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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 710


Mr BALDWIN (8:42 PM) —On 5 August 2009 I joined with members of the Defence subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in a brief visit to Timor-Leste. The objective was to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by our ADF personnel and to observe the development of Timor-Leste defence forces as Timor-Leste matures as a nation to a future where it no longer requires Australian forces as a part of its domestic security support arrangements.

For a nation that has been ravaged by events of the past, Timor-Leste is making solid progress since independence toward a more stable security environment. That progress has been driven by the tenacity and bravery of the men and women of Timor-Leste under the resilient leadership of the President, Dr Jose Ramos Horta, and supported by several nations and NGOs in which Australia has played an important role.

At the Defence Cooperation Program headquarters in Dili, Ambassador Heyward briefed the committee on Timor-Leste’s progress and challenges, and gave an explanation of its ongoing relationship and links with Australia and a detailed briefing on the many organisations—governmental and nongovernmental—engaged in Timor-Leste’s ongoing development as well as the country’s neighbourhood and its resource base, economy and trade.

Senior DCP Adviser to the Timor-Leste Defence Force, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Ferndale, briefed the committee on the DCP’s role in assisting to create and sustain a professional military culture. A long-term goal would be to enable the Timor-Leste Defence Force to reach a standard of training and effectiveness that could see it contributing internationally. The briefing also explained how the DCP interacts with the International Stabilisation Force and the Timor-Leste Defence Force. The committee were informed that the DCP’s major projects included the establishment of the Specialist Training Wing, the Maritime Security Program, improvements to logistics management, communications capability and the construction of buildings.

At the International Stabilisation Force Headquarters at Camp Phoenix, Dili, we were briefed by Commander ISF, Brigadier Bill Sowry and his team from the Joint Task Force 631. Briefings covered the ISF’s mission, tasks, organisation, disposition and challenges. We were advised that the ISF was becoming more engaged in liaison and nation building alongside the NGOs through the establishment and use of liaison officers.

The visit to the Timor-Leste Defence Force Nicolau Lobato Training Centre at Metinaro gave the committee an opportunity to meet with trainees, to understand their backgrounds and their reasons in joining the Timor-Leste Defence Force. I was impressed with the newly constructed facilities and the briefing from the Officer Commanding the Specialist Training Wing, Major Barry Rhodes, on the training program, which includes a comprehensive English-language training program. This is an integral part of the DCP strategy, alongside the development of a training culture that will underpin a professional military culture.

In conclusion, the International Stabilisation Force’s mission is to ‘support the government of Timor-Leste in maintaining stability and the development of its security sector in order to allow the continuing growth of Timor-Leste as a stable economic nation’. I am happy to report that this is being achieved and that the strengthening of the Timor-Leste Defence Force will enable Australia and others to reduce their commitment to the ISF and other supporting infrastructure. In recognition of the above, the President of Timor Leste, Dr Jose Ramos Horta, today presented nearly 200 Navy, Army and Air Force personnel with the Timor-Leste Solidarity Medal and expressed his nation’s gratitude to those personnel who are about to return home. To quote President Ramos:

Together we have been able to restore peace and security for the people who so much deserved it … As you depart for Australia I wish to thank you for the services you have provided us on behalf of the Australian people.

I should also note that the ISF Commander, Commodore Stuart Mayer, whom I first met on board HMASAnzac during the wreath laying ceremony over HMASSydney on 16 April 2008, was awarded the medal of merit, the medhala de merito, one of the highest accolades that can be presented by the President, becoming one of only a select few people from outside Timor-Leste to receive the medal.

I thank the members of the committee, in particular Wing Commander David Ashworth, and those who made the time as informative as it could have been. Most of all I thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, who carry out their role with absolute distinction and do Australia proud. Along with the chair and on behalf of the committee, I would like to personally thank the Ambassador, Mr Peter Heyward, and his staff at the Australian Embassy in Dili; the ADF staff at the Defence Cooperation Program; the members of Joint Task Force 631 and No. 34 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force for their support and assistance during this trip.