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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 294

(Question No. 1493)


Senator Bourne asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 23 June 1994:

  (1) Did Australian military forces land near Dili, East Timor, in December 1941, against the wishes of the Portuguese colonial authorities.

  (2) Did Australia's military presence constitute a breach of Portugal's neutrality in relation to the colony of East Timor.

  (3) Did the deployment of Australian forces precede the subsequent invasion of East Timor by forces of the Imperial Japanese Army.

  (4) How did this military conflict and the Japanese occupation which followed contribute to dislocation, famine and the death of thousands of East Timorese.

  (5) How were the Australian forces serving on East Timor during the Second World War assisted by the East Timorese.

  (6) Has the Commonwealth Government considered the establishment of a suitable Australian memorial in East Timor to commemorate the service of Australian and East Timorese forces who served there during the war.


Senator Robert Ray —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) No. The Portuguese authorities strongly supported the efforts of Australian troops in attempting to repel the invasion of Timor by the Japanese Imperial Forces.

  I have provided the honourable senator with copies of pages 100-102 of Paul Hasluck's The Government and the People, 1942-1945, Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1970 (Volume II of series 4 of the Official History of Australia during the Second World War) which covers the issue of Portuguese approval of the landing of Australian, and other troops, in Portuguese Timor in December 1941.

  (2) The Australian presence in Portuguese Timor from 17 December 1941 was in furtherance of the defence of Australia and was fully justified at international law. In the circumstances, Australia was not in breach of Portugal's neutrality.

  (3) Yes. The deployment preceded the Japanese invasion by two months.

  (4) It is impossible to measure in detail the effect of military conflict and the Japanese occupation on the people of East Timor during World War II. Nevertheless, it is widely recognised that the people of East Timor, like those of many other nations, made considerable sacrifices to repel the Japanese Imperial Forces.

  (5) The Timorese assisted Australian forces by providing food and scouting services, carrying mail and helping the sick and wounded. Others provided scouting services for the Japanese and were involved in fighting Australians in the latter half of 1942.

  (6) The Government is not presently considering establishment of a memorial in East Timor. Establishment of such memorials usually arises from initiatives taken by veterans' organisations and the sponsoring of such proposals to the Federal Government by peak bodies such as the Returned and Services League of Australia. No such proposal has yet been put to Government.