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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10478

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (12:52 PM) —Like the previous speaker, the member for Chifley, I would like to send my good wishes and support to all members of the peacekeeping contingent in East Timor. My hopes go with them. I express a sincere concern that they have a safe mission in East Timor and that the outcome for them and their families is positive, as well as being positive for the East Timor community.

I do take issue to some extent with what the previous speaker said. I do not believe it is necessary on this occasion, when we are speaking to a motion to take note of a paper on the formulation of this exercise, for us to descend into a political debate about who did what and when and how. I think we should be looking at the great credit that the rapid build-up of personnel in East Timor has bestowed upon the efforts of the Australian Defence Force. We should note the fact that by yesterday over 2,300 peacekeepers were on the ground in East Timor and that by the end of today more than 3,000 peacekeepers—that is, the lion's share of the peacekeeping force—will be in place and undertaking their laudable activity in East Timor, fanning out from the capital, Dili, and restoring peace as they move around.

I think that the smooth transition reflects great credit on the defence forces. It also reflects great credit on the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, as well as on the individual troops who have had to put up their hands for a very difficult mission. They have gone with the knowledge that there may well be, in the Prime Minister's words, `a risk of violence, a risk to their own personal safety'. The families left behind deserve to have 100 per cent support from their members of parliament, and I believe that everyone in the parliament should be out there making sure we give them that support and whatever assistance we can.

As things progress in East Timor, we certainly should take nothing for granted. I noticed—and I think most members would have felt cheered by the fact—that the initial response to the troops when they arrived in East Timor was very positive. But, since then, there have been some ominous statements and, at the base of it all, I am thankful that the powers given to our troops to act are very clear.

I would like to read the mandate and mission of INTERFET as it has been set out:

In authorising the establishment of a multinational force in East Timor, the UN Security Council has acted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. INTERFET has been given full Chapter VII powers authorising it to take all necessary measures to fulfil its mandate.

The mandate of the multinational force is expressed in UN Security Council Resolution 1264 (1999) which was adopted unanimously on 15 September 1999. Under UNSCR 1264 INTERFET has been mandated to:

. Restore peace and security in East Timor

. Protect and support UNAMET

. Facilitate humanitarian assistance operations.

I am pleased that that mandate is clear—that this chapter VII does authorise the use of deadly force when it becomes necessary. In the past, we have seen well-meaning UN missions get into deep trouble because of clouded mandates that did not have that degree of strength behind them. Once again, great credit is due in this case to the Minister for Foreign Affairs for his efforts to have that mandate passed and passed very swiftly with overwhelming support. That does him great credit.

Australia has committed 4,500 troops to the operation. We should recognise the great contribution of other nations to this force, and it is reassuring to have the world community well and truly lined up behind Australia in this regard. We have seen firm commitments from Thailand, New Zealand, the United States, Italy, Canada, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Brazil and the United Kingdom. We also have expressions of willingness to contribute from Fiji, Brunei, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mozambique, Spain, Ireland, Germany and Denmark. Also, we have consideration of contributions from Chile, Sweden, Norway, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Korea, Nepal, South Africa and Kenya.

Recently, we had a rally in the city of Ipswich in support of the East Timorese, which was organised by local church groups. There was a great deal of emotion at the time but, overwhelmingly, the message was about peace and forgiveness and for support for our troops over there. It was a very positive occasion, and I note that amongst those countries that are considering making a contribution is Papua New Guinea. Some of the comments that were made at that rally noted the fact that many East Timorese are of Melanesian extraction, and there was a feeling that a contribution from Papua New Guinea might be a very good thing. On behalf of the people at that rally, I raise that in this forum, and I hope that people give consideration to it.

I would like also to refer to the contribution to the INTERFET forces being made by RAAF Base Amberley in my electorate of Blair. Amberley is Australia's No. 1 strategic Air Force base. It is the home to squadrons Nos 1 and 6—the F111s. We also have the air defence guards and the 38 Squadron with Caribou aircraft.

When we look at the TV reports coming back from East Timor, one thing that has grated a little bit on the locals out Amberley way has been the fact that we have had constant reports about the activities of the Australian Army. Anyone who knows the defence forces knows that, if you are a RAAF person, you are not an Army person. I think we should note the activities, particularly of members of the air defence guards, who were the ones from Amberley who helped to secure Dili airport. If people watching TV want to be able to tell the difference between RAAF personnel and Army personnel, and note perhaps who are the air defence guards and the other elements from the RAAF that are contributing, they can tell the difference by noting that RAAF personnel have their rank on their epaulets. While that activity has been going on, squadrons 1 and 6, commanded by Air Commodore Peter Growder, have been relocated up to Townsville and Tindal with their F111 aircraft and are on stand-by there. We have got a total of 100 people from Amberley participating in the East Timor activity.

Amberley is a very close-knit community. Recently, when it was suggested that Australia could be put up as a temporary home for those Kosovar refugees, the people of Amberley were among the first in Australia to put up their hands and say that they would like to assist and to offer some of the disused housing at Amberley village as temporary accommodation. That request was not granted because Amberley is an operational Air Force base, after all, and operational considerations have to have right of way. I attended meetings out there where it was considered and the personnel were very outspoken in supporting the government's efforts. It is another example where a peacekeeping activity, which is contributing to the overall good of people across the globe, is well and truly supported by Australians, in general, and certainly by people from Amberley, in particular.

It is a shame that Amberley village was not used to accommodate those Kosovar refugees because it is such a very picturesque location and for the people living there it has all the advantages of living in your own home rather than in a dormitory. Later on, some dissatisfaction was expressed along the way about some of the accommodation that was made available.

It is a very busy time at Amberley at the moment. Apart from making this contribution to the East Timor exercise, Amberley is also contributing to Crocodile 99. Group Captain Stewart Cameron is the head of RAAF Base Amberley, and at the moment, in accordance with Crocodile 99, we have 800 marines in from the United States located at Amberley for the next four weeks. Of course, they are very welcome. These are busy times not only for RAAF Base Amberley but also for defence personnel across Australia. Once again, in closing, I express my complete support for the troops, RAAF personnel and all personnel who have been sent to East Timor in this peacekeeping exercise.

Debate (on motion by Mr Somlyay) adjourned.