Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 6 September 1983
Page: 389

Mr DOBIE(5.02) —I am pleased to support the remarks of the leader of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Indonesia, the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison), and to endorse the remarks he made in his speech. As a member of the Delegation I found the visit politically absorbing and socially interesting, yet physically somewhat gruelling. All members of the Delegation proved to be most amenable companions throughout the visit. We were accompanied by outstanding people whose efforts and dedication were a tribute to this Parliament. I refer to Mr John Holloway of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dr June Verrier, the delegation secretary and a well known and highly respected member of our Parliamentary Library Research Service, and Mr Dennis Richardson from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. Assistance was generously given by Ambassador Dalrymple and all his staff, and I thank them for facilitating all our endeavours and movements. Without this effort by them our visit would have been far less effective. The leader of the Delegation in the report paid tribute to our Indonesian hosts and I endorse and support this appreciation of their generosity and their personal friendliness at all times.

When each member of this Parliament considers this report I trust that he or she has regard for the need for amicable relationships between Indonesia and Australia. It should be noted that the report does not contain any formal recommendations on policy. Rather, each reader of the report will have the opportunity of making an individual evaluation of the observations and findings contained in that report. However, as parliamentarians we have to understand that East Timor is a central issue in Indonesia's measurement of its relationships with our country. It is only fair to point out that the Indonesian Government regards it as a critical test of Australian-Indonesian relationships. It is worth pointing out that the Republic of Indonesia regards the act of incorporation of East Timor as final and irreversible. For my part, I believe it is totally unrealistic to postulate that this situation can be changed, short of the unlikely option of armed intervention. However, the report points out:

. . . the lack of shared values will inevitably produce awkwardness and misunderstandings. A greater effort of understanding on both sides is not only worthwhile but essential.

I add that it is not an awesome or difficult task. As a delegation of parliamentarians we were all concerned about human rights, including those in Indonesia. I commend chapter 5 of the report for close scrutiny by my colleagues in this House and note that while we did not visit detainees in prison, though permission was given-shortage of time stopped us-we visited Atauro Island which is the main detention centre for Fretilin sympathisers. As the report details, the local authorities were confident that all detainees would be moved back to the mainland by October 1983. Our visit to this camp is detailed in the report. There was no attempt whatsoever to prevent detainees from speaking to Delegation members or to prevent members from going anywhere they chose within the camp. The detainees approached us willingly and in large numbers to present their views and gave no impression of being cowed. However, they were detainees without legal cause, and this represents an obscenity to all of us in this Parliament. We welcome the declaration that all will be off this barren, hot island within a matter of weeks.

I believe that this report should be read for what the majority report has to say to fellow parliamentarians. It shows that Indonesia is making a significant effort to improve the physical and material conditions in the province of East Timor. It was my own observation that the Indonesian authorities have shown certain sensitivities in their administration of this new province. Progress is obviously being made and tribute should be paid to the new Governor who seems to have the confidence of the East Timorese and the authorities in Jakarta. Governor Carrascalao impressed all members of the delegation, and it was pleasing to hear one Roman Catholic authority refer to him as the hope of East Timor. I also point out that the report's findings on the lack of any evidence of the Islamisation of East Timor, the source of much disquiet amongst certain of my constituents in Cook, is worth reading and should allay many fears.

I wish to address some remarks to the minority report. It is true to say that the delegation was surprised to receive Senator McIntosh's dissenting report. There is of course no question about his right to issue such a report. It is, however, an unusual step for a member of an Australian parliamentary delegation to take. A good deal of hard work had gone into the preparation of the report and a good deal of compromise had been resorted to in order to obtain a consensus opinion. Many important issues such as the view of the majority of the Delegation about the status of Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor were dropped in the interests of consensus. Senator McIntosh had been closely involved in this process to obtain consensus. The Delegation considered the contents of the report in minute detail. Senator McIntosh had indicated that he was happy with it. In these circumstances one would have hoped that the matters of substance, which presumably prompted the change of heart on Senator McIntosh' s part, would have been made crystal clear. This is anything but the case. With the dissenting report the Parliament has been presented with a collection of generalities which provide a superficial and misleading view of the Delegation's report. In writing the report the full Delegation was only too mindful of the complexities of the East Timor question and the limitations under which the delegation operated. Any fair-minded person reading the report will quickly grasp this point.

The report does not, and in fact could not, attempt to provide a detailed survey and analysis of events in East Timor since the mid-1970s. The Delegation' s report records what the Delegation did, where it went and to whom it spoke. That is the purpose of such a report. I believe the majority report does this efficiently and fairly.

