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Thursday, 26 August 1999
Page: 9225

Mrs MOYLAN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister inform the House of the government's response to developments in East Timor in the lead-up to the historic ballot on 30 August? What has the Australian government done to help bring this ballot about?

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —First, can I thank the honourable member for Pearce for her question and interest in this historic process in East Timor. Members of the House will be aware that on Monday the people of East Timor will have a once in a generation opportunity to resolve the problem of East Timor. I can say to the House that there are risks, of course, but the government is cautiously optimistic about the ballot itself on Monday. We are very proud of the role that Australia has played in this historic process—from the Prime Minister to the secretary of my department to our ambassador in Jakarta to the task force in my department and to the many other officials in Australia and abroad who have helped with this process. We are also very proud of the Australians in East Timor including the 107 Australians in the United Nations mission, UNAMET. Those people are very much in our thoughts and we will continue to fully support UNAMET after the ballot has taken place.

A difficult and possibly dangerous period still lies ahead. Continuing levels of militia violence and intimidation, especially in the western part of East Timor, are unacceptable. I told Foreign Minister Ali Alatas on Monday evening that it is absolutely critical that the Indonesian authorities take decisive steps to stop militia violence. The world is watching events in East Timor very carefully and Indonesia's international reputation is very much at stake. In this difficult environment, we are particularly concerned about the safety of the many Australians in East Timor and we are advising them of the potential threats to their safety. The Australian government has also made clear to the Indonesian authorities that any threat of death or injury made against Australians in East Timor is completely unacceptable and that the consequences of any harm befalling an Australian would be very serious indeed.

Let me make one final point: this is a tense and difficult time. I urge members of this House and the Senate and the media and other commentators to avoid statements and claims which may be excessive and inflammatory. This is not a time for hyperbole or beat ups for the sake of a headline by anybody. We want to see this ballot happen and happen successfully. We want to see the issue of East Timor, after a generation, resolved once and for all.