EAST TIMOR INDEPENDENCE
(Liverpool) [10.02 a.m.]: I move:
(1) expresses its solidarity with the people of East Timor; and
(2) indicates this Parliament’s support for action by the Federal Government to institute democracy in East Timor and to disarm the militias currently terrorising the population.
On Monday 30 August this year I had some extraordinary and uplifting experiences. On that day a vote was carried out under the auspices of the United Nations to determine the future of East Timor. One of the centres for voting was at Liverpool, in the midst of my electorate, which of course is totally appropriate because of the significant Timorese community that resides in south-west Sydney. I had the pleasure of attending that polling booth. There was an extraordinary feeling there. People were lined up for hundreds of metres down Moore Street from the Liverpool Masonic Hall. They were excited; they had a chance to express their view about their future.
I met a range of people from the Timorese community whom I have known for some time who have been struggling for independence, for a just resolution of the horrors and the terrors of the last quarter of a century - people like Victor Cay, Eusebzo Sam, Harold Mouchy, Estanislau Da Silva and, of course, José Ramos-Horta. That evening I attended an election night party with a difference. Most election night parties attended by people in this Chamber relate to the normal democratic process in this country, which, while it has its moments of excitement, is now a fairly standard procedure. The party at José Ramos-Horta’s house was a little special and a bit more important.
The events on that day were some of the most uplifting I have experienced in my political career. There was an incredible optimism, a sense of hope, a sense of unity. Representatives of every group within the Timorese community were present at José's house that night - people who had been involved in Fretilin and the UDT, and people outside both those groups. The thing that struck me most forcibly was their hope for the future. The great tragedy that has now occurred is that all those hopes, all that optimism, all that looking to the future is being drowned in blood and fire in Dili and in the rest of East Timor.
Two days ago I spoke to Estanislau Da Silva, a member of the central committee of Fretilin and Fretilin’s representative in Australia. He is also one of my constituents with whom I have had many dealings. He told me of the advice he had been given directly from Dili and from other parts of East Timor. The stories that he told me, frankly, make the horrific images less serious than is the reality. The militia is conducting house-to-house searches and people are being dragged out of their homes and transported to other parts of the island. In particular, large numbers are being taken to Atambua in West Timor. People are being tortured and assaulted.
Two of the most horrific aspects of the advice I have been given are that it is not only the militia that is doing this and not only the militia with the connivance of the military and the police, but the military have now become part of the militia. Members of the military disguise themselves by dressing as though they are members of the militia. That is very clearly the advice that Estanislau gave me, and it seems to have been confirmed overnight by comments from Bishop Belo. The other thing that makes it even more horrific is that the seriousness, bloodshed and horror have increased since Ali Alatas and General Wiranto visited Dili. The implications of that and what it means to the position of the Indonesian Government is absolutely horrifying.
Clearly, there is immense pressure upon Australia to take a positive role in trying to resolve the issues. The purpose of today’s motion is not to make a partisan attack on the Federal Government. My view is that the Government has been far too slow in taking action and that there remains a lot of action it can take. There is, of course, a general requirement upon any human being to try to uphold the basic principles of humanity, the basic principles that are being violated in East Timor at the moment. This country has a particular responsibility because of its closeness to Timor.
One of the things that has always amused me when reading the history of the relations between Timor and Australia is the delightful comment by the Melbourne Argus
in the first decade of this century when talking about the Dom Boaventura uprising at that stage. The reporter said, in a sense of absolute horror, that Dili was closer to Darwin than Melbourne is to Hobart. Those sorts of comparisons emphasise strongly the closeness of Timor to Australia and, consequently, Australia’s obligations. There are also the obligations flowing from the military involvement in the Second World War, which is frequently cited as one of the reasons that should force Australia to take positive action.
The other reasons which to me are far stronger, however, are somewhat more recent. One of the reasons for the present occurrences in East Timor is 24 years of history. For the last 24 years Australian governments of all persuasions have been complicit in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, during which 200,000 people died. Australia gave, effectively, de facto recognition to that atrocity and that genocide in 1975 and 1976, and that was extended into de jure recognition in 1979. This bloodshed and these deaths occurred because the international community, and pre-eminently Australia, allowed them to happen. We have put at the top of our priorities our relationship with Indonesia.
There is an interjection from the Opposition benches about the role of Gough Whitlam. I am not being partisan today. If I wanted to pursue that interjection I would talk about the de jure recognition of 1979. No party emerges from this dispute with a great deal of credit. Frankly, attempts to turn it into a partisan dispute are misplaced. In my view that is not what this debate is about. Because of Australia’s role over the last 24 years, it now has an obligation to take some action that will improve the situation, that will bring to an end some of the bloodshed that is occurring in East Timor.
Another part to this equation that is sometimes mentioned in passing but which deserves much greater prominence is the role of the East Timorese resistance. In the context of what has happened in East Timor it is easy for the East Timorese to spend a lot of time plotting revenge to get Falantil out of the mountains and start shooting back. In my view it is to the immense credit of people like Xanana Gusmao and the National Council of Timorese Resistance [CNRT] that that has not happened. They have looked to the future.
