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- Start of Business
- Howard, John, MP
- Beazley, Kim, MP
- Anderson, John, MP
- Crean, Simon, MP
- Downer, Alexander, MP
- Brereton, Laurie, MP
- Moore, John, MP
- Martin, Stephen, MP
- Ruddock, Philip, MP
- Ferguson, Laurie, MP
- Scott, Bruce, MP
- Rudd, Kevin, MP
- Costello, Peter, MP
- McMullan, Bob, MP
- Williams, Daryl, MP
- Edwards, Graham, MP
- Fischer, Tim, MP
- Snowdon, Warren, MP
- Ronaldson, Michael, MP
- Sidebottom, Peter, MP
- Lindsay, Peter, MP
- Swan, Wayne, MP
- Lieberman, Lou, MP
- Latham, Mark, MP
- Southcott, Andrew, MP
- Lawrence, Carmen, MP
- St Clair, Stuart, MP
- Albanese, Anthony, MP
- Slipper, Peter, MP
- Bevis, Arch, MP
- Lloyd, Jim, MP
- Andren, Peter, MP
- Barresi, Phil, MP
- Hollis, Colin, MP
- Gash, Joanna, MP
- Sciacca, Con, MP
- Anthony, Larry, MP
- Australian Schools Cricket Cup Finals
- Carnival of Flowers
- Stirling Electorate: Small Business Awards
- East Timor: Human Rights
- Health: World Alzheimer's Day
- Olympic Games: Tickets
Global Seafood Australia Ltd
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Federation Square Project, Melbourne: Funding
(Bevis, Arch, MP, McGauran, Peter, MP)
Australian Defence Force: Recruitment Targets
(Ferguson, Laurie, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
Staying at Home Program
(Livermore, Kirsten, MP, Bishop, Bronwyn, MP)
Bureau of Air Safety Investigation: Fatigue Management Consultant
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Second Sydney Airport: Royal Australian Air Force Base, Richmond
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
World Heritage Committee: In Danger List
(Latham, Mark, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
Longford Royal Commission: Report
(Latham, Mark, MP, Moore, John, MP)
Senate Select Committee on Aircraft Noise: Findings and Recommendations
(Albanese, Anthony, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Defence Housing Authority: Computer Systems Compliance
(Ferguson, Laurie, MP, Moore, John, MP)
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Staff Supplied by Kowalski Consulting
(Ferguson, Laurie, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Commonwealth Property Holdings: Divestment
(Tanner, Lindsay, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
Commonwealth Property Strategic Shortlist
(Tanner, Lindsay, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
Maritime Sea Phone Service: Disconnection
(Kerr, Duncan, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Maritime Sea Phone: Disconnection
(Kerr, Duncan, MP, McGauran, Peter, MP)
Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport: East-West Runway Movements
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
- Federation Square Project, Melbourne: Funding
Tuesday, 21 September 1999
Mr CREAN (3:42 PM) —I join with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in support of the resolution before the House. The most important thing for us to do this day is to demonstrate on behalf of the Australian people the parliament's bipartisan and unanimous support for the Australian men and women involved in Operation Stabilise in East Timor. They go with a vital mission—to restore peace and security to what should be the world's newest independent nation but is now a territory torn apart and savaged by conflict.
In giving this support to our troops, we must also do everything possible to secure their safety, to enable them to complete their task and to bring them home. Given the horrors that have been unfolding on the ground over the last weeks and months, we need to do more than just wish them well; we have a duty to ensure their safety. We have a duty to them, to their families and to the wider Australian community.
The government's record on East Timor is one of continuing denials. We see it constantly and we have seen it in the interjections today. Denials, bungles and policy failures have all added up to tragic consequences for the East Timorese. The Leader of the Opposition has read at length comments from foreign affairs reporters in the Australian press, highly critical of the Australian government's approach. Greg Sheridan, in the Australian on 16 September—and this quote is very significant because he is a respected journalist in this field—said:
This has been a bloody and appalling failure of Australian strategy and policy.
This is not Labor saying this; it is people who are paid to observe the field of activity and the way policy development occurs, and that is their judgment. The government have steadfastly resisted calls for peacekeepers in East Timor; in fact, they denied the need for their presence. The government have been in denial, simply wanting to wish this problem away. Even last Sunday, just a day before the troops entered East Timor, the foreign minister was implying that the violence was worth it. He said:
. . . there was violence . . . that was a dangerous period. Yes. We certainly expected that.
