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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1251

Senator McGAURAN (5.36 p.m.) —I welcome the statements of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans) and of the government, but I have to say from the outset that his statement really did have all of the meekness that the minister has been accused of in the New York Times editorial. For that reason it is a disappointing statement. I refer to that editorial because it is a most important newspaper with the largest circulation in the world. The New York Times, if nothing else, is a most influential paper on public thinking, if not government thinking. So when it accuses this minister and this country, by association, of being meek in the most important matter in our relationship with Indonesia—that is East Timor—then we should take the matter seriously. The New York Times, as reported, said:

The paper accused the Australian diplomats of employing Orwellian type newspeak when they avoid mentioning the words East Timor and referred to Timor, thus uniting in their vocabulary what Indonesia has vainly striven to unite with gun and bomb.

It says:

Australian diplomats meekly refuse to challenge Indonesia's illegal grab of Timor.

I highlight those matters. I am sure the minister is well aware of them as he did respond to the New York Times editorial with his usual bluster. It is fair enough for him to do that on behalf of the government, but I would hope that in his political rhetoric and in his retort to that editorial he absorbed some of the significance of a newspaper of this standing taking such a position. The question of East Timor is becoming anaesthetised in Australia. It may be that it is not a matter on the minds of Australians generally or, for that matter, too great an issue in our immediate region.

  It is, on the whole, a very serious matter in world affairs—certainly within the European countries, the United States and the United Nations itself. So while we in this country may be slightly anaesthetised to the issue of East Timor, it is being noted and is still a fierce cause in other parts of the world, particularly in a leading country such as the United States. For that reason, I am disappointed with the government's response because it is meek. I have not had time to properly go through the government's response but I immediately wondered what would be the most significant step this government could take in its relations in Indonesia with regard to the East Timor situation? What would be the one big perception buster that would send the message out to take the human rights issue right up to the Indonesian government? I immediately went to recommendation No. 7 where the committee recommended that the Australian government should press for the reopening of its consulate in Dili.

  I believe that would be the most significant and cautious step. It would not be a slap in the face, as this minister is so rightly but concerningly attempting to avoid in his relations with Indonesia. If we were to re-establish our consulate in Dili, that would be that extra step towards pushing the human rights issues and the concerns we have in regard to East Timor.

  However, in reading the government's response, as the New York Times rightly put it, it went into political speak and was very meek in responding to this recommendation. The government says that it is not a bad idea—indeed, it is not a bad idea—but weighs it up against the cost of setting up the consulate in Dili. There would be some cost to it, but I do not think it would outweigh the perception throughout the world if Australia were to take this step. It would not be a costly step as far as showing our bona fides towards human rights in this country is concerned. I do not think the Indonesians would see that as a huge slap in the face.

  I recognise that our embassy in Jakarta pays regular visits. As this response says, it visits there once a month. But if we are after a true and proper foreign affairs move in the area of East Timor to establish our human rights credentials throughout the world, the small cost towards setting up a consulate in Dili is the way to go. For that reason, without having read all the responses to the other recommendations, the government's response to the report falls down, and falls down significantly.

  I would classify the report itself as satisfactory, to the extent that it is highly descriptive of our nearest neighbours in Indonesia. It is probably very good for school projects. But it also falls down in a most significant area. The committee dedicates a chapter to human rights, and I must congratulate it on many of its recommendations in this area. It puts down some very significant points. On page 95, the committee recognises that the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor is the greatest difficulty in the relationship between that country and Australia. It properly recognises that, and I congratulate the committee for that.

  The committee also properly recognises such events as the Dili massacre, and recognises that the troops who fired on the protesters were unprovoked. That is a most significant recognition. It also recognises in its report that over 200,000 East Timorese have died since the invasion of 1975. While the committee has put pen to paper to certain significant points in its report, it could have done that back in Australia because a committee cannot write a proper and credible report on the East Timorese situation if it is not allowed to go to East Timor. That is where this report falls down: the committee was not allowed to visit East Timor.

  One has to wonder about a government, the Indonesian government, that would not allow this high level Australian committee inquiring into Australia's relations with Indonesia to visit East Timor to study the human rights situation in that country. It is most regrettable that none of the members of that committee protested and that there was not a minority report in this particular area. One would have to think that when the committee went to Indonesia, under the authority's guidance, it saw what it was allowed to see. For that reason, it is highly disappointing.

  The depth and sincerity of the Indonesians' glacial movement towards human rights—there have been some small steps taken, but surely not enough—will be monitored by the world. I come back to my point that while some Australians might think that this is a dead or at least comatose issue, throughout the world, particularly in the hallways of the UN, it is not a small issue. It will be monitored relentlessly. Every move the Indonesians make in regard to East Timor will be monitored relentlessly. This is not just another foreign affairs issue. This is a cause not only for the East Timorese but so many people in parliaments around the world.

  It is an issue that has not slipped away into history since the invasion in 1975. In fact, of late it has gained extra momentum, to the extent that there has been pressure put on the Indonesians to change their ways. As I said before, there have been some changes. But few are going to be blinded by those minuscule changes.

  Few are going to be blinded by the Indonesian government's underlying desire to anaesthetise this issue, because there have been certain key events, certain signposts, telling us that the Indonesian government, if left to its own devices, will not make genuine steps in the way of human rights. It would be no exaggeration for some to think that, if the Indonesian government did not have this world pressure bearing down upon it, there would be sanctioned genocide of the Timorese people. I cannot put it any stronger than that. Many already believe that the Indonesians would act in that way.

  I will run through those key events. The first was the Dili massacre, as recent as 1991. Of course, in 1993 there was the lifetime gaoling of the freedom leader, Xanana. That trial was heavily criticised by none other than Amnesty International. In a paper that it has produced it states:

. . . like all political trials in East Timor and Indonesia, this one failed to meet international standards of fairness, or even to comply with Indonesia's own Code of Criminal Procedure.

Moreover, of late there has been another key event, a most remarkable event which I think will come back to haunt the Indonesian government particularly in the run-up to the APEC conference, and that was the most remarkable intimidation of the Philippines by Indonesia. As most of the Senate would be aware, an Asia-Pacific conference on East Timor was due to be held in the Philippines. Due to the pressure of the Indonesian government upon another, two well-known leaders in world politics were banned from coming into the Philippines to attend that conference. They were none other than the French President's wife, Madame Mitterand, and a nobel prize winner. That would have to create serious concerns for the United Nations about the Indonesians being at all serious. One would have to wonder what sort of intimidation the Indonesians place on our own foreign affairs minister if that is what they can do to the Philippines.

  In response to Senator Evans's statement, I say that there is still an enormous way to go before human rights look like being re-established in East Timor. But over and above that we have to believe that Indonesia will not advance in the area of human rights in East Timor unless strong pressure is maintained upon that government. As the New York Times has reported, Australia has been very meek and mild in its approach in the area of human rights.