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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9243


Senator BOURNE (11:51 AM) —I am very pleased to be associated with this interim report by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee on the situation in East Timor. In the past when I have been involved in committees which have issued reports that included East Timor, it has not always been as easy and comfortable to put down what I now absolutely know to have been the facts on East Timor. However, it certainly was with this committee and I am very grateful for that.

This report includes a very short history of East Timor since its final days as a Portuguese colony. It is necessarily an extremely short history but I think it is quite good. We all know how the then Portuguese administrators were viewed by the rest of the world—and have been since then really—when they left East Timor in such disarray in 1975. Of course, that does not excuse the invasion by Indonesia which occurred soon after that. The way the Portuguese have been and will be viewed in history is nothing compared to the way the Indonesians are viewed now. I have used those terms deliberately, but I should not have said `the Portuguese have been viewed', which is what everybody has been saying for the last 25 years. In fact, it was not all of the Portuguese people; it probably was not even most of the Portuguese parliament. I should have defined it as being `those people in Portugal in power at the time who decided that was the way to get out'.

Equally, and I think this has been fairly consistently acknowledged throughout this parliament, we are not talking about the Indonesian people, we are talking about some parts of the Indonesian military who have done an absolutely despicable job inside East Timor. The vast majority of the Indonesian people, and probably the Indonesian parliament, would feel just as badly about all of this if they knew exactly what was going on, and I fear they do not. In paragraph 2.5 of the report on the Indonesian invasion we say:

The capture of Dili was accompanied by massacres, wholesale looting, rapes and indiscriminate destruction, which set a pattern for the conduct of the Indonesian armed forces which was followed over the next twenty-three years.

That is absolutely true and it has only got worse since the vote, which was a wonderful experience because of the absolute courage of the East Timorese people, which was followed by terrible destruction, murder and the dislocation of the people.

As well as including that short history in the report we also mention a few issues that we think are absolutely vital at the moment but will certainly change over the next few months as we finish this report, which we intend to do, and I will go through those briefly. The future of the militias is changing daily. We certainly hope the report we had the day before yesterday, I think, that Eurico Guterres, one of the militia leaders, has said, `Okay, stop fighting now' is correct. Although, when Senator Payne and I and others were in East Timor, we worked out that when Mr Guterres said the militia would do something it took about 36 hours until the complete opposite happened. We hope that will not happen this time. I do not know whether we are up to the 36 hours and so it may well. The militias are a real worry in East Timor, and particularly in West Timor at the moment.

The next issue we address is the East Timorese refugees in West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia. That is probably the biggest worry we have at the moment with this whole thing. That is a strange thing to say, with so much that is disturbing happening, but it is probably the most disturbing. These people fled either because of the violence or, more often, because they were deliberately taken from their homes to somewhere outside of East Timor. Most of them were taken to West Timor, particularly to Kupang. As senators will know, that is right at the other end of the island, and it will be very difficult—if you are walking back home it is a long way to go—for people to get back to East Timor. Mr Alatas has said in New York, I believe, that these people are free to go home, that there is no reason for them to stay in West Timor—or wherever else they were put by the Indonesian military—so I hope that will now be facilitated.

Of course, that is still very much a wait and see situation. We do not know what will happen. I have not heard of anyone who has been able to get out of Kupang and back home to East Timor. There is very strong wording in this report that we believe the rest of the world ought to be watching very closely what happens in what are now huge refugee camps in West Timor and also what happens to the other refugees from East Timor. I hope those who were taken well away from the island do not get forgotten. At least the ones taken to West Timor are on the same island, and there is a possibility of them getting home—even if they have to walk, no matter how dangerous, and it would be very dangerous.

But others who were put on Flores, a completely different island, or South Sulawesi or other places within Indonesia will have an even more difficult time. They will need help to get back to their homes in East Timor when they are rebuilt—or even to just get back to East Timor. We must make sure they get taken back. Indonesia has an absolute duty to make sure that these people are returned to East Timor. It was the Indonesian military who took them away and it should be Indonesia that takes them back. We have to keep watching and make sure that that happens.

Of course, this situation could turn, and already is turning, into a huge humanitarian disaster. East Timor has been looted, destroyed and absolutely razed to the ground by elements of the Indonesian military and that has caused a gigantic humanitarian disaster area. But there is also a huge humanitarian disaster elsewhere inside Indonesia caused by people being deliberately taken out of East Timor. We have mentioned that aid must be coordinated. We have all seen in other areas where you get separate aid agencies—the big bilaterals AusAID and USAID, and others—going in and not coordinating themselves as they should reasonably do through the UN. Also, smaller NGOs themselves are not coordinating. It would be very useful if that were done and we have made a recommendation to that effect.

I am very pleased that the committee has put in a recommendation with respect to Radio Australia which, as senators know, is one of my favourite topics. There just is no question that Radio Australia is desperately needed within the region right now. We have to be able to tell ordinary Indonesian people throughout Indonesia what is really going on and what Australian soldiers are really doing. We are getting false reports from the Indonesian newsagency Antara. I heard some more from Dr Mahathir this morning. It is outrageous what is being said about Australians, and it is outrageous that there is so little opportunity for the truth to get in there. There should be, as the chairman said, at least the eight hours a day of Indonesian language, news, current affairs and information going into Indonesia as there was before the Cox Peninsula transmitter was closed down—and I would hope Tetum could be broadcast into East Timor, but that is coming from Shepparton of course.

I think this report is groundbreaking in many ways. It has used the term `Indonesian invasion', which we have all known for the last 25 years but nobody in the parliament has liked to say. It has actually used that term as if it is a fact, which it is. I am really pleased to see that. I was very pleased with the way senators were so concerned about this and understood what the real problems were—everybody worked so hard and worked together on this. Senator Brownhill was particularly interested in the 5 May agreement and brought it up time and time again—and very reasonably too. That is something we have attached to the back of this report that people should read to see how badly things went. I think that, now that we have something like this, we will be able to establish an honest relationship with Indonesia not based on anything other than the truth. That is very important.

Finally, I would like to thank the chair of the committee—an excellent chair—who chaired absolutely reasonably and fairly all of the hearings I was at. I also thank the secretariat who, I believe, have done an excellent job on this report.