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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Page: 34

Senator JOHNSTON (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Will the minister update the Senate on the ongoing efforts of Australian personnel to help restore law and order in East Timor?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I think all senators now realise the extent of our involvement in East Timor in relation to the recent troubles that country has been experiencing. On 24 May this year, we received a request for assistance from the government of East Timor. The government of Australia responded immediately. The ADF was deployed. The Australian Federal Police deployed a scoping mission to assess what was needed. I can report that, in country, we have 1,300 ADF personnel on the ground, with offshore support. As well as that, there are 198 Australian Federal Police. We deployed 45 yesterday and a further 47 today.

At a recent meeting I had at the United Nations with Senator Robert Hill and UN officials, it was acknowledged by the UN that Australia was doing great work in the region in relation to peacekeeping. Indeed, it was of great satisfaction to hear that the UN has a very high regard for our peacekeepers, particularly the Australian Federal Police, who have been involved in that role over such a long period of time. What we are engaging in is a policing role with the ADF, and the East Timorese government has given policing powers to the Australian Federal Police. We are on patrols with the ADF. We are bringing to those patrols the expertise that we have in relation to policing.

There have been recent crimes committed—horrific crimes where deaths have resulted. A number of police have been murdered. There was the tragic arson which involved the death of six members of one family, and there have been a number of other civilian deaths. These are being investigated. We are doing the job of preserving evidence to ensure that investigations can then take their course and that those who are guilty are brought to justice.

The first priority for our people on the ground is to restore law and order to not only Dili but the districts as well. I am pleased to say that the East Timorese police are assisting in the districts. The Portuguese paramilitary police are now assisting in a district in Dili which has been designated to them. We are working with police from New Zealand and Malaysia. It is anticipated that the policing force from Australia will number 200, with 250 from Malaysia, a further 50 from New Zealand and 200 from Portugal. This is a mission which is an extremely important one not only for East Timor but for the region and for Australia. What we are doing is fundamental to the preservation of law and order in East Timor.

We acknowledge that the UN mandate needs to be renewed and expanded. That is what we are supporting. That was a subject of my discussions in the UN when I was there recently. The mandate will have to be extended. We certainly look forward to supporting that. But, in the interim, firm measures are needed, and that is what we are taking. At the end of the day, it is up to the East Timorese government and the people of East Timor to determine the future of their own country. They are a sovereign nation and they have responsibility for their own future, and we recognise that. We, as a neighbouring nation, stand ready to assist them in relation to the recent challenges that we have seen in that country. Our commitment has been extensive over a period of time and no doubt will continue for some time into the future. We are there for the long haul and we are there to assist East Timor as long as they ask for that assistance.