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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2339


Senator VIGOR(12.00) —During the examination of the estimates for the Department of Communications, one matter that I raised was said to be in the province of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I raised the rejection of an application from the Australian Coalition for East Timor to operate a transceiver for a few hours each week between Darwin and East Timor. The reply I received indicated that the Indonesian authorities had stopped telephone calls going into East Timor, for reasons not known to the Department of Communications. The reply mentioned obligations under the International Telecommunications Convention for the Indonesian Administration, which was in control of the territory at the other end, to be consulted by Australia. I wrote to the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) on 7 October and 5 October respectively to pursue the matter of the obligations under the International Telecommunications Convention. I seek leave to incorporate those letters in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letters read as follows-

PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA-THE SENATE

SENATOR DAVID VIGOR

Parliament House

Canberra

Australian Capital Territory 2600

Telephone (062) 72 6595

10 Pitt Street

Adelaide

South Australia 5000

Telephone (08) 211 7656

7.10.85

The Minister for Communications,

Parliament House,

Canberra

Dear Michael,

I have on several occasions spoken out publicly on East Timor, and obviously have given strong support to those people who have asked for the granting of a radio communications station licence to the Australian Coalition for East Timor. Hence I was most disappointed to see your press release of 17th June in which it was stated that O.T.C. already had facilities for public communication with East Timor, and that Australia was under an international obligation to consult Indonesia before granting a licence.

I now draw your attention to an answer given to me in Senate Estimates Committee C on 13th September: it was stated that since the time of your press release, the Indonesian authorities have stopped telephone calls going into East Timor from Jakarta, so that not even the previous unsatisfactory arrangements are now available.

It was also asserted that Indonesian control of East Timor was sufficient for the International Telecommunications Convention to apply: could you let me have the exact wording of that part of the Convention which is relied upon to make this assertion? I repeat my disappointment with the original decision and hope that the information which has since come to light will enable you to see your way clear to granting the licence.

Yours sincerely,

D. VIGOR

Senator for South Australia

PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA-THE SENATE

SENATOR DAVID VIGOR

Parliament House

Canberra

Australian Capital Territory 2600

Telephone (062) 72 6595

10 Pitt Street

Adelaide

South Australia 5000

Telephone (08) 211 7656

5th October, 1985

The Minister for Foreign Affairs,

Parliament House,

Canberra

Dear Bill,

During the Senate Estimates Committee hearing of 13th September, an officer of the Department of Communications mentioned that Foreign Affairs had consulted the Indonesian Administration and advised that that the Indonesians would reject any arrangements for radio communications station contact with East Timor. Could you let me know when that consultation occurred, and when the Indonesian attitude was formally conveyed?

The same officer indicated that the question of whether or not the International Telecommunication Convention applied to Indonesia's claimed incorporation of East Timor was a matter for Foreign Affairs also. I would be grateful if you could let me have quite precisely the reasons why the Convention requires the approval of Indonesian authorities before such a licence can be granted.

Yours sincerely,

D. VIGOR

Senator for South Australia


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. The Minister for Communications wrote back on 16 October setting out relevant details. In essence, the Indonesians could have objected to transmissions causing harmful interference to their radio frequency spectrum. Apparently, Foreign Affairs advised the Minister that Indonesia would object to the use of the proposed frequencies, and hence the Government decided not to apply for formal international registration of the frequencies. To save time, I seek leave to have the Minister's answer incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Minister for Communications

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

16 October 1985

Senator D. Vigor

Senator for South Australia

10 Pitt Street

Adelaide, S.A. 5000

Dear Senator Vigor,

You wrote to me concerning the obligations on Australia to note the views of Indonesia when licensing an Australian transmitter to communicate with the Fretilin Forces in East Timor.

The fundamental principle of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is international cooperation. The preamble to the convention sets out the basic principle of recognising the sovereign rights of members to regulate their own telecommunications while at the same time establishing the importance of international cooperation.

``Preamble

1. While fully recognizing the sovereign right of each country to regulate its telecommunication and having regard to the growing importance of telecommunication for the preservation of peace and the social and economic development of all countries, the plenipotentiaries of the Contracting Governments, with the object of facilitating peaceful relations, international cooperation and economic and social development among peoples by means of efficient telecommunication services, have agreed to establish this Convention which is the basic instrument of the International Telecommunication Union.''

The convention applies to members of the ITU who have signed and ratified the convention. Australia and Indonesia are both members of the ITU.

The relevant section of the convention to the matter in question is Article 35 (Harmful Interference).

``158.1. All stations, whatever their purpose, must be established and operated in such a manner as not to cause harmful interference to the radio services or communications of other Members or of recognized private operating agencies, or of other duty authorized operating agencies which carry on radio service, and which operate in accordance with the provisions of the Radio Regulations.

159.2. Each Member undertakes to require the private operating agencies which it recognizes and the other operating agencies duly authorized for this purpose, to observe the provisions of No. 158.''

Any high frequency transmission from Australia to the region of East Timor will by the very nature of radio-propagation at the frequencies proposed propagate into other Indonesian territory. It would be difficult if not impossible to restrict such signals only to East Timor. In view of Article 35 it would be necessary for Australia to comply with the Radio Regulations in respect of these transmissions, and the question of Indonesian sovereignty or control in East Timor is not crucial to the matter.

Articles 10 and 12 prescribe the procedure by which formal coordination of the radio frequency spectrum is undertaken. This involves Australia notifying the International Frequency Registration Board of its intention to use specified frequencies. This notification is published and any member is entitled to object to the use of those specified frequencies on the grounds of harmful interference. On receiving notification of objections Australia is obliged to come to some arrangement with these members.

It is normal practice for members of the ITU to seek the views of other members who are likely to suffer harmful interference before seeking registration of the frequencies with the IFRB. This practice enables proposals to proceed with the minimum likelihood of objection. In this case the Department of Foreign Affairs advised that Indonesia would object to the use of the proposed frequencies and under the circumstances there was little point in proceeding with formal international registration of the frequencies.

I appreciate your dissatisfaction with the outcome; however my decision not to licence the Australian Coalition for East Timor was made after full consideration of the issues and after receiving the advice of my colleagues in the Government.

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL DUFFY


Senator VIGOR —As yet, I have not heard from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I wanted to know just what consultation had occurred with the Indonesian authorities. I also wanted to know why the International Telecommunications Convention required the approval of the Indonesian authorities in this instance. The information supplied to date makes me wonder whether the cutting off of telephone contact with East Timor was in fact a breach of that Convention and, more pointedly, whether Australian authorities were consulted beforehand by the Indonesians. I ask: What funds, efforts and manpower within the Department of Foreign Affairs have been put towards monitoring the Timor situation and, particularly, communications with Timor? I believe that it is absolutely disgraceful for us to behave in a cringing manner towards the Indonesians who, apparently, do not appear to have bothered with any of the diplomatic niceties either in this matter or in their general disposition towards the people of East Timor. I seek from the Minister some more information on this matter and, particularly, information on the funds, efforts and resources which are being applied in dealing with our relations with East Timor.