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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26103


Mr HAWKER (12:31 PM) —I present the report of the parliamentary visit to East Timor on 12 and 13 February 2001. The delegation visited East Timor on 12 and 13 February this year, and it comprised members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the majority of whom had participated in a previous visit of the committee to East Timor in December 1999. Our visit was relevant for the committee's current inquiries into Australia's relations with the United Nations and the use of foreign aid to advance human rights in developing nations. I would like to thank all members of the delegation, especially Senator Ferguson, the delegation leader. I also wish to thank the delegation secretary, Ms Gillian Gould, and the military adviser to the committee, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Milford.

The visit enabled members and senators to see at first hand the progress that has been made in East Timor in a wide range of areas under the guidance and authority of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, UNTAET. The delegation was also able to gain some impressions of Australia's participation in the venture. Australia provides the largest contingent in the UN Peacekeeping Force, the PKF, including the position of deputy force commander. Almost 8,000 peacekeeping troops from 25 countries make up the PKF, under a mandate from the Security Council. Australia is performing a significant role in the formation of the East Timor Defence Force and is also engaged in many other activities in support of East Timor's move to independence.

On the first day of the visit, the delegation travelled to Suai, near the border with West Timor, and to Batugade on the western border. The delegation was particularly interested in assessing the aptitude of the ADF to participate in an international peacekeeping force and in our relationship with the UN from the perspective of those with practical experience in achieving the aims of UNTAET.

The delegation was briefed by the Acting Force Commander, Major General Mike Smith, on the political and security situation in East Timor, force structure, composition, mission and disposition matters and PKF operations; and by other ADF personnel about their experiences and activities as part of the peacekeeping force. The delegation was universally impressed by the enthusiasm, professionalism and commitment of the Australian troops whom it met. Morale was high; the troops were pleased to be working in a real operational environment for which they had rigorously trained. The delegation appreciates the detailed briefings and assistance provided by Major General Smith, Brigadier Ken Gillespie, Lieutenant Colonel John Caligeri and others.

On the second day the delegation inspected water supply and sanitation projects funded by AusAID. The non-government organisation, Bia Hula, works collaboratively with the local people in the design, planning and construction of the facilities. On our return to Dili, the delegation met with Mr Jean-Christian Cady, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and discussed humanitarian concerns with Mr Andrew Harper, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Mr Patrick Burgess, head of the UNTAET Human Rights Unit.

The delegation also had the opportunity to observe a training session for civil servants on budgetary matters and to talk informally to representatives from a wide range of organisations. We were very impressed with the work that many Australians are doing in East Timor in this area. The delegation appreciates the briefings and assistance provided. I am pleased to report to the House that members of the delegation who had visited East Timor one year ago found a noticeably different East Timor this time, particularly in Dili. There are now vastly greater numbers of people appearing on the streets. Markets are to be seen everywhere and many restaurants are appearing. However, unroofed homes and derelict buildings remain a poignant reminder of the terror and trauma experienced by the East Timorese people only very recently. These people are now committed to creating a new nation for themselves. The scale of this task is immense; however, the delegation saw that much has been done. I commend the report to the House.