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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10395

Mr BRERETON —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It arises from the 13 August hearings of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee inquiry into East Timor, when DFAT deputy secretary John Dauth told the committee that he could not confirm reports of Indonesian Kopassus troops in East Timor. He said:

I am not really able to say, not because I am hiding anything but because we do not have any definitive information on that . . . I simply do not know whether it is true.

Is it not the case that at least five weeks before Mr Dauth's testimony Australian CIVPOL and military liaison officers had reported their serious concern about the presence of a large number of Kopassus troops in East Timor? Minister, was your deputy secretary woefully ill-informed or were his remarks a further example of the state of denial which characterise government policy?

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —Let me begin by saying that I regret the attack on John Dauth by the member for Kingsford-Smith. Mr Dauth was chief of staff to the member for Holt at one stage, and he served the member for Holt with loyalty. He has also served me and the government with commendable loyalty as a deputy secretary and, before that, as first assistant secretary in my department. I remember when we were in opposition that, if there was any sense of criticism of a senior public servant from the opposition, there was enormous outrage from the Labor Party. I think the Labor Party should be reminded of that point.

Mr Tanner —What about you?

Mr DOWNER —Funnily enough, I was not actually at the Senate committee meeting nor, my friend, was I quoted. On the more specific question of the relationship between Kopassus and the militias and the activities of Kopassus, as you can imagine this is always—as Mr Dauth's carefully chosen words illustrate—a very delicate and sensitive question because Kopassus is the special forces element of the Indonesian military. Any bold assertions and claims one way or another can raise questions about the source of that sort of information and, of course, has political implications as well. Let me put it to the House this way: there have been concerns expressed from time to time about the association between not just the Indonesian military but specifically the Indonesian special forces and the militias. Putting this into some sort of context, the House may be aware that this government suspended the joint exercises that we used to have with Kopassus, which were set up by your government.