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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1373

Senator CHAMARETTE —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the light of the view adopted by Portugal towards the Philippines in regard to the Asia-Pacific conference on East Timor, and yesterday's note verbale by the permanent representative of Portugal to the United Nations to his Philippines counterpart at the UN, I ask: what action has the Australian government taken with regard to the conference, or the action by the Portuguese government, and what actions does the Australian government intend to take? If this is none, why not?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have not yet seen the text of the Portuguese note verbale to which Senator Chamarette refers. The substance of it, in any event, is of course a matter for the two governments concerned and not the Australian government. As to the conference in the Philippines, which was apparently one of the subject matters of that note, I understand that it went ahead as scheduled at the University of Manila from 31 May to 4 June.

  As I stated in response to a question from Senator Bourne in this place on 30 May, our view, my view, is that it is disappointing that the controversy which arose between the Philippines and Indonesia over that conference was not able to be resolved in a way that would allow free debate to take place on a matter clearly of continuing international concern, and that it was not able to take place in a way that did not involve restrictions on freedom of international movement. But in my response to Senator Bourne I said that that issue was one between the Indonesian and Philippine governments, and that remains the Australian position.

  As to what we are doing on the larger question of East Timor, the situation is that we will continue our dialogue about our continuing concerns with the human rights situation in East Timor with the Indonesian government. We will continue that dialogue at the highest levels and we will also continue our dialogue with the international and Australian NGOs.

  As to the substance of what we are putting to the Indonesians in relation to East Timor so far as the Dili massacre is concerned, and unanswered questions about that particular massacre, I have persistently raised at the highest levels of the Indonesian government aspects of its response which continue to concern us. I have made clear our concern at the discrepancy in the sentences that were given out to military officers and civilians respectively. I have made clear in particular our continuing concern at the discrepancies in the accounts of those missing, urging the Indonesian government to make further efforts to clarify the situation. Our embassy in Jakarta continues to make regular representations to the relevant authorities on those matters.

  More generally, what we are doing and what we are saying is making the case to the Indonesians for a major reduction and refocusing of the military presence in that province—the recognition in a number of different ways of East Timor's distinctive cultural identity. We have made points over and over again about the need not only for economic development in the province but for sensitive economic development, and we have also suggested that there may well be a case for a greater degree of local autonomy.

  In addition to all those things, because we do take the view that human rights involve economic and social rights and not just civil and political rights, we have now in place a very substantial aid program for East Timor, amounting to some $30 million worth over the next five years, which is designed to assist the East Timorese through the provision of water supply and sanitation facilities, livestock and veterinary services, and rural planning. So I think in all those ways Australia has no apologies to make in terms of our continuing concern for the situation in East Timor.

Senator CHAMARETTE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his detailed account of more general activity in relation to this, but in view of the characterisation by the Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs of the pressures exercised by Indonesia on the Philippines on the holding of this conference as `totally illegitimate' and that Portugal `vigorously condemns such an attitude', and the fact that many Australians agree with him, how does the minister justify remaining silent and how does he intend expressing his disappointment regarding the conference which he referred to earlier in response to Senator Bourne's question?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have nothing to add to my previous answer.