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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2307

(Question No. 609)


Senator Chipp asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 10 October:

(1) Can the Government give a full account of the circumstances under which Greg Shackleton and his colleagues were killed during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

(2) Has the Government ever conducted a full-scale investigation of the events leading to the tragic death of Shackleton and his colleagues; if so, why has Mrs Shirley Shackleton not been informed of the investigation and its conclusions; if not, why not and when will an investigation be undertaken.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answers to the honourable senator's questions are as follows:

(1) Since mid-October 1975, officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs have attempted to gather as much information as possible about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the journalists. New information which has surfaced from time to time has been fully taken into account. The result of investigations carried out by the Department has been a substantial body of information, which is a mixture of direct and hearsay experience, containing major inconsistencies and contradictions.

The accounts gathered can be broadly grouped into two categories. On the one hand, it has been claimed that the journalists were shot by Indonesian forces, on the other, that they were caught in crossfire between Fretilin and pro-Indonesian forces.

The fact that the incident took place on foreign soil and involved foreign nationals over whom Australia has no legal power to oblige to give evidence has meant that the investigations cannot proceed beyond the compilation of these accounts. The Indonesian Government has co-operated to some extent in providing information surrounding the circumstances in which the journalists died but there is no question of applying Australian legal processes to an investigation of the incident.

(2) The Minister for Foreign Affairs has written to Mrs Shackleton on several occasions explaining the difficulty of obtaining firm information about the fate of Mr Shackleton and the other journalists. In a letter to Mrs Shackleton on 15 November 1985, the Minister for Foreign Affairs provided a chronology of enquiries undertaken between 1975 and 1979 about the circumstances surrounding the death of the journalists. In that letter, the Minister also drew Mrs Shackleton's attention to the fact that reprersentations made by a delegation of the Australian Parliament which visited Timor in 1983 had failed to produce any further information on the matter.