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Howard's letter to Habibie.

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Media Release

Laurie Brereton, MP

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs


22 September 1999





“In light of the many claims about the Howard Government’s so-called ‘historic’ East Timor policy shift, Prime Minister Howard’s letter to President Habibie deserves close scrutiny”, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, said today.


“Several aspects of the letter are of note. The first is the Prime Minister’s very clear affirmation of established Australian policy. Mr Howard wrote: ‘I want to emphasise that Australia’s support for Indonesia’s sovereignty is unchanged. It has been a longstanding Australian position that the interests of Australia, Indonesia and East Timor are best served by East Timor remaining part of Indonesia.”


“With regard to the substance of the negotiations to resolve the East Timor conflict, Prime Minister Howard urged President Habibie to pursue ‘a means of addressing the East Timorese desire for an act of self-determination in a manner which avoids an early and final decision on the future of the province.”


According to Mr Howard: ‘One way of doing this would be to build into the autonomy package a review mechanism along the lines of the Matignon Accords in New Caledonia. The Matignon Accords have enabled a compromise political solution to be implemented while deferring a referendum on the final status of New Caledonia for many years. The successful implementation of an autonomy package with a built-in review mechanism would allow time to convince the East Timorese of the benefits of autonomy within the Indonesian Republic.”


“Mr Howard’s letter may well have been a catalyst for change in Indonesian policy toward East Timor. But it was a totally uncontrolled catalyst which produced an outcome very different from what was sought.”


In their subsequent rush to claim credit, the Howard Government completely failed to come to grips the security requirements which arose from President Habibie’s fast-track strategy - a potentially fatal shortcoming emphasised by Labor from the very beginning. The result is a matter of shame for Australia and a further terrible tragedy for East Timor.”


For the record, a number of statements made in January this year are attached. Labor first called for the Australian Government to support peacekeeping in East Timor on 4 February.




Philip Dorling; (02) 6277 4717 or 0416 203 058



md 1999-09-24  10:33