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Wednesday, 24 May 2006
Page: 65

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer and Acting Prime Minister. Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the parliament of the outcomes of any discussions he has had with the East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao or Prime Minister Alkatiri about the offer of Australian assistance to East Timor, including the provision of Australian military personnel and police?

Mr COSTELLO (Acting Prime Minister) —Contact between Australia and East Timor has been between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the foreign minister of East Timor, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will no doubt update the House and the nation on that later on. What I can advise is that the situation in East Timor remains dangerous, that there was continued fighting overnight and that the situation could change quickly and without notice. The travel advisory has been updated and, as a consequence, we are now warning Australians that if they are already in East Timor they should consider departing. I can also indicate that those Commonwealth government people who are non-essential are doing that, and arrangements are being put in place for Australians to protect their safety.

Can I indicate as well that Australia stands ready, if requested by the constitutional authorities in East Timor, to provide security to assist in stabilising the situation. I make it clear that this would be done in relation to a request—and it would have to be a constitutional request. Australia has an interest in having a stable region. We would respond to a request not only because it is in the interests of the East Timorese people but also because it is in the interests of Australia that the area be stabilised. Australia has already contributed both policing and troops to East Timor, and we stand ready to assist our neighbours if they should request assistance again. Relevant elements of the Australian Defence Force have been placed on a footing where they would be able to respond on very short notice indeed. Our objective, of course, would be not only to secure the situation in East Timor but, in addition to that, to defend the personal safety of Australians. This matter has been extensively discussed with the heads of security and Australian defence forces. The National Security Committee had a long discussion in relation to it yesterday, and it will continue to monitor developments and deal with them as they arise.