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Shadow Minister claims continuing revelations regarding the Timor massacres reinforce his call for a parliamentary inquiry into past and present Australian policies.

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PETER CAVE: Labor’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, has distanced himself from the actions of his colleague, Gareth Evans, over the Timor massacres, saying that it’s a matter that only Mr Evans can fully answer.  Mr Brereton says, though, that the continuing revelations reinforce his call for a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s past and present policies on East Timor.  He’s joined us now on the line and he’s speaking to our chief political correspondent, Matt Peacock.


MATT PEACOCK: Mr Brereton, thanks for joining us.  John Pilger is right, isn’t he?  I mean, the Labor Government then did cover up this second massacre.


LAURIE BRERETON: Look, I think these allegations are something that in the first instance needs to be dealt with by the Foreign Minister of the time - that was Gareth, who’s overseas and has been unable to answer it to date.  That said, everything that we continue to hear about East Timor policy reinforce the desirability of these parliamentary inquiries.  I mean, for far too long these very complex issues have been very opaque, and what we need is a strong shaft of sunlight upon them, and that’s why this call for transparency, which the Government to date has not responded to, is a very important thing in terms of cleaning up the past, in setting our policy on the right track for the future.


And in that respect, let me say Alexander Downer has been very slow in coming forward and revealing our knowledge of the number of Indonesian troops that are currently in East Timor, so the opaqueness continues.


MATT PEACOCK: I’d like to come to the question of the parliamentary inquiries in a minute, but do you yourself accept that there was a second massacre?


LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I don’t know whether there was or there wasn’t, but there’s now clear evidence that there were a lot more people killed at the time of Dili than was ever admitted to by the Indonesian Government.


MATT PEACOCK: And it defies credulity that Australian intelligence didn’t know this.


LAURIE BRERETON: Let’s proceed with these parliamentary inquiries, let’s have the necessary officers ….


MATT PEACOCK: But do you agree with my point there?  I mean, if Australian intelligence didn’t know this and tell the Minister there’d be something wrong, wouldn’t there?


LAURIE BRERETON: I can’t answer whether these matters were placed before the Minister or not, and that’s something I repeat that in the first instance should be directed to Gareth.  That said, the parliamentary inquiry, the two inquiries that have been proposed - one into the past as far as our East Timor policy is concerned and the events at Balibo, and secondly an inquiry by the Standing Committee in the Senate as to current policy on East Timor --become all the more important.


MATT PEACOCK: And are they going to go ahead and do you think that people like Allan Taylor, the present head of ASIS, and Philip Flood and your colleagues should be called before them?


LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I think there should be an opportunity for everyone to give evidence before those committees, and I think that Australian foreign policy will be the better for the exercise.  The events of East Timor are something that we should address as a matter of high priority.  It’s particularly important that we do so now.  At this very moment you’re seeing critical opinion in Indonesia, increasingly prepared to accept that there should be an act of self-determination there, that this matter can be settled, the dispute can be put behind the people of East Timor and Indonesia as a result of an act of self-determination.  And we should be doing everything we can, through a process of openness and scrutiny to encourage that.


MATT PEACOCK: It’s not just Gareth Evans;  it would have been Paul Keating with blood on his hands if these allegations are true.  Are you prepared to say that both of your former and current colleagues acted honourably?


LAURIE BRERETON: I am certainly not casting any aspersions as to their conduct, but I am saying that policy on East Timor down through the years has lacked transparency.  That was the case during the Fraser years at the time of the invasion.  That was certainly the case in Labor’s time, and it has been the case since the change of government three years ago.


The fact is that the Howard government will not join with us in supporting an act of self-determination there, in working towards it.  It’s as if this is a very bad word and one that Alexander Downer simply refuses to use.


MATT PEACOCK: Mr Brereton, just briefly on another matter.  Mr Howard is about to come back from the APEC conference;  he’s met with Dr Mahathir.  Now, your leader has been very critical of Australia’s approach to Dr Mahathir.  Do you think we’re cosying up too much?


LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I think John Howard has really distinguished himself by putting as much distance as possible between himself and the United States.  I mean, he’s been there seeking to score some brownie points with the Government in Kuala Lumpur.  I don’t think that’s going to advance the cause of human rights or, for that matter, deliver any great diplomatic dividend to Australia.


But I think, Matt, more importantly is the question of APEC itself.  This has been the second very disappointing leaders’ meeting - Vancouver last year, Kuala Lumpur this year.  This makes it two on the trot.  They’re very modest outcomes and certainly we can’t afford another APEC failure next year.


MATT PEACOCK: We’ll have to leave it there.


LAURIE BRERETON: … work hard to make sure that we pick it up next time.


MATT PEACOCK: Thanks, Mr Brereton, for joining us.




PETER CAVE: Labor’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs speaking to Matt Peacock.