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: 397

Mr SINCLAIR(5.49) —I think that the people of Australia need to recognise that the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Indonesia was the product of the willingness by the Government of Indonesia to try to help the present Government of Australia out of an impossible quandary. The views that have just been expressed, the views of Senator McIntosh, the views expressed at the 1982 Conference of the Australian Labor Party are the views of the Labor Party. The Government of Indonesia was forthcoming enough with the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, after the change of government to say: 'We recognise you have a difficulty'.

It seems that the present Prime Minister is prepared to recognise and understand reality only when he gets into government, for he could well have expressed the views that he expressed in his visit to Indonesia at that meeting of the Australian Labor Party in 1982, when the present policy of the Labor Party was established. I think that we all know that the Prime Minister tends to have in public places a point of view that cannot always be matched by performance. Regrettably, the Australian people will find more and more that that is the case. But I welcome the thought that the Indonesian Government has been prepared to be as extraordinarily generous as it was to the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to enable the Delegation to spend time that was necessary for it to understand, discuss and meet with, as far as possible in a relatively short visit, as many people as they could in East Timor and try to understand the position there and the state of the Indonesian occupation of that country.

I will discuss the issue on a number of bases. The first thing we need to remember is that it was the former Labor Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, who first entered into discussions with the Government of Indonesia regarding the future of East Timor at the time of the drift in Portuguese domestic policies and the difficulties that the Portuguese were finding in maintaining any sort of control and law and order in its respective territories, not only to the north of Australia but also in Africa. On 26 August 1975 Mr Whitlam made these comments to the House:

The other interested country . . . is, of course, Indonesia, with which we have been in very close touch on developments in Portuguese Timor in recent days. Indonesia has shared the Australian concern about the evident drift in Portuguese policies and, like us, has urged on the Portuguese the need to reassert Portuguese control in Portuguese Timor. We, for our part, understand Indonesia's concern that the territory should not be allowed to become a source of instability on Indonesia's border.

I do not intend to recite the rest of the history of the development of Mr Whitlam's views. As my colleague the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) mentioned a while ago, only last year Mr Whitlam, at a meeting of the United Nations, confirmed his views that it was foolish for Australia to persist in trying to suggest in some way that East Timor could exist in some form other than as part of Indonesia. Let me make it quite clear that that point of view was adopted by the coalition on its election to government. It was affirmed by the then Prime Minister on 10 October in a statement to the House when he referred to negotiations and visits made by himself and the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) to Indonesia. He commented that the policy was a complex one which had been complicated by rapid changes in Portugal and the breakdown in that country's control and administration of East Timor. He believed that the important thing was to look to the future and to alleviate as far as possible the human suffering which had come with the fighting and associated disruption in the territory. He indicated that Australia would help with the humanitarian task. Indeed, it did so. The relationship then seemed to be on a stable footing.

I was fortunate in being able to visit not only Indonesia but Dili and Atauro Island on 28 January this year. After discussions with Governor Carrascalao, President Suharto, General Benny Moerdani and other Ministers and officials of the Indonesian Government, I was also able to see some of the developments in the province of East Timor and on Atauro Island. It seems to me that several observations that I made on my return to Australia on 30 January have relevance to this debate and report of the Parliamentary Delegation. There is no doubt that East Timor's climate is very similar to Australia's climate. It certainly suffers from recurring droughts. I referred to the fact that from my observations it seemed in the relatively short time of Indonesian occupation that there had been far more done to help the people of East Timor than in the 400 years of neglect by the Portuguese administration. Anybody who criticises the circumstances of the Indonesian administration needs to remember that for many years little was done by the European administrators. It was in that climate, I am afraid, I viewed rather cynically the comments by Lord Avebury and members of the European Parliament in Lisbon yesterday which were reported in the Australian media this morning. There has certainly been a significant contribution by the Indonesian Government to correct the position and, per capita, the Indonesians are spending more in East Timor this year than in any other province. The budget in 1983-84 is $US17.3m, which is an increase of 9 per cent on last year's budget. It reflects a significant increase in allocation for the province at a time when the Indonesian Government has suffered from a decline in oil revenues and when it is generally cutting back on government expenditure in many other areas.

Certainly, there are problems at Atauro. Anybody who goes there cannot help but be distressed by the plight of many of those who are currently under reasonably open detention, but nonetheless detention, on that island. Equally, there is no doubt that the people are free to move around. They produce some crops. During my visit with a number of linguists who could converse with the people on the island there seemed to be a number who felt that living conditions on the island were no worse than those to be found in some other parts of Indonesia.

