s pretty clear the Foreign Affairs Minister has had some influence on this decision,” says Mr Norman.
Mr Wenda will bring with him West Papua human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson – most famous for being Julian Assange’s legal advisor.
The function will now be held across the road from Parliament.
The Speaker’s office, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t be interviewed for this report.
3 News was told the function didn’t meet the guidelines. There was no further explanation.
Statement from NZ Labour Party
Labour is calling on the Speaker to reconsider his decision to prevent West Papuan activist Benny Wenda from speaking at Parliament because the New Zealand Government and its officials are uncomfortable about it. “Benny Wenda has been the guest of the UK Parliament, the EU Parliament and the United Nations but our Speaker has ruled he cannot speak here at the New Zealand Parliament unless he is hosted by a political party in their own caucus room,” said Labour MP and Associate Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maryan Street.
“The Speaker’s office took advice on this issue from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was told it was not appropriate for Benny Wenda to be hosted within Parliament unless his visit was owned by a political party which would host the event in their own area, where they could be as ‘political’ as they liked.
“But Parliament is not the Government. Parliament consists of government and opposition, and the government’s sensitivities should not dictate who can air their views at Parliament and who cannot. It is the place where a range of views should be heard.
“As one of the MPs hosting Benny Wenda’s visit, I want the guidelines surrounding meetings held at Parliament to be revisited by the new Speaker. Such decisions should be made on the basis of principle, not on the basis of whether or not the Government feels uncomfortable about it,” said Maryan Street.