No matter what happens in the next days, weeks or months, there must be a peaceful resolution in East Timor. The independence forces are desperately trying to guarantee that future. At every opportunity people like Xanana are talking about the possibility of reconciliation in the future. It seems to me almost inconceivable that at the moment people can talk about reconciliation, but Xanana still does. Earlier this year he sent me a letter dealing in part with some of the things I have been doing to try to support the cause. I quote one sentence from that letter:
I would urge you to make use of every opportunity to reinforce to the Indonesian and Australian governments our commitment to the process of reconciliation in the interests of building and maintaining peace in East Timor.
In addition, the CNRT has spent a lot of time focusing on the example of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It has been studying that example, among others, in some detail. I make those points to underline just how strongly it is committed to a peaceful resolution. It is not about revenge, retribution or a bloodbath, despite some of the rhetoric to the contrary. In my view, a number of initiatives have not as yet been pursued. To begin
with, the Australian Government should be taking action to cease all military connection with the Indonesian military. It seems to me untenable that anyone in the Australian Government or the Australian armed forces can have any connection with the Indonesian military while these sorts of events are occurring.
A matter that is talked about frequently that I think will have great significance is the financial support that is being given to Indonesia from the International Monetary Fund. There is no doubt that the militia is under the control of the military. There is no doubt that the Indonesian authorities can stop these events if they want to. The solution, therefore, is to ensure that the Indonesian authorities are given no realistic option. Essentially, that means great financial pressure. Of great significance also is the development of a peacekeeping force. Comments overnight from people like Robin Cook and Kofi Annan have struck the right balance. Indonesia must invite the peacekeeping force in. Indonesia must be made to invite us in. That is the point that Cook and Kofi Annan have been making. That is very much the direction in which we should proceed.
The final comment I make is to express my immense anger and frustration at what has happened. The first political demonstration in which I participated was in March 1976. I marched from Sydney University to Hyde Park to protest against the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. It fills me with horror and disgust that 24 years later there is still a need for participation in those sorts of marches by people like me. It is a measure of our failure as a human race that there is no change in the situation.
(Lane Cove - Leader of the Opposition) [10.12 a.m.]: A great sadness and growing anger are permeating the Australian community today. The sadness flows from the despair of the East Timorese people. The anger is a response to the reports of the horrific deaths and appalling intimidation being suffered by local communities in East Timor. We share the sorrow of the East Timorese people that a process that offered so much hope has collapsed so quickly and in such a bloody way. There has been a strong response from the Australian Government, the first Government I believe in 25 years to have taken the issue of the East Timorese seriously. The Prime Minister has confirmed that Australia will commit as many as 2,000 troops to a peacekeeping force and that Australia is prepared to take a leadership role. The Prime Minister made it clear to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and to the President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, that the current situation is intolerable.
The current situation in East Timor, the bloodshed and the killings, are totally unacceptable. We believe that action must be taken, and it must be taken now. The Prime Minister said this morning that he has positive indications that the United States will provide at least logistic support. The reluctance of the United States is understandable considering its commitments in other areas. However, the need is urgent. Lives are at risk now - this very minute. The need for action must be assessed in hours, not in days. The Australian Government has acted throughout on the basis that we have a special relationship with and special responsibility to East Timor.
It is because of this special relationship that the plight of the people of East Timor touches the hearts of all Australians. Australians have provided encouragement and support to the people of East Timor in their efforts to determine their own destiny. We have provided a safe haven and succour to East Timorese leaders and to thousands of East Timorese men and women. We have provided aid and assistance through government and non-government programs. We were among the first to step forward with a team to help oversight the recent ballot for independence. The special bonds between East Timor and Australia are stronger because we have a vibrant and passionate East Timorese community living in our country. This community has ensured that Australians understand better than most the years of struggle towards self-determination.
We all share the anguish and desperation of our local Timorese community as they watch powerlessly as events unfold in their homeland. We empathise with their concerns for family and friends. We understand their sense of impotence and their desperation for the international community, including Australia, to act. When events like those in East Timor occur it is appropriate once again for us to reflect on the democratic traditions and processes that protect us in Australia. These are the very freedoms and protections that the East Timorese people are currently striving for. Sadly, brutally, unacceptably, the cost for many has been their lives.
The courage of the East Timorese people has been inspiring. The long lines of people queuing to vote, despite the intimidating presence of the militia, was an image of courage that crystallised the bravery and the will of the East Timorese people. This is a time when we in this country need to be
thankful that we have one of the safest political systems in the world. We should be grateful that we have a tradition of free voting without intimidation or personal threats. We should be thankful that we have a process of democratic opposition. We should cherish a system that allows people to protest in our streets and, indeed, outside our parliaments, and they do so without intimidation or fear.
We should be grateful that members of the Opposition and on the crossbenches can move freely on our streets and greet demonstrators with safety. These are the basic freedoms that the people of East Timor are seeking. They want to feel safe and confident in establishing an independent nation. Today, sadly, this dream seems a long way away. In this Parliament we, too, to a large extent, are powerless to intervene in any practical sense. We in New South Wales are largely powerless to influence the outcome as individuals, but it does not mean that we are totally powerless.
