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Monday, 27 September 1999
Page: 10725

Mrs GALLUS (9:25 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, do you have any objection if I make my remarks sitting down?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hollis) —No, that is fine. It may set a precedent that may well be continued.

Mrs GALLUS —I can see little point in standing in a room where we are all so absolutely visible. In addressing the motion on the UN resolution on East Timor, and having watched the television records of what is happening in East Timor at the moment, I would like to commend the Australian forces on the impression that they have given, which is of a highly disciplined, very effective force. I, as one Australian, have been very proud to see the way that they have behaved: with dignity and yet at the same time with firmness. Certainly my congratulations go to Major General Cosgrove for the way that he has acted in an extremely difficult situation.

Having said that, I would like to spend the rest of my time in comments on various issues. The first is East Timor itself, and Australia's obligation to East Timor. I read in the Australian several days ago a comment by Paul Kelly discussing the various myths, as he saw them. One of the myths that he named was Australia's `obligation' to East Timor. His point of view was that we had no obligation to East Timor and the feeling that post World War II we should have done something more for East Timor was neither practical nor even reasonable. I would disagree with Mr Kelly on that point.

My father was one of those servicemen during the Second World War who fought in the islands and near East Timor. They were very much aware at the time of how much their lives and safety depended on the East Timorese. They had an understanding with the East Timorese that the kindness, the putting aside of their own safety, the putting themselves at risk by the East Timorese for Australians would always be remembered by Australia. But after the events of 1975 there was a feeling that Australia had not remembered what had happened during the Second World War. I believe that within the country there was a feeling of, perhaps, shame that we had not done more to protest at what had happened to East Timor.

This is not to say that we could have changed the events of history. I doubt that we could have. But there was a complicity in our attitude to what had happened in East Timor which I think has caused many older Australians and, from them, their children and grandchildren to feel a sense of shame. That now has passed and I think there is a feeling in Australia that we have done the right thing: even by putting Australian lives at risk we are standing for principles that we believe in in East Timor. We are opposed to butchery, and we will step in where we can to prevent it from happening and to protect innocent women and children.

I have heard people say, `We will regret this decision because popular opinion will go against it when we see bodies coming home in bags.' Those people are treading on very dangerous ground. If it should happen that Australian lives are lost in Timor, the worst thing that we could do to the survivors and the relatives of those people who died, who gave their lives, would be to say that their involvement should not have happened, that we should not have been there. All that we should say is that they died for a good cause, and we need to say that if it happens, not to start at this stage saying, `Well, we weren't going to achieve anything anyway. It is not a good pragmatic decision because we may lose Australian lives.'

There is pride that we have taken the right decision. The feeling of the population is that we have finally stood up for the liberal democratic values that we are supposed to hold in this country and there is a time to say that these values are more important than pragmatism.

Having said that, I would like to briefly touch on the role that the opposition has played in this debate. It is not one that I suspect covers the opposition with any great honour. They have had two arguments against the course of events. The first is that Australia should have sent in peacekeeping forces earlier. The second is that there should have been a coalition of peacekeepers before the ballot. Both of these points are so far from what was possible as to be ludicrous. To go back, we did not know what the vote on East Timor was going to be, and neither did Indonesia. I defy anybody to say that they were not surprised when they saw the extent of that yes vote, especially after the intimidation that had gone on in East Timor.

We did not know how the referendum was going to pan out, neither did Indonesia. Although we were afraid of what the militia might do, we could not prejudge the issue. To do so would have brought the severest condemnation not only from Indonesia but from all of our other South-East Asian neighbours. We could not say, `This is going to happen: let's rush in.'

Let us also look at the practicality. When we finally did go in as a peacekeeping force, it was with the agreement of Indonesia. We could not have gone in without that agreement, without declaring war on Indonesia, which was obviously patently ridiculous. It also followed a resolution of the United Nations. That resolution only followed an invitation by Indonesia. We had to have that invitation.

If the opposition thinks there was any real likelihood of Indonesia offering that invitation beforehand, they should have a look at what was needed to eventually get that invitation. It was the television sets around the world displaying the violence that was erupting in East Timor and the actions of the militia. On top of that, it required pressure from the United States and also from neighbouring countries and the International Monetary Fund. That pressure had to be there at the end in face of what was happening to get Indonesia to make that offer. But the opposition has sought to find party political advantage in this situation which, for the welfare of the whole of this continent, is a very dangerous thing to do.

Indonesia is upset about what happened in East Timor. It had spent a lot of money and time in trying to secure the province and it was slapped in the face with a 78 per cent vote against it. Following that, it has the condemnation of Australia. It does not need, therefore, any encouragement from Australian politicians for Indonesia to start badmouthing Australia. How does the opposition think that the leadership of other South-East Asian countries, such as Thailand, react when they see not only Indonesia criticising Australia but also Australia's own politicians?

They do not see it in the way that we see it, as party political point scoring, but they see it as dissension within Australia about the role we are playing in East Timor. In doing so, the Leader of the Opposition has much to answer for. It may be that it was in response to the stinging criticism of his ex-colleague that he had an un-Churchillian streak of timidity. This was not the time to show that he was not timid. It was a time to unify all Australians to stand behind Australia's effort in East Timor and to look to the future of Australia and East Timor.

Finally, may I say that it is in East Timor's interest that Australia have good relations with Indonesia because we do not need Indonesia taking out anger at Australia on East Timor. Despite the posturing of the opposition, it is not Australia who will be the be-all and end-all of what happens in East Timor. It is very much up to the Indonesian military whether they continue to support the militia in East Timor or not. If we look to the future, we have to try to stabilise the relationship with Indonesia, not just for the sake of the relationship itself but for the interests of all East Timorese and the future of a stable and secure East Timor.