Senator McIntosh does not question, to use his own words, the facts, figures and other information contained in the Delegation's report. Yet at the same time he complains that the report is tendentious, superficial and at times misleading in its evaluations and observations. Such criticisms are better directed at Senator McIntosh's own farrago of distortions and generalities than to the delegation's report. Senator McIntosh complained of the tendentious nature of the delegation's report and of its enticing many of its readers towards what he describes as certain conclusions. What conclusions does the Senator have in mind ? Why are they not spelt out? Why the resort to tendentiousness on his part? Senator McIntosh, in his minority report, maintains that the report contains a misleading perception of the character of support in Australia for the East Timorese, arguing that the report obscures the fact that most of the support in Australia is directed not specifically towards Fretilin but towards the East Timorese in general. This is only one of a number of criticisms of the delegation's report that do not bear close examination. Moreover, one might ask whether prominent organisations such as the Campaign for an Independent East Timor or the Australia East Timor Association offer the same support to those East Timorese who have sided with the Democratic Union of Timor and Apodeti and accepted incorporation into Indonesia as they offer to Fretilin.

Further, Senator McIntosh concedes that Indonesia has made large budgetary allocations for the development of East Timor. He maintains that the delegation was unable to determine the extent to which development is benefiting the Timorese. The Delegation recorded what it saw of the development process. The Delegation, precisely because of the limitations on its visit, avoided qualitative judgments about the development process. The self-contradictory element in Senator McIntosh's approach is best shown in his comment that the Delegation avoided addressing the issue of the attitude of the Timorese to their present situation. At the same time he acknowledges that the nature of the Delegation's visit made this an impossible task. What Senator McIntosh seems to be implying is that the Delegation must admit failure in a task that was beyond its capabilities and which was not in fact the purpose of our visit.

Bearing in mind Senator McIntosh's complaints about the superficiality of the Delegation's report, it is instructive to consider the tone of the honourable senator's dissenting report. Senator McIntosh used phrases such as 'tends to diminish the significance of aspects of the Timor problem', 'a rather distorted account of the historical background', 'obscures the true character of recent historical developments', 'impressions rather than soundly based assessments' and 'tendency to gloss over the circumstances'. All of these phrases beg questions or, to use Senator McIntosh's terminology, invite conclusions. We should note for the record that Senator McIntosh's document even quotes sections of the report which, mainly in deference to his objection and the wish to achieve consensus, were omitted from the draft to which he agreed. In his minority report he stated:

. . . a moral issue involved in holding out false hopes and encouraging small Fretilin groups in East Timor to continue their fight when realistically the situation could not be changed short of the unlikely option of armed intervention.

This represents the view of the majority of the Committee but was deleted. It raises the question: From which draft was the author of Senator McIntosh's document working? I should point out that the only time this quotation is mentioned in the whole of the printed report is in Senator McIntosh's objection. Having taken the unusual step of presenting a minority report, Senator McIntosh had a responsibility to the Parliament to spell out his position in precise, unmuddled terms. I regret that he failed that responsibility.

In conclusion, I would move to the point that our visit to Indonesia was, in fact, to Indonesia, not just to East Timor. We visited West Timor, East Timor and Central Java. It was a fascinating observation of the Delegation that similar problems existed in each area. It is fair to say that the Governor of West Timor, himself a distinguished man who has worked amongst the disadvantaged of his area for his whole lifetime, was critical of the fact that he was getting less funds for West Timor than for East Timor. It is not uncommon for me to talk of regional finance in the Parliament.

Mr Sinclair —Even of island States.

Mr DOBIE —Island States are part of the national scene. I wish to refer to the three visits that I have made to Indonesia. In 1968 I went there when the Parliament building was not completed. There was still some doubt in those days- when barbed wire was to be seen everywhere and, tanks and what have you roamed the streets of Jakarta after the 1965 problem-whether the Parliament would survive. When I went there in 1972 there was evidence that the parliamentary system was starting to jell. When we were there this time, in 1983, it was perfectly obvious to all of us on the Delegation that the parliamentary committee system was having a profound influence on the governing process of Indonesia.

Whether the Parliament of Indonesia and the Parliament of Australia are the same, whether they will ever be the same, or whether they could ever be the same are questions which none of us can answer. However, the fact remains-it was evident to us on this visit as guests of the Indonesian Government and of the Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament-that the Parliament of Indonesia has a role to play far in excess of many of the countries which will be voting against its actions in the United Nations when those questions come before it later this year.