Firstly, I implore the Federal Government to be generous and to open our doors to the people fleeing East Timor as refugees. Let us use temporary refugee visas to help those who are so close to our own doorstep. Secondly, honourable members can add the voice of the people of New South Wales through this Parliament to the growing demands from around the world for the anarchy to stop and for the Indonesian authorities to step in immediately and stop the bloodshed.
We can support the efforts of the Australian Government and the United Nations. We can make it clear to the Indonesian Government that the current situation must not continue. We can say as a parliament that we cannot, will not and must not tolerate the way the East Timorese people are being treated. In supporting this motion my prayer is that the world community will move swiftly to protect the citizens of East Timor. The people of East Timor firstly deserve to live in an environment where their lives and safety are not at risk. Secondly, they deserve to have the opportunity to fulfil their hopes and ambitions for a free and democratic society. These are the fundamental rights of all individuals and all national groups.
Today this Parliament, on behalf of the people of this State, reaffirms those rights to the people of East Timor. We call on the international community, with a particular plea to the leadership of the United Nations, to act immediately. Australia will take a leadership role but it cannot act unilaterally. However, it can be the primary leadership force in an international effort. We must continue to support and to defend the basic rights of the East Timorese.
The images we have seen on our television screens over the past few days, the photographs and the reports have left an indelible imprint on all of us. I do not know whether honourable members have listened to the radio this morning but the reports are of children being killed in the streets and their bodies dismembered and thrown around. We have seen images of brave people voting in droves, taking part in the democratic process for which many of them had fought long and hard. They were images of hope and courage. More recently the images are of horror.
Today the images are of men, women and children trying to escape from the brutality of the militia and, indeed, of the Indonesian army and its police accomplices. They are distressing images to all Australians. They are images that are unlikely to be forgotten by Australians. They are the images of a proud and courageous people betrayed. I support this motion.
(Bankstown - Parliamentary Secretary) [10.22 a.m.]: I strongly support this motion. In doing so I reflect on 24 years of history. In 1975 when I was in sixth form at high school I first heard, through a secret radio broadcast to Darwin monitored to the Australian people, about the cries for help and freedom of the people of East Timor when they were being invaded by Indonesia. That was a dark period in Australia’s history because not enough was done to bring to the attention of the international community the plight of people in East Timor.
At that stage as a young Australian I felt terrible because I wanted to get involved, to sway international opinion about Indonesia’s involvement in East Timor, but I could not do anything concrete. Now, 24 years later, with Australia at the forefront, the world applauded when East Timor was finally able to free itself from a crisis and become independent. That independence was carefully monitored by the United Nations and Australia, and others concerned with international peace. Its basis was a democratic vote for the East Timorese with the protection of the international community or the global village.
The reality is that Australia has left East Timor for dead. That is what the people of East Timor are faced with. We have led them to the wolves and up the garden path. We have given the East Timorese the opportunity to choose democracy and independence and then, as an international community, we have wished them good luck and left them to fend for themselves. The result has been a repeat of history. The militia, which in my view is
under the control of the Indonesian forces, has taken control of Dili and East Timor.
This morning the reports are of men, women and children being beaten to death in the streets or of children watching their fathers being beaten to death. Clearly such a situation cannot continue. The international community must become constructively and realistically involved. At this stage I applaud the direction taken by the Cabinet of the Federal Government this morning of conducting crisis talks to resolve Australia’s focus on this issue. I call on the Prime Minister to show some real leadership and to make some real decisions.
The Prime Minister should understand that the international community is looking at Australia’s involvement in the protection of its brothers and sisters, its neighbours, those who are but a stone’s throw from this country. Australia can put diplomatic pressure on Indonesia. It can insist that the United States of America have a tangible involvement rather than focus on rhetoric and do nothing. East Timor is not Kosovo. It is not in the middle of Europe and it does not have the same focus. We often talk about the global village, but it seems that some do not regard East Timor as part of that village. But we know it is.
This country has preserved democratic freedom and strived, over its short history, to insist that democratic freedom is instituted elsewhere in the world. Now, on its own doorstep, Australia has a real opportunity to show tangible leadership, to become focused and to get involved to ensure that the world takes notice of what is happening in East Timor. I call on the Prime Minister and the Federal Government, with the support of all State governments, to insist that the United States of America involve itself in this situation immediately, not after another dozen talkfests. The United States of America must support and be part of any United Nations peacekeeping force in the region.
The Prime Minister said 24 hours ago that a 48-hour plan is in place. Well, there is one day to go. Marshall law has been ordered in East Timor; the military has the freedom to do what it likes. No democratic rights exist in East Timor. Action must be taken immediately, not tomorrow, in East Timor. People of influence in Australia should become involved. I congratulate the Australian Council of Trade Unions on becoming involved this morning with the international community. It has made a real contribution to highlight the predicament of the East Timorese. I applaud the motion and I call for immediate action.
