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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 957

(Question No. 1609)

Senator Margetts asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 10 August 1994:

  With reference to comments made by Air Commodore Peter Nicholson from the Northern Command, Darwin, who in the Sunday Territorian dated 12 June 1994 was reported as saying that the human rights violations in East Timor were `over-played', the 200,000 deaths were `bullshit' and that `although it is not widely acknowledged . . . the Australian Government has recognised Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor':

  (1) Are the comments expressed by Air Commodore Peter Nicholson a true representation of the Government's views on: (a) the level of human rights violations attributed to Indonesian occupation; (b) the number of deaths in East Timor attributed to Indonesian occupation; and (c) Australian Government recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor.

  (2) Has Air Commodore Peter Nicholson been, or will be, reprimanded in any way for his comments.

  (3) Will the publicising of these sorts of views by senior military officers aid the economic and military relationship shared by Australia and Indonesia.

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

  (1) (a), (b) and (c) The comments made by Air Commodore Peter Nicholson are not a true representation of the Government's views on East Timor. The Australian Government recognises Indonesia's sovereign authority over East Timor. This position was formalised by the then Coalition Government in 1979 and maintained by the Labor Government which came into office in 1983 and which, in August 1985, explicitly confirmed its recognition policy in a statement to Parliament by the then Prime Minister, Mr Hawke.

  Such recognition by Australia does not, of course, imply approval of the circumstances of the Indonesian acquisition of East Timor. Australia's recognition of East Timor's incorporation into Indonesia has enabled the Australian Government to pursue its concerns for the human rights and economic development of the East Timorese people in a constructive and effective manner with the Indonesian authorities. Our concerns over reports of human rights violations in East Timor have been clearly and consistently conveyed to the Indonesian Government, through bilateral representations at the highest levels.

  (2) Air Commodore Nicholson has been spoken to about his comments by an officer at an appropriate level and reminded of his responsibilities under the guidelines for public comment by members of the Australian Defence Force, which state that members are to distinguish between personal and official views.

  (3) There is no evidence that Air Commodore Nicholson's comments have had any effect on relations between Australia and Indonesia.