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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10453


Mr NUGENT (10:52 AM) —I am pleased to continue my remarks, which were interrupted yesterday, on the motion before us on East Timor. Yesterday I had outlined a number of very direct things relevant to East Timor and some of the things that were going to happen in the future, and I had identified some of the longer term aspects of the issues this raises for this country in terms of foreign affairs. I had particularly been exploring the relationship with the United States and the fact that these days that country no longer regards itself as the world's policeman, and that that had perhaps caused us to have some reappraisal of our military and diplomatic relationships with that country.

One of the problems in the United States is the current leadership. In terms of Australia, I am not so sure that we are actually on the radar screen on occasion. One of the reasons they perhaps were so slow in responding to our requests was that they do not have the background that the leadership of 20 or 30 years ago had of direct exposure or experience here and in this part of the world because of World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and so on. We certainly have this problem of East Timor on our doorstep. Military capacity is, of course, limited. We cannot quite rely on who we thought we could in the same way that we thought we could, and so it all gets a bit lonely.

To me, it has been staggering to see some of the comments in the media from so-called serious journalists about our handling of the East Timor and Indonesia situation and that US relationship. Not only have there been some total reversals of position by those journalists in very short order, but some of the alleged facts have been way off beam. The public deserves better—but more of that on another occasion.

Indonesia has seen us as interfering, as causing their public humiliation, and there is talk of retaliation, of interfering with our shipping, our aircraft navigation and so on. It will take a long time, I suspect, to patch up that relationship, but patch it up we must. We cannot live forever with the fourth largest country in the world—which, in our lifetime, will overtake us in GDP and military terms—being at odds with this country.

We have taken a principled stand on East Timor and backed it with actions, and quite rightly so. I believe that, recently, the Prime Minister and the foreign minister have navigated very well through some pretty difficult and rough seas. Nobody really knows how this will finally turn out. But we can say with confidence and certainty that it will take time; it will take money. We need to reappraise our military situation; we probably need to reappraise our relationship with the United States; we need to work harder still with our neighbours in the region; and we will eventually have to normalise our relationships with Indonesia.

May I close by saying that, as one who has served in the military for a great number of years and served in areas on active service, I wish our military personnel in East Timor the very best and a safe return. I wish this not only to the Australians but to all the members of the international force. These are difficult times, as we have heard on the radio and the television this morning. Our thoughts go out very much to the families and our hearts go out to the East Timorese people. I support the motion.