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Millionaire Businessman supports West Papua

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The Canberra Times, 21 October 2007

Crusader for West Papuan cause by Emily Sherlock

THEY have been interrupting our TV viewing for months. And with the federal election campaign in full swing, advertisements on West Papua have become more prevalent.

The man behind this curious, relentless thorn in the side of the Federal Government is millionaire businessman Ian Melrose, who said he was driven by a child's preventable death into acting on the behalf of our West Papuan and East Timorese neighbours.

His advertisements which are appearing several times an hour highlight human rights abuses in West Papua and East Timor at the hands of the Indonesian military. They also call for human rights monitors and access for foreign Journalists to West Papua in Australia 's new security treaty with Indonesia . Mr Melrose said the advertisements had been targeted to screen in areas were the Government held key marginal seats and across most capital cities.

"What we are trying to do is highlight the human rights abuses that the Indonesian military is currently committing in West Papua , there are killings every second or third day," he said. "Because media are not allowed in, none of these stories come out." The Optical Superstore proprietor also put his weight behind a 2004 campaign for a better deal for East Timor over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea.

Last year, he also commissioned a Newspoll asking Australians if they were for or against self-determination for Papuans, including the option of independence.

Mr Melrose was coy in disclosing how much the campaigns had cost and said putting his financial weight behind the advertisements had never been an issue. "I know too many East Timorese that have been tortured or have had family members killed by the Indonesian military," he said. "You either get upset or you do something. Getting upset doesn't help them, doing something will, so that is why I decided I wasn't going to sit on the couch any more."

Initially he said he was motivated to get involved after reading in 2004 about a 2-year-old East Timorese girl who had choked to death on roundworms. A worm tablet could have saved her life, but instead she was asphyxiated when hundreds of the 20-30 centimetre worms crawled from her small intestine to her stomach then to her oesophagus and blocked her trachea. "I thought it was just horrific and unacceptable that for less than 50 cents she could have survived," he said.

Mr Melrose has also written to the Prime Minister about West Papua and is determined to continue his campaign, sending information to all 640,000 of his customers in the lead-up to the election.

"When you eventually make money and I've made money it doesn't do any good to hoard it if you can do something good with it," he said. "That is what I'm having at doing. Whether I'm successful or not is going to be another issue."

The Prime Minister's office and Indonesian Embassy declined to comment on issues raised in Mr Melrose's campaigns 

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