(Gosford) [10.27 a.m.]: In the name of humanity we, the members of this House, and those we represent, cry out for urgent action for relief for the people of East Timor. We are living witnesses to a massacre that is taking place at this very time, just as in the 1960s we were living witnesses to massacres in Biafra, Northern Africa. Our hearts are affected just as they were then and when we saw the ravages that took place in Europe under Nazi totalitarianism. The people of East Timor are an innocent people who seek only the right that all people have self-determination. They expressed themselves democratically through the ballot and overwhelmingly chose liberation and independence.
We applaud them for their courage, we salute them for the way they have struggled to keep alive the flame of freedom in 24 years of colonial rule from Indonesia and in 400 years of colonial rule from Portugal. We now call upon all the peoples of the world, our Federal Government, the Government of the United States of America, the Indonesian Government and the governments representative of the United Nations to ensure that their transition to independence - their rightful due - is carried out freely and harmoniously. That contrasts with the scenes we have witnessed of children being dismembered, individuals being beheaded, churches being burnt and a reign of terror being unleashed upon an innocent and deservedly free people.
The international community has a responsibility to East Timor for two reasons: first, in common humanity that a people are being oppressed, and, second, because in 1975 the international community stood by and allowed Indonesia to occupy East Timor. In 1975 Saigon fell to the communists and Portugal was in chaos. The fear among policy makers in the United States of America, in our own country and in Indonesia was that a free East Timor might be the subject of communist takeover. Implicit encouragement was given to the Indonesian military, still reeling from its attempt at a communist coup in 1965, to ensure that Indonesia occupy that country to prevent any such takeover.
The world allowed the takeover and knew at the time it was against the wishes of the East Timorese people. They were never consulted about their destiny. Portugal was not allowed to decolonise in accordance with United Nations procedures. The Indonesian army was allowed to do what it did. For 24 years the Indonesian army has engaged in a campaign of suppression of freedom. Some 2,000
people are believed to have died over the last 24 years at the hands of the Indonesian military and its henchman. President Habibie has tried to assert the rule of law over the army. He has allowed this referendum to proceed but now seems incapable, understandably, of preventing the Indonesian military from defying his actions and encouraging and inciting gangs to engage in a reign of terror.
President Habibie is in difficulty and the world must stand behind him and help him assert order. The world must indicate to him that if he is incapable of asserting order over his own military that it is prepared to act at his invitation and send in United Nations peacekeeping forces. In humanity’s name we are all responsible, but we are all responsible because we were all involved in some way or another in the 1974 takeover. The people of East Timor are among the poorest on earth. There are no great riches there, there is no great prize - this is no Kuwait - as happened with the Gulf War.
This is a desolate and undeveloped region neglected by Portugal and Indonesia, yet it has 800,000 of the bravest people in the world who stood by Australia in 1943 and 1944 during Japanese occupation. They lost 30,000 lives as they stood by us, not by anyone else, during the grim days of the Second World War when they were occupied by Japan and when the coastwatchers found refuge, but aided and abetted us in our attempts to destroy Japanese convoys. They were brave enough to stand by us then, they were brave enough to stand up to Indonesian invasion without guns or weapons, and using only their bare hands - we read how they use tree boughs to fight off militia gangs - and they were brave enough last week to line up and vote for independence. Everyone in this House says viva for the people of East Timor and viva for independence!
(Newcastle - Parliamentary Secretary) [10.32 a.m.]: I speak in this debate with a deep sense of shame, revulsion and outrage: shame because of 24 years of appeasement by all governments in this State and by tacit acceptance of that appeasement by the citizens of Australia. That shame was brought home clearly to me by my daughter who spent two months in East Timor, in August and September last year. On her return she asked, "Why is this being allowed to happen? These are the most wonderful people. They are living in appalling conditions. They are welcoming, they are hospitable. They are the most beautiful people." She brought back a portfolio of photographs of children, women and men of East Timor. She said they were subject at that time to intimidation from both militia, particularly ABRI troops, walking around with submachine guns and making it extremely difficult for the people.
I am outraged because since that time it has been clear that in the process leading up to the vote on 30 September a calculated intimidation of the East Timorese people who favoured independence was carried out by militia, by ABRI - certainly with their acceptance, either by covert or overt involvement - and it certainly was in clear contravention of the United Nations approach and of agreements reached on 6 May. Obviously, the East Timorese people were given a clear indication that they could vote for independence in the belief that they would be able then to move through a transition period until the Indonesian people made a determination in November in safety. Yet, leading up to the vote and in the most dramatic and repulsive way since that day, people have been slaughtered. No doubt we are witnessing one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing in the country. The populace will either be driven into extinction or deported if they are pro-independence.
We have been made totally impotent in this situation. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on now moving to make a determined effort to bring peace to East Timor; to have the Indonesian Government accept responsibility, which it accepted leading up to the vote, to ensure peace; and, if not, to allow the United Nations to help. The United Nations should insist and act immediately to send peacekeeping forces into East Timor. No doubt if that does not occur we will witness an absolute genocide of the East Timorese people. Each of us in this debate has indicated revulsion and a feeling of impotence at what is happening in East Timor.
