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Monday, 27 September 1999
Page: 10715


Mr JENKINS (8:40 PM) —Last Tuesday the parliament unanimously passed a motion in relation to East Timor. Part of that motion was a formal recognition of the UN Security Council resolution 1264, which is the subject of tonight's debate in the Main Committee. There can be no greater decision of any government than to commit troops for overseas service. No matter what the circumstances, a debate by the federal parliament in this environment is of great moment. The fact that the motion of last week received unanimous support in both houses is a clear reflection of Australia's resolve to contribute now, in 1999, in the most positive way to help the East Timorese people attain their quest for independence.

In my original notes, I have written that I do not wish in this debate to enter into discussion about whether the Howard government could have acted in a more decisive manner to minimise the bloodshed since the referendum on 30 August. On some occasions, having reviewed the debate and having now listened to the further debate, I am a bit ambivalent about whether I wish to enter into a further discussion. The issues have well and truly been canvassed, especially the clear evidence of the availability of intelligence reports and the statements of East Timorese leaders predicting that the retribution carried out by pro-integrationist forces would, in fact, occur.

Whilst it is important to acknowledge the availability of these assessments, I believe it is still important to acknowledge that these are not the first intelligence reports over the last 25 years that have been ignored by successive governments. When some of those on the other side choose to criticise the actions of Labor governments over the past 25 years—whether it be the Whitlam, the Hawke or the Keating government—there has been a fairly consistent attitude by the leadership of not only the Labor Party but also the coalition on this matter. That is not to say that there have not been brave souls, individual members, who stuck their necks out in putting views that went against the views of the leadership of their political parties. The issue of East Timor has always had a special place and, as individuals, from time to time we have tried to come to grips with the reasons for previous decisions.

The reaction of young people to the issue of East Timor has interested me. Soon after being elected to this place, I came to realise that many Australians who questioned what successive governments had done in East Timor were too young to realise what had actually happened. They had therefore made a judgment based on the evidence that they had gathered, and based on what they thought should have happened in contemporary times. This is an issue that has always been important within the Australian public. Therefore, the men and women of the Australian defence forces who are now deployed in Timor have the greatest support of the Australian public.

No matter how robust the debate has been on the motion moved in the House of Representatives or on the notation of this UN resolution, there is one clear fact: all members of this parliament give their greatest support to the ADF forces. They support those forces and hope that they are able to return safely as soon as possible.

I know that this is one occasion when I feel very confident that I can put not only a personal view but also a view on behalf of the people I represent here in this place—the electors of Scullin. They would wish me to convey to those people serving in East Timor—in the knowledge that those people serving will do so in the most professional manner possible—the hope that they return safely in the not too distant future. Regrettably, it would appear that that not too distant future may be a little way off. In talking about those serving in the ADF, we would also like to ensure that those serving as humanitarian workers in East Timor also feel the support we have for the work that they are doing in trying to help the East Timorese people back to the greatest degree of normality.

It is important that those who have committed crimes against humanity in East Timor should be brought to account by the world community. It is not trite to say that some of the footage and stories that have been beamed out of East Timor are of the most horrific crimes imaginable. It would not be appropriate to think that those who carried them out would be able to get away with what they have done.

Another thing that Australia should play a leading role in is the humanitarian effort. Whilst, on behalf of the community, the government is encouraged to provide a safe haven to some of the refugees from East Timor, we should also remember that those efforts should be carried out in the context of ensuring that those who wish to return to East Timor can do so with great safety and success.

Another point that we should remember is that there are many in the Indonesian community who are involved in a great struggle to further democratise Indonesia, and they are deserving of our praise and our support. When we make comments, in general these should not be seen as being against the whole of the Indonesian populace but as a recognition that there is a determination that out of this Indonesian democracy can also gather great strength.

In the quaint language of the UN, this particular resolution concludes by saying that the Security Council decides `to remain actively seized of the matter'. I am not too sure what that actually means. If it is a very positive notion, I hope that the UN, through the Security Council and the other agencies, is `actively seized' of the matter with great urgency and determination so that the East Timorese people may be freed from the situation in which they find themselves. People such as Xanana Gusmao, Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo—the leading public figures who have continued the struggle and who are supported by the many thousands brave enough to participate in the referendum to overwhelmingly support independence—are deserving of our greatest support. That is the reason Australia is involved—not for any reasons of territorial gain, but to see that the right thing is done.

I have quoted James Henry Scullin before, but I never actually thought that it might be appropriate in the context of a foreign affairs matter. This quote appears on Scullin's memorial. It says:

Justice and humanity demand interference whenever the weak are being crushed by the strong.

It is in that context that I wholeheartedly support Australia's involvement now in INTERFET and, if required, later in peacekeeping troops in East Timor.