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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1736


Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Government received a full report from the delegation of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta which visited East Timor in October? If so, I ask the Minister specifically what were the findings of the delegation on the role of the Catholic Church in East Timor, and what were the findings on the trials of political prisoners in the territory? Finally, when will the findings of the delegation be made available to the Parliament?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has now received a full report from that delegation on the subject of its findings in relation to the role of the Catholic Church in East Timor. During his visit, the Australian Ambassador, Mr Bill Morrison, met the Apostolic Administrator, Monsignor Belo. Other members of the Embassy had discussions with several other local priests. It was found that, in terms of membership, the Catholic Church is expanding-in size, I presume-and is now greater than it was under the Portuguese Administration. Ambassador Morrison observed that because Indonesian civil authority had been extended to areas in which the church had previously been the effective secular as well as ecclesiastical authority, the influence of the church in this respect had declined somewhat since Portuguese times. There was no suggestion, however, of the church being hampered in the discharge of its pastoral responsibilities. As elsewhere in Indonesia, the Government is committed to religious freedom. Co-operation between the church and government at an administrative level is good and the Government plans to provide considerable assistance for the construction of a new cathedral in Dili.

Mr Morrison also made human rights a principal focus of the visit. He discussed the subject of human rights with the Governor of East Timor, senior military and police officers and the chairman of the Dili District Court, Judge Siregar. According to the judge, all the East Timorese detainees charged in connection with Fretilin activity had been tried and sentenced between December 1983 and August 1985. A list has been passed to Amnesty International. With regard to the findings of the delegation being made available, it is suggested by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that, if the honourable senator wishes to avail himself of the information contained in the report, he should make that request in writing to the Minister. I presume that that applies to all other senators.