Australia is now in a position to show the leadership that is demanded of us by the international community and that is expected of us by the people of East Timor. That leadership certainly is our responsibility. Other honourable members have mentioned that during the Second World War the East Timorese people took great risks to protect Australian troops. We walked away from that in 1974-75. Since then we have continued to appease the military dictatorship of Indonesia. We now have the opportunity and the responsibility to reverse that, to bring a peacekeeping force to East Timor, to stop the killing, to stop this revolting outrage, and to give the courageous people of East Timor the peace and future development that they deserve. I commend this motion to the House.
(Burrinjuck) [10.37 a.m.]: I say at the outset how pleased I am that we have taken a bipartisan approach to this matter, which is obviously of extreme concern to all honourable members; otherwise, they would not be here today. I am distressed by the violence in East Timor in recent weeks. The situation in East Timor is volatile and dangerous. Australians are not used to such a volatile and dangerous situation. We are used to having a peaceful democracy in Australia. Of course, our democracy changes regularly but it always goes ahead without bloodshed. There is always a little political bickering, but we will never experience what the people of East Timor are experiencing at the moment. We are used to having our say at the ballot box and then accepting the community’s will - and let us hope it stays that way.
It is a little difficult for us to see from New South Wales exactly the extent of what is happening in East Timor at present without reverting to our television screens. It is hard to visualise without being there exactly what these poor people are going through. East Timor’s move towards independence had a four-to-one vote for independence. That vote was met with nothing but standover tactics, intimidation, gunfire, injury and death, which we have all seen on our television screens. I refer to the situation in Yugoslavia. When the poor Kosovars were in trouble Australians were there to help. Over the several months that have ensued since that terrible war we have seen the freeing of prisoners Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace.
I was particularly pleased to see Steve Pratt being freed because his brother Ian lives in my electorate. His home town is Tumut so naturally there was a large amount of correspondence between us. The world should join us to help the people of East Timor and, indeed, of Indonesia. The deadline for marshall law in Indonesia to deliver peace ends tomorrow morning. The defence Minister, John Moore, said that the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked us to lead, and the Federal Government has indicated that it is prepared to send 2,000, and up to 4,000, peacekeepers to Indonesia. That could extend to 6,000 or 7,000 peacekeepers. I commend that.
I saw the Prime Minister being interviewed live on Today
on television this morning. I think all honourable members would join me in commending him for his strong stance and his statesmanlike behaviour in relation to this matter. The Prime Minister is being very strong; he is taking all steps necessary to ensure that this is done in a peaceful manner. This morning on Today
the Prime Minister expressed concern that he does not want Australian troops to go to East Timor unnecessarily to fight the Indonesian army. He does not want our troops threatened in that way. He wants President Habibie to come to terms with the fact that marshall law is not working well and that it is time for peacekeepers to enter Indonesia to deliver peace.
The Prime Minister will stick to his guns because he is a man of his word and of his honour. If he has not received that assurance from President Habibie by tomorrow morning we can expect to see peacekeepers going to Indonesia. When we think of Indonesia we usually think of refugees and boat people from further north than East Timor. Although the people of Indonesia are our close neighbours, what is happening in Indonesia may be foreign to many people in New South Wales. Several speakers have mentioned 1975. I do not remember that clearly; I was not particularly politically aware that year because I was a little young.
However, it is important that we reflect carefully on what is happening in Indonesia. Naturally, all our thoughts and prayers go to the people of Indonesia. We expect the Indonesian authorities to accept the reality and to begin the long overdue work of making an orderly and peaceful transition to autonomy for the people of East Timor. The people of East Timor have had their say; they voted for independence. That vote should be respected. The standover tactics must be brought to an end. Naturally, any further injuries and deaths from those standover tactics must come to a halt immediately. We are all very strong on that matter. I add my concern.
(East Hills) [10.42 a.m.], by consent: The honourable member for Burrinjuck said that she was not very politically active in 1975. I think that is because of her youth. There were two or three great events in 1975 that I will never forget. One event was the sacking of the Whitlam Government. The Whitlam Government played a part - I think unfortunately - in the acquisition of East Timor by Indonesia. That is probably the one stain on Gough’s legendary career as our greatest national statesman. He was probably a little preoccupied with what was happening in the Senate, and perhaps Liberal and Coalition senators of that time played some part in what happened in East Timor. Also, we still do not have the truth from the Indonesian people about what happened to the journalists who were killed in Indonesia 25 years ago.
Much of what my Labor colleagues and members opposite have said is true, and there is probably nothing I can say that is very different.
However, we all should have seen this coming. When the vote for independence was being set up the Indonesian army armed the militia. They are just gangs; they are thugs. They are not even particularly pro-Indonesian. They were being paid off with money and probably alcohol, food and the like to do what they have done. Australians have played a part in leading the people of East Timor up the garden path in that we promised that there would be a free and independent vote. To that extent it was a vote of 78 per cent for independence, which is not a bad margin.
The people of East Timor then expected the world community to play a part in ensuring that the vote was accepted and that there would be a peaceful transition to East Timor becoming an independent nation to our north. But there is one other matter on which people need to focus. Indonesia is possibly unravelling as a nation. In Acheh and Ambon a message is being sent out by the Indonesia army, if not by the Indonesian President and his so-called Government, that if many of the other islands with different languages, cultures and religions want to do the same this is what will happen to them. To the credit of the Prime Minister, his Government and members on our side of the Parliament, the Australian community is sending to Indonesia the message that East Timor has been through a legitimate process and the decision must stand.
