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 here.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 story. 3 News was simply told the function didn’t meet the guidelines. There was no further explanation.