. . . . . . . . .
. . .. that period of violence, of course, is profoundly unfortunate, and we deeply regret the violence that has taken place. But, in the end, you will get an independent East Timor. In the end, for those who survived, a happier and more comfortable population.
What an appalling assessment and set of comments from this nation's foreign minister.
This is by no means the only misjudgment that has been made by the government in relation to this issue. Not only have the government put at risk Australia's diplomatic relationship with Indonesia but they have badly handled relations with Australia's traditional allies. They should have been, both quietly and publicly, lobbying our allies for support for a peacekeeping force, at least since the ballot was proposed. The Prime Minister should have stressed the urgency of the East Timor situation when he met President Clinton at the White House in July, and he did not. He did not raise it even in the formal discussions he had with the President. The first formal, government-to-government request, according to General Shelton, the Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on September 8—well after the ballot and after the violence and killing began in East Timor.
Instead of doing what they should have been doing, highlighting the significance, the concern and the carnage and speaking to the US about what sort of support could be put together, they did not. They ignored all of that, and that is an appalling judgment from a nation that still holds this alliance important. It is their fault that they have not drawn attention to what was happening. Because of that neglect, they have been forced to run around at the last minute, furiously lobbying and calling frantically for more `boots on the ground'.
The international strategic environment has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War, and yet the Howard government have failed to respond. They have failed to build new alliances and they have failed to reshape the existing ones. The government's defence strategy is built around alliances and yet they are failing to capitalise on them when they are needed most. Instead, they have been forced into panic diplomacy, delivering third rate results and putting Australian lives at risk as a result. The government have sent our troops—Australian men and women—into hostile territory, while failing to secure appropriate conditions of engagement. Full chapter VII powers the United Nations resolution may have, but it has not got provision for the disarmament and disbandment of the militias. And there is no timetable for the withdrawal of all Indonesian military personnel. Indeed, there is no requirement for any withdrawal.
The foreign minister said yesterday that the passage of the Security Council resolution establishing INTERFET in just over two weeks might `pretty much break a world record'. But, because of the failure to secure terms of engagement, the resolution is flawed. It is simply not an excuse to say, as the Deputy Prime Minister said in this House yesterday:
. . . what was to take place after that poll just a little over two weeks ago, in terms of its extent, in terms of its ugly nature and of the violence that was attended to it, could not have been reasonably foreseen by anyone.
That is the Deputy Prime Minister speaking. Here we had a history lesson going back to 1942 but there is no real emphasis on the government's policy approach now or for the future. The Deputy Prime Minister, representing the nation while the Prime Minister was at APEC, went on the Sunday program incapable of answering any questions in the national interest. He may as well not have been there. But this is typical of this government's failure to attend to the detail.
There were many clear indications, despite what the Deputy Prime Minister said, that violence would erupt after the poll. The government's own Defence Intelligence Organisation knew this in March. It stated in a report that no vigorous action to rein in ABRI had been noted, implying that General Wiranto was, at the least, turning a blind eye, that further violence was certain, and that Dili would be the focus. That was the advice of the government's own Defence Intelligence Organisation back in March.
On the Sunday program on 30 May, Colonel Suratman, the recently departed military commander in Dili, said:
If the pro-independents do win, it won't just be the government of Indonesia that has to deal with what follows. The UN and Australia are also going to have to solve the problem. And well if this does happen then there'll be no winners, everything is going to be destroyed. East Timor won't exist as it does now. It'll be much worse than 23 years ago.
This is an example of the denial of the Howard government. You have got the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister effectively saying that this was not anticipated when advice was coming to them saying that they should anticipate precisely that. They ignored those warnings. Instead, they were content to rely on the Indonesian military to provide security in the region before, during and after the ballot.
Despite the Prime Minister's cries of statesmanship over his letter last year proposing an independence ballot, his government was content to rely on President Habibie's timetable for the ballot instead of adopting the slower transition advocated by Xanana Gusmao and Bishop Belo. The Howard government has displayed weakness throughout the unfolding East Timor crisis. Diplomatic relations have hit such a low that the Indonesian government formally shredded the Australian-Indonesian security pact. The Prime Minister and his Minister for Foreign Affairs need to look seriously at our international relationships. It may be that Australia cannot simply rely on our US alliance; it may be that we can. But it is certainly incumbent upon the government to look with new vigour at our regional alliance arrangements, including bilateral arrangements in particular.
