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Tuesday, 9 May 2000
Page: 16039

Mr BAIRD (2:04 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister outline to the House the government's response to Indonesian President Wahid's proposal for a tripartite meeting involving him, the Prime Minister and Xanana Gusmao.

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Cook for his question. Yesterday, I wrote to the President of Indonesia and, amongst other things, said that his proposal for a tripartite meeting involving the President of Indonesia, the Prime Minister of Australia and Xanana Gusmao, the East Timorese leader, was one that we reacted to favourably, although I said to the President that I thought it appropriate that a bilateral meeting between the President and me take place before any three-way meeting.

In the course of that letter, I expressed the respect of the Australian government and, I believe, the parliament of this country for the greater transparency that Dr Wahid has brought to the government of Indonesia, the steps that he has taken to restore democracy in that country, and the leadership he has given to the Republic of Indonesia in relation to economic matters. I also noted and welcomed the fact that he stated a desire to visit Australia. I said that in itself a visit by an Indonesian President, the first in 25 years, would be a very important event in the bilateral relationship between the two countries. I suggested that the officials of both Australia and Indonesia have further discussions about a projected date for the President's visit.

I also inform the House that I spoke at length to Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta at Kirribilli House on Saturday morning. They gave me an outline of the progress being made to establish the infrastructure of government in East Timor. I reiterated the ongoing support of the Australian government. We discussed relations between the emerging nation of East Timor, Indonesia and Australia. I emphasised to Mr Gusmao the importance, in our view, of the people of East Timor—notwithstanding the very tragic history of relations between their people and Indonesia—establishing close relations between that territory and the government and the people of Indonesia.

I have said on earlier occasions that it was inevitable, given the action taken by Australia last year in relation to East Timor—correct action that won the support and respect of the world—that relations between Australia and Indonesia would be strained as a consequence and that the relationship in the future would not be what it was in the past but that that does not mean it will not be a very positive and mutually beneficial relationship, provided it is based upon mutual respect—a respect and understanding on the part of Australia of the history, culture and values of Indonesia and also a respect and understanding by the Indonesians of the history, culture and values of Australia. I believe that, over time, we will move towards a closer relationship, one that will inevitably be different but, nonetheless, one that is very soundly based.