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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10458

Mr QUICK (11:16 AM) —First of all, I would like to compliment the member for North Sydney, Mr Hockey, the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, on his very thought-provoking speech here in the Main Committee. Well done!

I would like to take a few minutes and add a few thoughts of mine on the motion before the Main Committee today concerning East Timor. I, like others, welcomed United Nations resolution 1264 authorising a multinational force to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect the United Nations mission in East Timor, and to facilitate humanitarian assistance.

How does one convey in a few minutes the impact of what has transpired in East Timor? The past few weeks have seen the best and the worst of humanity. We have witnessed through our television screens families lining up to exercise their democratic rights for the first time. They were lulled into a false sense of security by the international community. They went to vote naively believing that the transition to independence was going to be smoothly achieved and that their Indonesian masters would walk away from it all without blinking an eyelid.

We have all watched the horrible aftermath unfold on the television, and seen the homicidal behaviour of the militia and some of the Indonesian troops. We even saw evidence of that this morning on our morning television programs. I have been reminded, as all of us have been, of just how fragile the veneer of humanity really is.

As an Australian, I experienced a wide range of emotions. As a member of the House of Representatives, I wondered just how to put into words my current feelings towards the Indonesian people, their leaders and the Indonesian military. We have seen on television the stage-managed demonstrations by groups of Indonesians, with their messages of hate, their burning of the flags, burning of effigies, and the messages of what they intend, allegedly, to do to those of our peacekeeping forces stationed in East Timor. We have seen President Habibie address his parliament the day before yesterday and trot out, to my mind, a biased and emotive speech to justify staying on as a leader. Just how stupid does he really think we all are?

I would like to take this brief opportunity to convey to General Wiranto and his officers the statement that I have nothing but contempt for them. I abhor their collusion and complicity in allowing the systematic brutality meted out to those Timorese who dared vote for independence.

Members in this place would probably say that we should not apportion blame to the Indonesian people as a whole, that it is not their fault, rather, we should continue the dialogue, continue the aid and the financial assistance in the hope that democratisation will solve all the ills currently evident in Indonesia. I agree with this sentiment. I have worked tirelessly, as many in this House have, to promote international understanding and to alleviate Third World poverty and Third World debt.

I do not want to see Australians harassing Indonesian students as they walk through the streets of Australia. I would rather that we sat down with them and conducted a real dialogue in order to strengthen the deep friendship that exists between Australians and Indonesians. On the other hand, what is our response to be to the tens of thousands of people who have disappeared; to the countless families brutalised by the militia and the Indonesian army as they rampaged through East Timor? Go and browse through the history books. Look at the pictures. The uniforms are different, but the looks on the people being herded away are just the same.

People in this place and in the House have already spoken of how the defence and intelligence experts and the diplomats failed to see that this horror would eventuate and of just how ill-prepared, as an international community, we were to resolve it. Others have spoken of the speed with which the United Nations moved to implement resolution 1264, which enabled the peacekeeping forces to enter the scorched land of East Timor. One wonders what these experts thought was actually going to happen after the vote for independence.

The peacekeepers are there now. Our troops are gradually restoring some semblance of normalcy to a crazy mixed-up world. My thoughts and those of the people of my electorate go out to them as they face uncertain months ahead in a strange land. Our thoughts are also with their families and close friends. I know that those serving overseas will serve with distinction, as did their forebears in the same countryside. To the numerous aid agencies who are being confronted with the huge task of providing humanitarian assistance, I would like to convey, on behalf of my electorate, my heartfelt appreciation for the superb work they have already done and will continue to do in the months ahead.

To Xanana Gusmao, I express, on behalf of my electorate and myself, the heartfelt hope that East Timor will be given the opportunity to live in peace and harmony. Australia has gone some small way to repay the huge debt we owe the East Timorese people. We will not let them down a second time.