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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 11 February 2008: East Timor.

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The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP

Leader of the Opposition

Mon, 11th February 2008


Good afternoon everybody. Mr Robb and I would just like to make some remarks about the incident in East Timor earlier

this morning.

What appears to be the attempted assassination attempt on the President Jose Ramos-Horta is deplorable. I commend

the response of the international security forces led by Australian troops in relation to this. I’ve had a conversation this

afternoon with the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in relation to the incident and Australia’s response to it which, of course,

included the attack on Prime Minister Gusmao.

The Opposition strongly supports the further deployment of Australian troops - the company which will be sent and is

already moving to East Timor in addition to the deployment of additional AFP. It’s very important for Australians to

appreciate that we must see there is security in East Timor. It’s not only a question of humanitarian assistance to bring

stability to the people of East Timor but it’s in very much Australia’s interest to see that this is a stable democracy. We’ve

invested a lot in East Timor. Jose Ramos-Horta, in particular, and Gusmao have led their people over a very long

struggle and we owe it to these people to see it through.

We’re immensely proud of Australian troops, Australian Federal Police and those officials from the Department of

Foreign Affairs and Trade who continue to do an outstanding job on our behalf in East Timor.

I understand that Mr Rudd is likely to travel to East Timor some time perhaps towards the end of the week. I certainly

would be very happy to either go to East Timor myself with him or have Mr Robb, on our behalf, visit East Timor. This

has always been a question of bipartisan support across the political divide in Australia and if democratic principles mean

anything to us as Australians, we will stand by these people.


Are you expecting to get an invite to go with the Prime Minister to East Timor?


Well, that’s entirely up to the Prime Minister himself but I think under the circumstances, given that the deployment to

East Timor, the support of its democracy and independence has been driven by our side of politics with the strong

support of the Australian Labor Party, and given the very strong commitment by Australians to the people of East Timor,

especially under these circumstances, I think it would be appropriate but it’s not something I would demand of Mr Rudd.


Dr Nelson, when you were in government, the then opposition used to criticise you sometimes for taking your eye off the

ball on East Timor and these sorts of things becoming the consequences of that, do you think that’s a fair criticism ?


Oh look, it’s absolutely nonsense. The very strong support that the Australian government…the previous government

and, indeed, the current Government has provided to the people of East Timor - and the nature of the security

deployment that we have in East Timor - is a product of an assessment on the ground of the security. Requests that are

made from time to time by the democratically elected government of East Timor and the assessments made by our own

defence and security forces - I don’t think anybody should be seeking to assign blame to anybody political, military,

policing or anybody else, whether in East Timor or Australia in relation to this. This is an unstable country. The situation

and the democracy of East Timor is brittle. It requires our very strong moral, political and military support to see this job

through and the last thing anybody should be doing is seeking to blame anybody in particular.


But Dr Nelson does it surprise you that one of the countries most wanted men was able to launch an attack on the

country’s President like this?


Well anyone who’s familiar with the circumstances of East Timor, its political, economic and security environment would

know that unfortunately these kind of incidents can occur. It’s a matter of record that the East Timorese government had

previously asked the Australian lead international security forces to apprehend Mr Reinado. They subsequently, the East

Timorese government that is, subsequently withdrew that request and there has been a watching brief on Reinado over

the last few months.


Would you like to see Australian forces play a greater direct role in providing security for East Timorese Heads of State?


Well this is sovereign country. Australia worked dammed hard to make sure that it is a sovereign country and we are in

the hands of the democratically elected government of East Timor, supported by the United Nations, working with New

Zealand and a number of other countries. The nature of the security arrangements in East Timor need to be guided,

particularly by the East Timorese themselves and obviously following this dreadful incident there will be undoubtedly a

review of that. The Prime Minister, our Prime Minister quite rightly has responded favourably to the request from Prime

Minister Gusmao to send additional forces to the country and I think it is appropriate that Mr Rudd and also myself or Mr

Robb visit East Timor very soon.


Are there limits on the role Australian forces can play in the personal protection of the Heads of East Timor?


Well there’s a limit to everything that can be done militarily Dennis and the most important thing for us…we should not

allow our enthusiasm and commitment to the security and peace of East Timor to prevail over respecting the democratic

right of its elected government to shape that security environment working with the United Nations, us and other

countries. And I would expect that Australian security forces will do whatever they reasonably can in response to

requests that are made by the East Timorese leadership.


Do you think it’s difficult for them though, aren’t they operating with one hand behind their back?


Well this is an international security force. It works under the auspices of the United Nations and the East Timorese

government and obviously our military and security advisers give advice to the East Timorese in relation to what we

believe ought to be done, and I would expect that and a few other things will be discussed by our Prime Minister and the

leadership of East Timor as it will be by me. Thanks very much everyone