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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26104


Mr HOLLIS (12:36 PM) —No-one can visit East Timor without feeling a sense of outrage at the grotesque and unnecessary violence and destruction inflicted on the East Timorese people by the militia with the help and support of elements of the Indonesian army some two years ago. Last October I sat in the Security Council at the United Nations in New York when the special representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, clearly and unequivocally put the responsibility for the destruction in East Timor and the ongoing intimidation where it clearly belongs—at the hands of the Indonesians. He told the Security Council that Indonesia could and should stop the intimidation and the violence.

Having visited East Timor some 14 months ago, like other members this time we could see the tremendous progress that had been made. Yet so much remains to be done. The Indonesians, like the Portuguese before them, did not train or promote the Timorese people, so the whole rudiments of running a country, establishing a bureaucracy, running the health and education services and framing a budget are all having to be learned in a very short space of time. As the leader of the delegation mentioned, we did see a group of public servants learning the framing of a budget, and all of us came away impressed with not only the challenge that these people are facing but the skilful way the Australians who are assisting them with this are carrying out their work and the enthusiasm of those involved in this process.

One of the most poignant moments of this visit was our visit to the cathedral grounds at Suai where priests and nuns were brutally murdered. Perhaps the lives of priests and nuns are no more precious than any other, but it did illustrate to the world the senseless barbarity of much of the militia action. No-one will ever know the full extent of the murders, and no-one will appreciate the trauma, the brutality and the senseless violence, the rape and so much more, that went on at that time.

There is also the question of the return of the refugees from West Timor. Indonesia has to control the militia operating openly and with impunity within the camps. The returns have slowed to a trickle. Some claim up to 60,000 remain. But it is not clear how many really want to return to East Timor. Some whose sympathies are with the Indonesians want to stay there; others are fearful of reprisals if they return. But it is essential that an account be made, that these people be given accurate information and that the criminal thugs of the militia operating in the camps be brought under control.

Australia has made a tremendous commitment to East Timor—and, I might add, our work there has been praised at the UN—but there is also a guilt feeling associated with it. For too long we closed our eyes to what was happening in East Timor. But the commitment and dedication—and, I might say, professionalism—of our defence forces is very evident, as is the work of the aid agencies. I wonder if there is an element of duplication in some of the aid work, but Timor will need our support and our understanding for many years. We will not always agree with everything this new nation does, but we must be sensitive to their decisions as a sovereign independent state.

I do hope that after the election in August of their new parliament we quickly establish a parliamentary friendship group with the new parliament to our north. Since our visit it has been announced that the elections will be held in East Timor in August of this year. There is still major work to be completed before this, especially for a country that has never voted for a government before. The provisional administration is aware of the need to create a public service and the other attributes of a sovereign state. The local police and the army will play a role in this, and the question of land titles must be resolved. There is also a question of bringing to justice those who have committed atrocities. The United Nations human rights unit is working on instituting a judicial system for bringing perpetrators of crime to justice and proposals for a truth commission.

After years of neglect Australia now is committed to East Timor for the long term. There will be a military presence there while ever the militia are active and Indonesia refuses to bring them under control. One is unsure what the uncertain future of Indonesia means for East Timor. The delegation's visit was particularly worth while. I pay tribute to our military adviser, Lieutenant Colonel Mick Melford, for his assistance and to the many people in Timor, both military and civilian, who gave so freely of their time, answered our questions and made the visit, brief as it was, such a worthwhile experience. (Time expired)