The Timor troop commitment has also highlighted the need to review Australia's defence spending. The Treasurer said last week that the cost of the Timor deployment would mean that spending would have to be tightened in other areas. If that is the case, let him nominate the areas of spending cuts, because there seems to be acceptance of the need to do something about defence spending. The Howard government has already cut spending in areas that previously assisted in our relationships in the region. To save just $7 million, for example, it ended Radio Australia transmissions throughout much of Asia. The innovative export development market programs were also slashed. And today we have a business tax package which does not pay for itself. This is a government that cuts essential tools to improve our relationships. It is a government that preaches fiscal discipline but does not practise it. There is a better way to pay for any additional defence spending necessary as a result of East Timor, and that is to grow this economy sustainably and more strongly using some of the increased revenue as that funding source.
But the most important issue is not about whether we should spend more; it is about making sure that we use what resources we have to ensure the safety of our troops who are there. I reinforce what the Leader of the Opposition has said. Labor is totally supportive of our troops' efforts in East Timor. They are a brave and dedicated band of men and women determined to end the bloodshed and to restore order to a deeply troubled area. Our thoughts are with them and will constantly be with them and with their families remaining behind here in Australia. Our hearts also go out to the people of East Timor who have suffered so gravely in this conflict. We recognise that the Indonesian government, military and pro-integration militias are separate from the ordinary people and communities of Indonesia. We hope the lives of these ordinary people can continue in peace.
We are concerned at the deep policy failures demonstrated by the Howard government throughout the whole affair to date. In all fairness to the Prime Minister, he made a noble attempt at statesmanship when he wrote to the Indonesian government, apparently setting out a proposal for a ballot. But there has been no follow-through from him—and just look at the team that was meant to help him in that follow-through. He has been badly let down by the foreign minister, who is at the table, and by the defence minister. Even his Treasurer has not been of much assistance.
First, the foreign minister admitted in parliament on 10 August that he could not read every cable directed to him. This was meant to be an excuse for not being aware of a detailed report of a request from the US military command in the Pacific for agreement to the attachment of Australian military officers to a possible peace enforcement operation in East Timor. It is not very comforting to know that messages of such national significance were not even being seen by our foreign minister.
It is especially disconcerting given that the Minister for Defence's only prominent defence related activity in his time as minister has been to sack the secretary to his department. Both of them should have been working to avert the disaster that we are trying to address now, but the divided and preoccupied leadership of the Department of Defence exposed a significant weakness. Australian defence forces deserve better than Mr Moore.
The Treasurer has also been playing political games. On 10 September—the day after Labor had called for economic sanctions to be imposed against Indonesia as part of an effort to obtain Indonesia's agreement to an international peacekeeping force—the Treasurer said:
Economic sanctions are something that can go on for 10 or 20 or 30 years. They don't fix things in the short term. What we are interested in is doing something now, and that's what we are currently working on.
Unfortunately, when he made this statement he had not checked with the Prime Minister as to whether or not sanctions were actually on the agenda. Later in the day, the Prime Minister made it clear that sanctions had not been ruled out and that they were still on the table, with the Treasurer forced to go on Melbourne radio to deny his earlier statement. Neil Mitchell on 3AW asked him:
You're reported as saying that you thought economic sanctions and trade sanctions would in fact not fix anything in the short term, is that accurate?
To which the Treasurer replied, despite what I have reported before, `No.' He also said:
We shouldn't be sitting around saying to ourselves let's do something that will have an effect in ten or twenty years, doesn't mean we should rule that out.
If the Howard government had handled the independence ballot with more aplomb, more political nous and more diplomatic sensitivity, perhaps things may not have been as serious as they are today. Certainly, every extra day the peacekeeping force could have been in East Timor the more lives would likely have been saved. Instead, the Howard government has monumentally mishandled the situation.
A timetable for the engagement must be established, and a commitment must be sought for the early withdrawal of militia forces as well as a curb on their ability to attack. Australian men and women in East Timor are risking their lives so that the East Timorese may get their own lives back under control, so that the gross abuses of human rights occurring in the area are stopped and so that the results of the UN supervised ballot can be implemented.
We do not know how long the Australian troops will be committed to East Timor, but our thoughts and hopes are, and will be, with them during every minute of their assignment. The Howard government must work ceaselessly and tirelessly to ensure their safety. There can be debates about the past, but we have to secure the future. We must deliver a safe present for our troops and a secure future for the people of East Timor and work over time to rebuild the relationship with Indonesia that has been shattered.