However, the Indonesian military, which has never given away control of its country, is sending to others in Indonesia the message, "Don’t think you can do the same." All Australian governments since 1975 have claimed some sort of special relationship with Indonesia. We have been part of the World Bank package and other packages totalling $70 billion to bail Indonesia out of its terrible economic problems. Australians can go into shoe shops and buy shoes made in Indonesia. For the past year or two my family have refused to have anything to do with that. These are little steps. We must be a part of stronger action.
Do we send troops into Indonesia? Of course we cannot. We cannot do a Vietnam. Honourable members should remember what happened during that terrible war in the 1960s. They should remember also that Indonesia is not recognised by the United Nations as the legitimate owner of East Timor. The United Nations still recognises Portugal. Why are we not talking to the Portuguese Government and seeking its permission to be involved? Perhaps the Portuguese Government would permit us to be involved. The other night at my place I asked why we should not get involved, why we should not send a few warships to Indonesia - although I was not being totally serious. What would the Indonesian army do? It has been suggested that Indonesia has a great army that would fight us.
At the moment all we have seen as evidence of the Indonesian army is troops doing high fives with the militia and lying on the ground drinking beer. Obviously they would take a different stance if we became more active. We need to recognise that the militia are attacking United Nations compounds and Red Cross facilities. They forced Bishop Belo out of the country. The people of East Timor deserve more. Australia has always had an opinion about South Africa, Kosovo, Turkey and Armenia. We have had a position on all parts of the world except those parts that are close to us. It is time that the Australian people, hopefully under the leadership of John Howard and Kim Beazley, said, "Yes, we are prepared to lead a UN peacekeeping force to East Timor so that those people are not sold out." The people of East Timor have been sold out not only for hundreds of years but particularly since 1975. I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Liverpool and thank members on both sides of the House for their support.
(Hawkesbury) [10.47 a.m.], by consent: I support this most important motion and congratulate the Government and the honourable member for Liverpool on bringing it forward at this time. It is probably not known to a number of the newer members that the New South Wales Parliament has a long association with the East Timorese cause. As an office-bearer of Amnesty International for many years I have been associated with a number of events in this very Parliament which have supported the East Timorese people. Very significant in those events has been the involvement of a number of people who had an association with the East Timorese people during the early 1940s. One with whom I stood shoulder to shoulder on those occasions is Tom Uren, who would tell honourable members in a very passionate way why we should support the East Timorese people and how, over many years, we have let them down.
At the moment we are witnessing dreadful human rights abuses in East Timor. I believe that the United Nations should immediately inform the Indonesian Government that the measures inflicted upon the East Timorese people are probably indictable as war crimes. If one looks at the definition of war crimes, and this was canvassed very heavily during the Kosovo difficulties, this seems to fit classically the imbalance and the
inequality between the people of East Timor and the military. The lack of any military aggression on the part of the East Timorese people would seem to suggest that the military leaders and, indeed, the Indonesian administration itself are possibly guilty of war crimes. We need to bring home to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian administration just how serious the situation is.
I support the measures mentioned earlier, that we and the international community should move forward with very severe economic sanctions. It is very unfortunate, but the one thing that really seems to get through to people is hitting the hip-pocket nerve. Australia has quite a good record on human rights matters, but it is to my eternal shame and disappointment that when economics become too involved our human rights record is sadly lacking. It is important that the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations very quickly advise the Indonesian administration that if it does not do something overnight, very heavy sanctions will be imposed against it.
It is quite clear that if the Indonesian authorities wanted to stop the bloodshed in East Timor they could do so instantaneously. The very nature of the action taken is condoned, aided and abetted by the Indonesian administration. It is absolutely despicable! The sad part is that the bloodshed could be halted so quickly. This issue particularly has underlined the extraordinarily cumbersome and totally impractical measures by which the international community can bring pressure to bear on people who are guilty of human rights abuses. Surely in this day and age, with the amount of communication we have, with the examples and documentation of examples we have, we have come to the stage at which we can say: This type of incursion against a free and democratic people is just not acceptable.
There must be a particular protocol by which we can move quickly to bring to the attention of the aggressors the fact that they are acting up in a manner that is totally unacceptable and that there is a need to haul in that aggression. We, as holders of democracy, must fight to maintain the efficacy of the democratic process. We do democracy a great disservice when we offer democracy to people, then pull the rug out from under them and do not carry through on what democracy means. Obviously democracy means the will of the majority, but it also means the protection of minorities. Where there is a clear and free will of the people that free will must be upheld. There is an enormous challenge for the international community to uphold the very brave expression of the will of East Timorese people at the referendum.
