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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12841


Mr HAWKER (4:38 PM) —I concur with those concluding remarks of the member for Prospect—that we have to get out as much as possible right around the world the message that we will not accept illegal immigration.

I would like to talk today about a matter that has some relation to that which the member for Prospect raised, but I would also like to talk more about what has been happening in East Timor, in particular the role Australians have played in East Timor and the outstanding work that has been done by the Australian members who are serving as part of the INTERFET peacekeeping forces.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity last Thursday, along with other members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade—members from both sides of the parliament—to visit East Timor and see first hand what has occurred there. I must admit it was with stunned amazement that we flew in and saw the level of destruction. I thought this was very much reinforced by an article in today's Financial Review by Geoffrey Barker which talked a little bit about this but also went on to talk about some of the other aspects of our relationship with Indonesia.

Let us come back to the Timor question first of all. Something that all Australians should feel very proud of is the contribution that our troops have made as part of the INTERFET forces—there are now over 20 nations supporting the peacekeeping efforts there—and also the outstanding leadership of Major General Peter Cosgrove. He will deserve all the commendations he gets for the work that he has done in leading that INTERFET force in the way that has shown very real compassion towards the people of East Timor who have suffered dreadfully and, at the same time, for bringing peace and ensuring that those elements that have caused so much destruction cannot exercise their influence any further.

One of the things that really strikes you when you go to East Timor is the level of destruction. It is estimated that over 70 per cent of buildings have been burnt, and the frightening thing is the systematic way in which this has been done, with such military precision. It was well planned. It was not some random act, and that destruction obviously went further than just the houses. As we know, there was looting prior to the destruction and women were raped.

As was pointed out in the article today in the Financial Review, we saw the results of not only the murdering, raping, abducting, looting, wrecking and burning that went on but also the slaughtering of every water buffalo and every chicken that those people could find. Apparently, the water buffalo were shot because they were used to plough the rice paddies that provide East Timor's staple cereal. Chickens were targeted because they provide East Timor's meat and eggs. The TNI leaders, according to the article, apparently decided that the East Timorese who could not be killed quickly would be starved slowly. That is a pretty stark statement and is rather horrifying.

I bring this matter up in relation to what has happened since in our relations with Indonesia; the difficulties we have had with the people-smuggling into Australia that has been going on and the fact that many of these people are coming through Indonesia. Of great concern amongst Australians are the difficulties we have and some of the criticism our leaders are receiving from the new President of Indonesia, President Wahid. When the Prime Minister, quite reasonably, I believe, asked for some assistance from the Indonesian government to try to stop this people-smuggling, it was rather disappointing and difficult to take when the President described the Prime Minister's remarks as childish and used other less than complimentary words. It is quite reasonable for the Prime Minister to express some public disappointment at the response to what is a very difficult situation facing Australia—the smuggling of illegal migrants or refugees—and it is not unreason able to think that we might get some cooperation.

However, I think it should also be pointed out that Australia's behaviour over the whole East Timorese question has been proper. At all times we have respected Indonesian sovereignty and, despite any strains in the relations with Indonesia, we have attempted to behave in the right and proper way. The President's response is very disappointing but, when it comes to East Timor, we can say that Australia approached this issue in a proper manner. We studiously respected Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor, and we at all times worked through the United Nations, with the support of many other countries, to attempt to bring peace to a country which had demonstrated in a free and independent vote that nearly 80 per cent of East Timorese no longer wanted to be under the rule of Indonesia.

That free vote was exercised by the Timorese not without some harassment but, nonetheless, their having so voted, the response was quite savage. As I said, the so-called militia went through there in such a systematic way, causing such destruction. And it was clear, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out, that at times there was direct Indonesian involvement in a lot of that destruction. Notwithstanding that, Australia has attempted to continue to maintain good relations.

Coming back to what is happening in East Timor now: it is clear that Australian troops have done a great job as part of the INTERFET forces, and it has not always been that easy. For example, we visited Suai in the south. There are members of the 3rd Brigade who have been there for some time—some 10 weeks—and still do not have running water, and they have been operating solidly over that time. Nonetheless, the morale is still good and they are still continuing to do their job. Most importantly, as Major General Cosgrove pointed out to us, peace has been established for at least 95 per cent of the population.

It is also very heartening to see the level of support that our troops over there are receiving from Australia. I think the visit of the Prime Minister and the visit of the Leader of the Opposition have certainly helped to reinforce the morale, as indeed I believe did the visit of the delegation on Thursday, in showing that the Australian parliament and therefore the nation's leaders are very keen to ensure that we show proper support for the excellent work that has been done there.

It is obviously clear now that there is going to be considerable work required, first of all, to maintain that peace but, more importantly, to rebuild East Timor. We are aware that the United Nations are likely to take over the peacekeeping role at the end of February. While Australia's direct involvement may be scaled down, I know there are many Australians who are very willing to help in all sorts of ways to assist the East Timorese to rebuild their nation. I think it is important that that work is properly directed. There are some 56 non-government organisations already in East Timor with of course the United Nations leading the way. Also the Catholic Church, which has been dominant in East Timor, will play an important role in that rebuilding.

I would like to conclude by again saying that I think Australia's behaviour towards Indonesia has been proper. We have studiously respected their sovereignty and we continue to provide aid to Indonesia, and they are still our second largest recipient of overseas aid. I think Australia's contributions through the UN to East Timor are a credit to all Australians, and I have no doubt that that commitment will continue. I again make the point that, while we do have some considerable difficulties with people-smuggling, it is deeply disappointing to see the attitude of the newly elected President of Indonesia towards our quite reasonable requests for some cooperation in trying to stamp out this trade. (Time expired)