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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9241


Senator BROWNHILL (11:43 AM) —I start by referring to the terms of reference of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee: the economic, social and political conditions, including human rights, in the territory; Indonesia's military presence in East Timor and reports of ongoing conflict in the territory; the prospects for a just and lasting settlement of the East Timor conflict; Australia's humanitarian and development assistance in East Timor; The Timor Gap Zone Cooperation Treaty; and past and present Australian government policy towards East Timor, including the issue of East Timor self-determination. These terms of reference were put down on 21 October last year.

I have never before, in any inquiry I have been involved with in this Senate and outside the Senate, heard of such inhumanity by humans to each other. That has come through very clearly in the inquiry, both before the referendum and since. I quote the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he spoke last evening in New York at the United Nations. He said:

The world has witnessed the most horrible cruelty visited on the island's population by people who were unwilling to accept the outcome of the vote.

That has come through very clearly the whole way through our inquiry.

I recognise the part that President Habibie has played in his efforts to bring democracy to Indonesia and the holding of the first democratic elections in more than four decades. Tribute should be paid to President Habibie for what he has done. Now Indonesia awaits the election of its next president. It was also President Habibie who decided to allow the people of East Timor to choose between greater autonomy within Indonesia and independence. These were momentous decisions. I will quote what our Minister for Foreign Affairs said yesterday at the United Nations. He said:

Those were momentous decisions, decisions that reflect the massive strides that Indonesian society has made in just a few short months.

Australia stood by the Indonesian people as they began their transition to democracy, and we will continue to do so in the years ahead.

Regardless of the problems that have beset the transition process in East Timor, President Habibie and his administration deserve full credit for actually initiating that process.

As I said, they were momentous decisions.

At this stage I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister of Australia and also the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the job they have done in very difficult circumstances with a country very close to our shores. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have done it in an exemplary way, and this parliament—as is mentioned in a report—expressed unanimous concern for a country very close to us and set out what we wanted to do to help. The aid workers in East Timor need congratulations and thanks; our consular officials need congratulations and thanks; and our military officers and liaison officers who were in East Timor prior to the referendum and the Federal Police all need special commendation for what they have done.

The peacekeeping force and transition force in East Timor would not have happened if we did not have the agreement put together by the ministers for foreign affairs of Portugal and Indonesia and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Article 1 at the back of our report states:

Request the Secretary-General to put the attached proposed constitutional framework providing for a special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary Republic of Indonesia to the East Timorese people, both inside and outside East Timor, for their consideration and acceptance or rejection through a popular consultation on the basis of a direct, secret and universal ballot.

Article 2 states:

Request the Secretary-General to establish, immediately after the signing of this Agreement, an appropriate United Nations mission in East Timor to enable him to effectively carry out the popular consultation.

Article 3 states:

The Government of Indonesia will be responsible for maintaining peace and security in East Timor in order to ensure that the popular consultation is carried out in a fair and peaceful way in an atmosphere free of intimidation, violence or interference from any side.

Article 4 states:

Request the Secretary-General to report the result of the popular consultation to the Security Council and the General Assembly, as well as to inform the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal and the East Timorese people.

It continues in article 5 and article 6. Article 7 states:

During the interim period between the conclusion of the popular consultation and the start of the implementation of either option, the parties request the Secretary-General to maintain an adequate United Nations presence in East Timor.

That would not have happened either had President Habibie not actually sought military assistance through the Security Council. President Habibie has to be congratulated and thanked for having done that, notwithstanding some of the events that have happened before and after. Also mention should be made of the delegation led by the Hon. Tim Fischer to observe and report back on the referendum held in East Timor. He was assisted by the Hon. Laurie Brereton from the other place and Senator Payne and Senator Bourne from this place. Obviously, something will be said about their visit during this debate.

I know time is short so I will finish by saying that it is a very difficult situation. Again, I wish to record what the Minister for Foreign Affairs said in New York yesterday. He said:

I am pleased to report that INTERFET's deployment has been smooth and peaceful, and that elements of the force are now spreading across the territory of East Timor.

It has begun the vital work of bringing peace back to the troubled island, and of assisting in creating the right climate for the provision of the food, shelter and medical assistance that the East Timorese desperately require.

This is the latest chapter in the United Nations' long association with East Timor, an association that has lasted for more than a quarter of a century.

The process that has brought us here has been long and difficult, but at last we may be approaching a peaceful resolution of the tragedy that has beset the East Timorese people for so long.

I will finish by quoting what the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation on East Timor. He said:

Our soldiers go to East Timor as part of a great Australian military tradition, which has never sought to impose the will of this country on others, but only to defend what is right. They go with our goodwill and total support. We wish them Godspeed and a safe return home.

As I do.