The Indonesian Government was very apprehensive, following the change of government in Australia on 5 March, about the consequences of this on the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. They welcomed the visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). It was interesting that on his return he stated:

The whole chapter of East Timor has not been easy. The past cannot be forgotten .

That is true. The Opposition does not believe that it should be forgotten. Mr Hayden continued:

But equally the past should not dominate the present. It cannot be allowed to straitjacket our vision of the future.

Of course, both he and the Prime Minister were forced to live with the resolution of the thirty-fifth national conference of the Australian Labor Party held in Canberra in 1982. None of the policies undertaken by the present Government have accorded with the form of those resolutions, whether in the terms of the definition referred to by my colleague the honourable member for Warringah, that the ALP opposes all defence aid to Indonesia, whether it supports the principle of free migration or whether it opposes the operation of Australian companies in East Timor. In no respect has the policy of the ALP to date been carried out by members of this Government. When the Prime Minister visited Indonesia he attempted to re-establish the relationship which was established by my colleague the Leader of the Opposition and by the former Prime Minister. He attempted to play down the effects of that policy. He has certainly generated within the Labor Party much concern, as reflected by the speech made by the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) and the minority report of the Parliamentary Delegation presented to the Parliament by Senator Gordon McIntosh.

The concern that we must all have is that, firstly, the Labor Party has a policy which seems to be in marked division in this place. The Prime Minister reportedly speaks for the Party; yet the Labor Party traditionally, through its platform, constitution and rules laid down by its biennial conferences, has seen those as the policies that bind it not just as a party but as a government. Members of the Opposition are interested to know, with regard to the report of the Parliamentary Delegation, to what degree the Government finds itself able to continue to diverge from the official policy of the Party. Secondly, and more importantly, is the position of the future. We on this side of the House are concerned that in the resolution of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia there should be no debate on an issue which we believe should long ago have been put to rest. The question of the status of the province of East Timor within Indonesia, in my view and, fortunately, in the view of the majority of the members of the Parliamentary Delegation, is no longer at issue. However, there are many matters on which there should be, and must continue to be, dialogue and debate between Australia and Indonesia. As the leader of the Delegation, the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison), has said, unless there is a preparedness within the Labor Party to put to rest the question of sovereignty, I believe that in the future we are likely to be less able to resolve those significant issues of humanitarian concern and some areas of policy differences.

Reference has already been made to the death of journalists-a matter which concerns many people in the Australian media and which concerns members of this Parliament, and rightly so. Again that is a matter of the past. Whatever the actual fate of those journalists and the cause of their deaths, I do not believe that in 1983 we can advance without accepting that there have been differences of opinion on that issue and that there the matter must lie.

Equally, I believe that there needs to be concern about family reunions. Honourable members on both sides of this House-my colleague the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) is one-have expressed concern that family reunions should continue and that about 150 people who are still to be repatriated to Australia should be allowed to do so within a reasonable time. There has been concern about drought aid and humanitarian aid of various types. The previous coalition Government was particularly forthcoming in trying to meet the needs of the people of East Timor and in trying to help the Government of Indonesia to undertake those additional responsibilities that it accepted when in 1975 East Timor became part of Indonesia.

There is too the question of the accreditation of Australian journalists in Indonesia. Because of the many differences between Indonesia and Australia there are different attitudes towards things which might be said. I was delighted that the honourable member for St George referred to his concern about some of the less rational statements which unfortunately are broadcast in the Australian media. Having read the comments on AM this morning by Lord Avebury and of the delegation in Lisbon, I am concerned that they are sensational in character and seem unsubstantiated in kind. If there are allegations about famine, they have not been echoed by the record of this Parliamentary Delegation. It certainly was not seen by me during my visit. Indeed, it seems that the Indonesians have done the best they can to improve the lot of the residents of East Timor.

We all need to remember that Indonesia is a country of many islands. They stretch as far as Perth is from Wellington, or as Dublin is from Moscow. Within that island nation there are many races and many different lingual groups. There are many attitudes and views different from those in Australia. Their concept of pancasila, the state ideology, is perhaps hard for Australians to comprehend. Yet Indonesia is a nation with which we must live. It is a country of 155 million people. Some of its provinces have the greatest population concentrations in the world. It is extraordinarily fertile. It is very rich in mineral resources. It has an enormous future. In my view, Indonesia could well be the Japan of the next two decades. In those circumstances, for Australia to have anything but good relations with that neighbour would be foolish. I endorse the Indonesian proverb used by my colleague the honourable member for St George- better a good neighbour than a distant relative. Let us hope that this parliamentary report can at last bring some common sense into the policies of the Labor Party. Those who seek to dissent on this issue might at least recognise that East Timor is a matter of the past. Let us get on with a proper and positive relationship with Indonesia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.