Twenty years ago I served a three-year term as an Auckland City Councillor. One of the best parts of the job was meeting with Auckland's plethora of community groups and encouraging them to access civic facilities.
Some groups were pursuing minority interests and controversial causes, but I don't recall any discrimination.
Last year, on behalf of fellow West Papua activists, I requested permission from Auckland Live, a council subsidiary to make temporary use of a flagpole at the Aotea Centre to raise the West Papua Morning Star flag at lunchtime on December 1. The date marks the anniversary of the day in 1961 when the West Papuan people first raised their chosen national flag - the red and white Morning Star.
It was supposed to mark the beginning of the end of Dutch colonial control, but sadly Indonesia had other ideas.
These days the flag is banned and raising it can get you arrested on treason charges.
I was hopeful the council would accept my flag request, as part of its commitment to the wide spectrum of community activities. Three years earlier a similar request was granted and that event went very smoothly.
However, we were turned down – the day before the planned event.
Puzzled, I made an Official Information Act request for the emails and memos about this matter. This has laid bare some unhappy truths. Indonesian representatives were watching our event in 2017 and informed our Government of their displeasure.
Foreign Affairs officials thought this was significant enough to ensure that Auckland Council knew of Indonesia's concern.
So this time, the Auckland Council system, including its "International Relations, Democracy and Engagement" team went into action and sought advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
This was the ministry's response: "New Zealand's position on Papua is long-standing. We recognise Papua as part of Indonesia's sovereign territory. We would expect the Indonesian Government to react to the Papuan flag being raised on a council building, as occurred in 2017."
Rest assured, the event went ahead in Aotea Square: the flag was raised by a tall member of our group holding a portable flagpole. It was just one of countless similar events around the world including in Britain, Australia and the Netherlands.
However, the refusal raises important questions.
One is about council's subservience to central government. Back in the 1980s, local councils and boroughs declared themselves nuclear weapons free, following petitions and deputations from citizens. Some councillors were worried the local bodies were stepping outside their mandate, but in the end popular pressure won the day. Central government soon caught up and we live in a nuclear-free country.
Leichardt Council in Sydney allows the flag to fly from its Town Hall on December 1, despite regular objections from the Indonesian Consulate.
More importantly, why does our Government persist in bending over backwards to appease Indonesia? Our leaders and bureaucrats have always known that Indonesia's takeover was formalised in a fraudulent 1969 "referendum". Our Ambassador in Indonesia was present for part of the stage-managed process.
The ongoing conflict, merciless resource exploitation, and unrestrained migration have cost so many lives that the situation is being described a "slow genocide".
On the eve of the December 1 commemorations, the UN Human Rights Office spoke out about the military reinforcements being sent to the territory, the recent spate of extra-judicial killings, and the intimidation of protesters and human rights defenders.
Investigations indicate that highly regarded Pastor Zanambani was killed by the Security Forces, his killing part of a series of violent episodes occurring across the highland Nduga regency.
The UN office also decried the arrests of more than 50 participants in a meeting held to discuss West Papua's Special Autonomy law which comes up for legislative review this year. The consultation was held by the Papuan People's Council, a formal body within the Indonesian governance system, so the Police actions were outrageous.
The UN spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, urged Indonesia to accept "meaningful and inclusive dialogue" with Papuan representatives. That cannot happen until Indonesia respects freedom of assembly in West Papua.
Our Government should abandon its shameful partisan "Indonesia first" foreign policy, and use its voice to support West Papuan rights.
For the sake of consistency, it should also desist from its pathetic attempts to suppress or defuse local protest actions at Indonesia's behest.
• Maire Leadbeater is a member of West Papua Action Auckland.