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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10460

Ms GAMBARO (11:22 AM) —Before I start my remarks on this motion on East Timor, I must say how moved I was by the previous speaker, the member for Franklin. I share his heartfelt appreciation of the situation in East Timor.

I rise this morning to speak in favour of this motion moved by the Prime Minister. This is probably one of the most tragic motions I have ever had to speak to in the short time that I have been a member of this House. Like all Australians, I was horrified at the events that have unfolded in East Timor in the last few weeks. And I have been horrified by the long history of suffering and violence inflicted on the people of East Timor.

I am sure that the images will never fade for me of the mothers and fathers passing their children over those razor wire fences into the compound in their terrible flight from the militia terror. Those images will also make their way into the archives of mankind's cruelty, alongside the images from Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh and of the genocide in Rwanda. Another image that comes to me as I speak today is of the death of a mother in the hills and the television footage showing the very tragic grief of her young daughters as they cried for their lost mother.

The death of a Dutch journalist a few days ago continues to remind us of just how dangerous and perilous life is in East Timor. All those who are there at the moment, whether they are inhabitants, whether they are foreign companies which invest there, whether they are children who are attending international schools or our soldiers and humanitarian aid workers, are facing daily peril as they go about their tasks.

The events that followed the declaration of the referendum result were some of the most shocking and appalling that we have witnessed in our region in recent times. It is really a testament to the strength and commitment of the East Timorese people that they have suffered for so long and that they have been able to hold out for what they have always dreamed for. This is all the more so when you consider that their voice was finally heard and yet they still had to suffer. I do not think any members here today would disagree with me when I say that the East Timorese have shown themselves to be a proud and resilient people who have maintained their dignity in the face of all this barbaric cruelty.

At the height of the murderous rampage in East Timor, my Petrie office was flooded with calls from average Australians who were angry, horrified and absolutely overwhelmed by the brutality of the militias and elements of the Indonesian military. I was struck by the emotion of some of those telephone messages. Clearly, people were phoning with tears in their eyes and were very moved by the situation, and I must share that sense of revulsion at what was happening in East Timor.

I am very proud to be part of a government that has put aside long held conceptions of Australia's immediate national and political interest, to ensure that the popularly expressed wish of a very small emerging nation is respected. More importantly, I am very proud of our efforts and, in particular, those of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in securing an international peacekeeping force for East Timor and, hopefully, putting an end to the wanton violence of the militias and rogue elements of the Indonesian military, or TNI.

It is in this sense that I wholeheartedly support the first two statements of the motion by noting the results of the East Timor referendum and also welcoming the United Nations Security Council's resolution 1264 authorising the multinational force to bring peace and security to East Timor. One should never underestimate how quickly that resolution was passed by the United Nations Security Council—a resolution that usually would have taken probably two to three months, at the very minimum, to have been put through. It is an absolute credit to the work of our foreign minister, our Prime Minister and the members of that council to ensure that it was put through by such a speedy process.

It is a sign of Australia's hard work and leadership on the issue of East Timor that the international community, through the United Nations, has requested that we lead this mission. I endorse our leadership and I want to state publicly my personal support for all those service men and women who are serving with the United Nations—soldiers from Brisbane, from my electorate of Petrie and, particularly, from Bracken Ridge. When I spoke to the mother of one of the soldiers who at the moment are waiting on alert in Darwin, I was very touched by her feelings. She said something that reminded me how real the pain is of the mothers and fathers and the families of military personnel. She said that they love what they do and they are trained to do their particular jobs and carry out their profession, but it was not real before the order was given that the soldiers were going to East Timor, and now it was real.

At one meeting we were at, somebody spoke about the death and the possible carnage that might be involved. She was clearly distressed by the prospect that there is always a real danger. There is always a danger that there will be carnage, there will be death and there will be losses. So I am very pleased today that this motion states our support, expresses our confidence in the ability of the armed forces and, more importantly, looks to their safe return home. I know that they will do us proud. They will certainly renew the long held ties between the people of East Timor and the Australian service men and women.

The motion before the House marks a watershed in the political geography of South-East Asia, particularly in terms of Australia's relationships in the region. Not only do we have a new nation on our doorstep, but we have a chance to imbue our relationships with Indonesia with a new level of maturity. It is little wonder that Australia's leadership, particularly on the East Timor issue, has placed great strain on our relationships with Indonesia. It has also tested our relationships with other countries such as the United States, which may not have always been as positive or as strong as we believed them to be in the past.

Recently I heard the statement by Indonesian President Habibie to the Indonesian house of representatives. I believe that his view that he is `disappointed by the Australian attitude in dealing with the matter' will allow us to redress the past mistakes of Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

For too long, it seemed to many that our relationship with Indonesia was unbalanced. Australian governments, particularly the Keating government, in the past were often too eager to please the Jakarta political elite at the expense of our long-term relationship with the region and humanitarian concerns. It is worth noting now that our relationship is at an all-time low. It is symbolised by the imminent danger of conflict involving our forces and by the abrogation of this agreement.

It sounds like we have a lot to consider in the future and we have much to do at a particular time in our relations with Indonesia. We have a chance to reverse the imbalance and, much more importantly, to recognise that our policy should not be based solely on deference to the concerns of one small section of Indonesian society, regardless of whether or not those people are in power in Jakarta. It is with this in mind that we will be on an even footing with our Indonesian neighbours. It is in our longer term interests, and also in the interests of humanity, that we look at this relationship.

I express my absolute best wishes to our soldiers for a safe return. The prayers and thoughts of our nation are with them and their families. I also express my gratitude to the international agencies for the work that they are doing with many of the refugees at the moment. It is too early to anticipate where this situation will lead. How long it will go for is another thing that is uncertain. It has every potential to be, as I mentioned to someone the other day, what Albania was to Italy; certainly that situation has unfolded in past months. A considerable amount of funding for the military will be needed, and also for a continuing international relief program. There is a nation that has to be rebuilt. There are no utilities. There is absolutely nothing there at the moment. I hope and pray that Australia can play a very positive role in ensuring that East Timor will again rise from the ashes.