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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9246

Senator PAYNE (12:11 PM) —In speaking to the East Timor interim report of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee today, I think it is very important for this committee, of which I am a participating member, to report on an interim basis at this stage, particularly in view of the rapid pace of the movement of events in East Timor and around these issues.

It is important in the context of this report to note the efforts of INTERFET in the last weeks, in the face of enormous adversity and also, from today's evidence, inaccurate media reporting—all of which goes no way to acknowledging the real level of threat on the ground.

I welcome the United Nations Commission on Human Rights commission of inquiry agreed to this week. The committee's report refers specifically to the efforts of Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson in this context. There are many Australians who will be associated with that process, particularly lawyers, who are currently preparing themselves to assist. We should note in that regard their very important contribution.

As have all the other speakers on the report this morning, I note again for the record that our concern over the destruction, violence and human rights abuses is not with the people of Indonesia but, very seriously—as the report acknowledges—with those in the TNI and the militias who have either encouraged or allowed the violence to occur or perpetrated that violence themselves. The processes from this point, through the United Nations, the efforts of the Indonesian government and INTERFET and what flows from that, must be constructive ones and must be constructively arranged between all of the parties.

I would like to note that I believe the committee has heard from many valuable expert witnesses who provided an extraordinary amount of useful information for the consideration of the committee and the Senate. Without promoting any single witness over others, I would indicate what an enlightening opportunity it was to hear from James Dunn—Australia's last Consul-General in Dili, preceding James Batley's recent appointment—whom Senator Bourne and I also met on the ground in East Timor. His personal experience and the historical perspective that he was able to give the committee—as somebody who was there in the 1970s and understands these people and so much of what they have been through—was inordinately valuable. I would also say that his intense concern for the people of East Timor and their future is palpable.

Secondly, the committee also heard from representatives of Paxiquest, Lieutenant General (Rtd) John Sanderson, in particular, and Mr Mark Plunkett and Mr Gary Wood. There is reference to some of their evidence in chapter 2 of the report. On the fundamental importance of the re-establishment of the rule of law, their evidence was compelling. On the need for the East Timorese to own this process and to be a part of it at ground level, their evidence was equally compelling. These are matters that have to be taken up now, not at the time of the resolution of the security situation or at some point after that. Systems need to be in place for the community to rebuild itself by that time.

I want to comment very briefly on the process of the popular consultation, which is referred to in chapter 2 of the report. That process and its integrity is very, very important. The efforts of UNAMET and their workers in that regard and the strength of the vote, which is referred to in chapter 2, are now on the record. It is a permanent record of the decision of the East Timorese, and the sanctity of that ballot—the integrity of that ballot as overseen by UNAMET—is something that cannot be removed from history. It is there and it is from that point that we move on in the reconstruction of East Timor.

One point to which Senator Bourne referred and which I also want to make a brief comment on is the importance of aid coordination, which is referred to in chapter 3 of the report. The evidence of Caritas, in particular, to the committee and the evidence that it is possible to observe from events of recent days suggest that this is fundamentally important for a successful effort in East Timor in this regard. I hope our comments and our observations go some way towards contributing to that process.

Finally, I particularly want to acknowledge and thank the chair of the committee, Senator Hogg, for his very generous approach—and also other committee members for going along with that—in enabling me to participate in the committee hearings and the deliberations following my return from the Austral ian observer delegation to East Timor for the popular consultation. I am only a participating member of the committee and Senator Hogg has extended to me every possible courtesy, and it is very much appreciated.