(Georges River) [10.52 a.m.], by consent: Today when each of us rose from our beds we rose as a minority because the country in which we live is a minority of a true democracy. The fact that we are in the minority does not, therefore, stop us from standing up for the rights of that minority because we believe that democracy is the true and best form of government for any nation. We have as one of our neighbours a small country that has also shown a great desire to stand up with that minority and say: We also want to have our true democratic rights. We, therefore, should support this country. There is no doubt that the Australian people have shown that they, too, wish to support the people of East Timor. They, too, wish to stand up for this small, island nation as it goes through what is, indeed, a great trauma for each of its people.
That sentiment, of course, is expressed in this House today; it is expressed outside the House by leaders, such as Cardinal Clancy, who also have an expectation that we will provide leadership for a peacekeeping force for East Timor. It is, indeed, a strong sentiment throughout all community groups. It is at times like this that we need to appreciate what a great and strong country we live in. It is also at times like this that we need to show leadership. It is with those thoughts that I support the motion. East Timor is not a large country. It is not a country that is of any great economic benefit to the world. But it is a country whose people - mothers, fathers and children - were given their lives by the same God who gave us our lives. They are people who belong to the same world as us.
Just as this Parliament has a responsibility for its neighbours in Sydney, we also have a responsibility for our world neighbours. Just as we need to stand up for our individual neighbours, just as we need to stand up for our family members, in times like this we need also to stand up for what we believe in. We need to stand up for people throughout the world. We need to stand up for the people in East Timor, 78 per cent of whom stood with guns pointed at their heads and said, "We wish to live in a democracy. We wish to govern ourselves. We wish to be independent. We wish to join that minority of true, democratic nations." Today we have the opportunity to stand in solidarity with those people. We have the opportunity to stand behind those who believe in democracy. We have the opportunity to stand behind those who treasure life. Ultimately treasuring the life of each of those individuals - mothers, fathers and children - is what we are talking about. Today I stand before the House to support the motion because I treasure life. I treasure the life of each of those individuals, just as everyone in this House does. I hope we can have an effect.
(Wakehurst) [10.57 a.m.], by consent: I support the motion and express again the Coalition’s very strong support for the East Timorese and their right to democratic freedoms, to live in peace and not under the threat of death. They should now be able to continue down the path that they set for themselves as a result of the recent referendum. We should be careful about condemning all of Indonesia, which is a conglomeration of 210 million people. I am sure that the great majority of them would not like to see East Timorese or any other people treated as the East Timorese are being treated now. As referred to earlier in this debate, a number of ethnic groups make up the Indonesian peoples. The present problems within the Indonesian community generally may well be contributing to what is going on in East Timor.
When the House and the country talk about this issue we should understand that the culture of Indonesia is inextricably intermingled with the military. It is a culture that Australians do not understand, and would not accept. The Indonesian Government is very much at the mercy of a military regime, which often has its own agenda. I do not know whether President Habibie is doing everything he can - I hope he is - to help the East Timorese on the path that they set themselves at the referendum, but, having visited Indonesia on a number of occasions, I know that there are a great number of very wonderful people in Indonesia. However, those people are subject to a military culture which, regrettably, is now allowing appalling acts of violence to take place in East Timor.
Twenty-four years ago, in 1975, the world stood by and allowed Indonesia to effectively annex East Timor. Australia was part of the world community that allowed it to happen. We made a mistake. The world made a mistake. I remember back in 1974 when the war was going on in Vietnam and the moratorium marches were occurring. Contrary to what some members opposite like to think, quite a few members on this side of the House had views that were not supportive of the war in Vietnam. We were hopeful that a broader perspective would be brought to the whole issue. It was a time of confusion when the world community did not fully understand some of the issues of South-East Asia.
The terrible domino effect was a big fear in people’s minds. As a result, the world community stood back hoping that by implicitly allowing Indonesia to annex East Timor communism would be stopped further back in South-East Asia. All that is understandable but it is no excuse for our now accepting that it was the right thing to do. We got it wrong. The Australian population is now well and truly behind getting it right in East Timor. What we are doing through our Prime Minister is the right thing. We are trying to encourage the world community to put pressure on Indonesia, Mr B. J. Habibie and his military regime, to cease the actions they are taking in East Timor. I support what the Prime Minister is doing and I support every effort from every Australian to put pressure on Indonesia.
But I remind the House that we should not for one moment blame every single Indonesian. The Indonesian people are quite a different group from the people who are currently running the Government and the military regime in Indonesia and East Timor. Finally, the United Nations really does need to come to the party because Australia cannot take action by itself. It would be silly and improper. I call on the United States of America and the United Nations to support efforts to give freedom to the East Timorese.
(North Shore) [11.02 a.m.], by consent: I add my voice to the voices of my parliamentary colleagues in supporting the motion. Much has been said, most of which I absolutely support. I was in Indonesia in 1966 for Sukarno’s last speech. I was working as a journalist and in the six weeks I was there I travelled through as much of Indonesia as I could. There was a curfew and the military were very much in control. So I have an understanding, though fairly dated, of the military way in which the Indonesian people have been governed.
The situation in East Timor is very difficult. It will not be a simple matter of going in there, shaking a few fists and making things right. It is a great tragedy that current events follow the excitement about the scope and the prospect of independence. The East Timorese were courageous in voting under enormous intimidation. They probably expected that we would be there to help them, to ensure that their democratic wish was safely implemented. I well remember the events when Indonesia took over East Timor. I am not as young as some of our colleagues who have spoken today who cannot remember this time. I still have many colleagues and friends working in journalism and I am well aware of the tragedy and trauma that confronted the journalistic profession in some of the early events.
