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Monday, 27 September 1999
Page: 10701

Mr GIBBONS (6:14 PM) —I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate tonight, and in doing so, I thought I might give a brief report of a couple of public meetings in my electorate of Bendigo, which have taken place in the previous two weeks. The first one was a meeting in Castlemaine on 7 September, which was called at one day's notice; approximately 90 people attended that meeting. The second meeting was a few short days later in Bendigo, again at short notice, and some 120 people from the Bendigo district attended that meeting. That meeting, incidentally, was called by the city of Greater Bendigo. This not only highlights the depth of feeling that people in Bendigo have over this issue, but I am sure it is reflected in communities all over Australia. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the resolutions carried at those meetings.

Leave granted.

The resolutions read as follows

East Timor Meeting Castlemaine—Tuesday, September 7, 1999.

At a public meeting held in Castlemaine, Victoria, called at one day's notice, 86 people attended and passed the following motion unanimously:

That this meeting demands the immediate and complete withdrawal of Indonesian Armed Forces from East Timor to be immediately replaced by a Peacekeeping force made up of Australian and/or United Nations Forces.

Until Indonesian Forces agree to leave East Timor, we demand that the Australian Government implement the following actions:

1 A complete trade embargo on all trade with Indonesia.

2 Halt all financial assistance to the Government of Indonesia.

3 Immediately desist from training members of the Indonesian Armed Forces in Sale or any other Australian Bases.

4 The mobilisation of Australian Military forces to give armed support and protection to the People of East Timor as they move towards their democratic choice of independence.


The meeting commenced at 6.00 p.m. and was attended by approximately 120 Bendigo citizens.

The meeting was addressed by Mr Victor Kaye, who had recently returned East Timor, after serving with the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor.

The following resolutions were passed by the meeting:

That this meeting of Bendigo citizens request:

1 That the Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard and the Foreign Minister, the Honourable Alexander Downer, express our outrage on behalf of the Australian Government to the Government and Military of Indonesia, and their failure to meet their obligations of protection and security for the East Timorese people as defined by the United Nations Agreement of the 5th May 1999.

2 That a PeaceKeeping Force be deployed in East Timor and trade sanctions be imposed on Indonesia forthwith.

3 That the Government be urged to use its influence with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to withhold all monetary assistance to Indonesia immediately.

4 That Bendigo people and businesses be urged to boycott Indonesian products and suspend all dealings with Indonesia until continuing peace and freedom is established in East Timor and all East Timorese have control of their own destiny in accordance with the United Nations 5th May, 1999 Agreements.

5 That the recommended action expressed in the letter from Amnesty International be endorsed which requests the sending of telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/airmail letters, making the following points:

(a) Expressing your horror at the situation in East Timor, and your fears for the safety of the entire population;

(b) Noting that the United Nations is a party to the 5 May 1999 Agreements, and has an obligation to the East Timorese people, who, despite threats and intimidation, courageously exercised their right to self-determined by participating in the popular consultation on 30 August 1999;

(c) Asking what, as a member state of the United Nations, your Government is doing to protect the rights of the East Timorese people;

(d) Urging your Government to impose an immediate moratorium on all transfers to Indonesia of military, security and police equipment, weaponry, personnel or training which could be used by the army, police or militias to commit human rights violations. The moratorium should include all financial and logistical support for such transfers, including spare parts and maintenance, licensed production, brokering and Government-to-Government agreements;

and that trade sanctions be imposed.

6 That it be recognised that the resolutions made are aimed at the Government and the military of Indonesia, rather than the Indonesian people.

7 That there be an immediate and safe return of all East Timorese who have been forcibly removed to Indonesia.

8 That the Federal Government be advised that the Bendigo community stands ready to provide whatever humanitarian aid it can to assist those affected by the civil strife in East Timor.

A collection was taken up to aid the people of East Timor. Funds would be distributed by Victor Kaye, through the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor.

The Mayor and Council were thanked for arranging the public meeting.

A small group of people arranged to meet after the meeting to arrange a candlelight vigil and rally.

The meeting concluded at 8.00 p.m.

Mr GIBBONS —The guest speaker at both meetings was a man named Mr Victor Kaye, who is a resident of Castlemaine in Bendigo. Mr Kaye was in East Timor as a United Nations observer at the recent election, and made it back to Castlemaine on Monday, 6 September. Ironically, Mr Kaye said, the election day was quite peaceful. When he arrived at the guesthouse he was to stay in, an eight-year-old boy played his guitar and performed a song for him. The boy politely refused Mr Kaye's offer of 500 rupiah, or about $A1, for performing the song by saying, `I do it for you.' Such is the generous nature of the East Timorese people.

But, as Mr Kaye reported, there were ominous undertones beneath the surface of normality. Violence erupted in the area he was staying in on the Friday, when the house Mr Kaye was staying in was fired upon. He and others who were staying in the home, including judges from the International Commission of Jurists, had to flee for their lives. The house opposite had exploded and was burnt out. The group fled to a second house and then a third house in the one night, dodging shots and being pursued by armed militia. Mr Kaye slept on the bare floor, rather than risk sleeping on a mattress, in case a fire bomb was thrown in.

Outside, the streets turned to chaos, with incidents which made Mr Kaye sick to his stomach. He reported on a situation where a soldier ripped a three-year-old child out of the arms of its father, wringing its neck and throwing it into a burning house. Such were the activities being pursued by the militia. As Mr Kaye said, these people are not soldiers, they are dogs.

On Saturday morning, Mr Kaye and his group managed to get a spot on a vessel which was due to depart East Timor. But as they departed, about 15 shots were fired at the vessel from the wharf. When the boat docked in the West Timorese harbour, the group was told to stay aboard for some hours, and then they realised that they would be taken away for interrogation. Again in fear of their lives, they grabbed their bags and barged through the armed militia guarding the wharf. `Just a few days later, we would not have been able to do that,' Mr Kaye said. `We were in mortal danger.' The group escaped into the streets and eventually made it back to the airport and back to Australia.

That is a snapshot of the experiences of one man who has been very active in East Timorese affairs for some years and who was, as I said, over there as an observer in the elections. Man's inhumanity to man has never ceased to shock or amaze me. The stories relayed by Mr Kaye, and indeed the horrific pictures we see on our news bulletins, show that what has happened in East Timor is probably one of the most barbaric acts we have witnessed in our region.

Last Sunday week, I attended the arrival of the second wave of refugees to the Puckapunyal safe haven, along with the member for McEwen, who is the patron. I remember standing at the door of the bus, helping the people off it, and seeing the looks of absolute despair on their faces, especially the elderly and the young kids. It was probably one of the most traumatic experiences of my life and something I will probably not forget for some time.

As I mentioned before, we have seen horrific footage coming through on our television screens each night. Obviously, equally barbaric is the action of the Indonesian military as they withdrew from the province and burn and pillage everything that is left. Whilst the Indonesian people cannot be held responsible for that, their military certainly can, and thereby their government, and they must be forced to pay for the rebuilding of East Timor.

Australia has its peacekeeping forces in East Timor, and we all welcome that. I know I speak for all people in central Victoria, and in fact for people all over Australia, in wishing those forces a successful mission and a safe return to Australia and their families. We owe an extreme debt of gratitude to the people of East Timor. We know how much assistance they were to us during the Second World War, and anything that this country and this parliament can do to help them must be done. They would have to be one of the most gentle races of people I have ever had anything to do with. Our hearts go out to all of them.