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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1022


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (12:57): I thank the member for Newcastle for her contribution on the Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty Consequential Amendments Bill 2019 and associated bills and her acknowledgement of others who have participated in the debate not only in this chamber but also the Senate over the many years passed in support of the Timor-Leste people. She mentioned Janelle Saffin, and I do want to reaffirm the importance of Janelle's advocacy and support here. Previously, of course, in former parliaments, advocates such as Ken Fry, Cyril Primmer, Tom Uren, Jean McLean and Jean Melzer were all very important in advocating around the issues to do with East Timor, particularly after the occupation of Timor-Leste, as it is now known, by Indonesia way back in December 1975.

Since that time, neither side of this parliament has covered itself in glory. Today is a chance for us, as the member said, to rectify what has been an anomalous situation and, much to our shame, one where we have been the bovver boy. The member for Solomon mentioned the 2/2nd and 2/4th independent companies. The 2/2nd arrived in December 1941-early 1942, in East Timor. They were out by September or October. The 2/4th took over, and they left in December 1942. My father subsequently served with the 2/2nd, so I am fully aware and very cognisant of the importance of the role of these independent companies, later commandos, and the protection that was provided to them by the East Timorese, where we were able to contain 12,000 Japanese troops. But, at the same time, whilst that was happening, and post the departure of the Australians, 40,000 Timorese lost their lives. There's a debt of blood here. In 1975 we saw the Indonesians march in, and we acquiesced. Subsequent to that Indonesian takeover, up to a quarter of a million East Timorese lost their lives. When you think about what that means to us and our responsibilities just as human beings, we've got to rectify this. And today we get a chance to do a bit of that.

We had the Fraser government sitting by, complicit, as the events of 1975 unfolded, and subsequently giving de jure recognition, which was reaffirmed by the Hawke government, shamefully, in 1984. I remember these days vividly because I was involved in working with supporters of Fretilin in Australia post December 1975, and I had the great privilege of being involved—'involved' is a difficult word in this sense. After 1999, at last, under the Howard government, the Australian government took a position that was morally the right thing to do, to head INTERFET. That was very important, and that was referred to by the member for Solomon.

My office in Darwin was really very active in talking and working with members of the East Timorese community, both in East Timor and in the Northern Territory, in particular. Today—and I should have said this at the beginning—we have in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly the first East Timorese person to be a member of a parliament in Australia, Sandra Nelson. Her mother, Rosa, is the sister of Jose Ramos-Horta—so he's her uncle—and the member for Solomon told me that her brother, Joao Carrascalao, was his medic when Major Gosling, as he then was, was serving in East Timor. So there are connections here.

Post the start of INTERFET on 20 September 1999, I went to Dili—I think in November. Subsequently I had the great privilege of doing a number of things, but these most clearly stick in my mind. I had the opportunity to attend the first Fretilin conference after the Indonesian occupation. As well as being at the launch of that party's first campaign for the election of the constituent assembly, I also attended the National Council of the Timorese Resistance, CNRT, after the United Nations took over East Timor. I also had the great privilege of being at the opening of the Constituent Assembly when it was elected in June 2002. At that first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, the first meeting of the new parliament, there was no official Australian representative. That says more about Alexander Downer and John Howard than it does about the rest of us. But I went there, and the guests of honour on the floor of the chamber at the swearing in of the new members of parliament included the then Northern Territory Chief Minister.

When you think that in a couple of weeks the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will be in East Timor together, that is a good thing. That is a really good thing. But it really only marks the rebalancing of the ledger. It doesn't cover the enormity of what's gone on in the past and the bullying behaviour of Australian governments—the role of Alexander Downer in negotiating the Timor Gap treaty. I remember two things in particular. In 1989 there was the initial negotiation of the joint area between Australia and Indonesia with Ali Alitas, who was the Indonesian foreign minister, and Gareth Evans, the foreign minister for Australia, in Darwin. I can still visualise the media at the time of them signing a document in the air over the Timor Sea. That was all fine and terrific, except it excluded the role of the East Timorese; it was all about Indonesia and Australia.

Subsequently, in 2002, when there was a renegotiation after Timor-Leste gained independence, there was still no permanent maritime border negotiated. Regarding Alexander Downer—and the member for Solomon referred to this earlier—Mari Alkatiri, who was a good person, was the Prime Minister and was negotiating with Alexander Downer over the Timor Gap. Downer, in a most belligerent fashion, stood over Mari Alkatiri. And here I quote from a book by Kim McGrath, a great Australian—Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea—in which she quotes Paul Cleary, who writes about those meetings and the interaction between the two. At the end of this interaction a lecture was being given by Alexander Downer to Mari Alkatiri in which he said:

We don't like brinkmanship. I think your Western advisors give you very poor advice that public opinion supports East Timor in Australia. We are very tough. We will not care if you give information to the media. Let me give you a tutorial in politics—not a chance.

What a disgrace. What an absolute bloody disgrace. And that was Australia's foreign minister. We learned subsequently that they'd bugged the conference. We've still got Australians in the courts for belling the cat, because of the role of an Australian government.

It's about time we got over ourselves and treated people properly, fairly and with respect. This treaty gives us that opportunity. And I do lay credit at the feet of the member for Sydney, and the speech that was referred to by the member for Newcastle, in bringing this forward so that we end up with conciliation over the boundary issue and we end up seeing a proper allocation of resources from this area to Timor-Leste, and that is as it should be.

We shouldn't be afraid of accepting the critique that we've really had our hands in their pockets for too long. It should've been 100 per cent from day one, not 80-20, 90-10 or 70-30—a very nifty drawing of boundaries to make sure we get a huge slice of the action at the expense of almost the poorest people in the world. So it is important that that situation is rectified, and it is rectified as a result of this legislation.

I want to thank the government, although, as the Leader of the Opposition said, this stuff could have been debated in November of last year. Why has it taken so long? They had no business prior to the election; we knew that. But, nevertheless, it's being done. It is important that we move forward but also have an eye to the past and understand the challenges that the people of Timor-Leste confront, that we appreciate their heroes that led them to the position that they're in today and that we appreciate that we need to do a lot more than we've done in the past in working with our near neighbours.

I commend particularly the member for Solomon for his ongoing relationship with the people of Timor-Leste and in the new role he's achieved and been given by the Leader of the Opposition in trade with our near neighbours. The Timorese are wonderful, forgiving people, really, and I think we should show our appreciation in a proper way. I had the great privilege of welcoming Xanana Gusmao to Australia after he was released from Indonesia, and I escorted him onto the floor of this House. That was a great honour, and it is a great honour to speak in this debate today to support this legislation to see, at least partially, wrongs of the past rectified.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr McVeigh ): I call the member for Moreton and, in so doing, compliment him on his tie.