Every individual has a responsibility to support the people who went to the polls believing that we would stand by them. I am also a member of Amnesty International, because I believe in civil liberties and human rights. The pictures we are
seeing in newspapers and on television screens and the stories we are hearing on radio involve the most fundamental infringement of human rights. My colleague the Leader of the Opposition found it very difficult to talk about the deaths of children in the streets. I am not surprised: Not one of us would tolerate that situation in our society.
The way ahead must involve a firm stand by the Prime Minister and other world leaders. The United Nations must be persuaded that a peacekeeping mission should be sent. My husband was in the navy for 30 years and as a former military wife I know that enormous pressure will be applied to our military personnel. I am sure they will be involved in one way or the other. I ask everybody in this Chamber and all Australians to keep a thought for them and their families who will be back here worrying about them in a very difficult situation.
Actions other than military actions need to be taken. We have heard talk of economic sanctions and suggestions about war crimes having been committed in East Timor. I agree with my colleague the honourable member for Hawkesbury in that regard. We need to remind the Indonesian Government that it sanctioned the vote in East Timor and it has a moral responsibility to uphold the commitment that it made. I know that it will be difficult but pressure should be applied by every democratic-thinking government in the world.
Over the last few days I have heard people ringing radio stations to express their feeling of frustration and impotence in dealing with this issue. I add my voice in this debate to assist the people of East Timor in a small way. Individually we might not be very powerful but collectively we can apply pressure to the people who must make the decisions. I commend the Prime Minister and the Australian Government for the action that has been taken so far. I understand that an emergency Cabinet meeting is taking place as we speak. Like all other members of the House, I hope that Cabinet will deliberate well. I commend the motion.
(Liverpool) [11.07 a.m.], in reply: I thank the Leader of the Opposition and members representing the electorates of Bankstown, Gosford, Newcastle, Burrinjuck, East Hills, Hawkesbury, Georges River, Wakehurst and North Shore, who have contributed to this debate. At one level reading out the names of those members may seem irrelevant, but I believe it is worthwhile simply to emphasise the depth of feeling in this place about this issue and the broadly bipartisan basis upon which it has been put.
What emerges from this debate is a very clear message to the Indonesian authorities that the people in this House, this State and indeed this country cannot accept or tolerate the events in East Timor. Australia must take positive action to ensure that the torture, murder, death and ethnic cleansing cease. Those sorts of things have already been mentioned. The financial pressure on Indonesia to accept a peacekeeping force from the United Nations is clearly critical. The honourable member for Hawkesbury echoed some very useful and substantial comments made yesterday by John Dowd about a war crimes tribunal. The suggestion in the editorial in today’s Sydney Morning Herald
calling for Australia to withdraw its de jure recognition, which has been discussed within the pro-independence groups, is also an interesting way to develop this debate. If the Federal Government were prepared to withdraw that de jure recognition it would have many implications for peacekeeping forces.
Those things must be done for two broad reasons: First, the basic principle of humanity and our obligations to fellow human beings and, second, which I touched on in my earlier contribution, Australia has a particular responsibility. We are so close to Timor, and we have a very special relationship with Indonesia. Through our actions we have allowed what has occurred recently to develop. If we had had a different attitude and a different position - and once again this comment is made on a bipartisan basis - and if successive Federal governments had had a different attitude and a different position, this would now not be happening. As a country we collectively have an enormous responsibility to take positive action to try to end what is occurring in East Timor at present.
We can talk about these things and about the last 25 years as much as we like. The last 24 or 25 years have established not how clever pro-independence forces in Australia are but the incredible courage and capacity for struggle of the East Timorese people. The fact that an independence ballot occurred is an immense tribute to the capacity of the East Timorese people to maintain that struggle for so long. In 1987 José Ramos-Horta published a book called Funu, The Unfinished Saga of East Timor
. Because the comments he made then are still relevant now, the book was republished in 1996. In that book José Ramos-Horta wrote in part:
Ten years and 200,000 dead later, the dream of independence is as alive and strong as ever in occupied East Timor. Indonesia’s brutal occupation has only strengthened our collective will and resolve to continue our struggle, or funu, which is Tétun for liberation war. Independence is now the desire for everyone, including those who had illusions about
Indonesia 10 years ago. Independence is seen as the only alternative for peace. Indonesia’s efforts to "pacify" us have failed, as have the attempts to destroy Timorese cultural identity.
No matter how much bloodshed is imposed upon the East Timorese people by the militias at the behest and organisation of the Indonesian military, no matter what horrors are inflicted upon them, they will eventually be independent. They have demonstrated for the last 24 years that they can stand up to the might of the Indonesian military. They will not be defeated. Clearly they will achieve independence. The only questions remaining are: How many people will die before that happens, how much more blood will be spilled, and how much more horror will the Indonesian authorities inflict upon a peaceful people who simply want to be left to run their own lives?
Motion agreed to.