East Timor: Australian Defence Force Deployment
Database House Hansard
Date 23-09-1999
Source House of Reps
Parl No. 39
Electorate Ryan
Page 10412
Party LP
Status Final
Speaker Moore, John, MP
Stage East Timor: Australian Defence Force Deployment
Context Matters of Public Importance
System Id chamber/hansardr/1999-09-23/0093

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - East Timor: Australian Defence Force Deployment

Mr MOORE (Defence) (3:51 PM) —The member for Cunningham is a nice guy. He is popular around the House, but he makes a dreadful spokesman for defence. He comes up and away he goes with a series of allegations. He is not aware of the facts. It is nice to take him around to some of these shows, but he needs to get up with the facts. The ADF is adequately resourced. We can maintain a deployment of 4,500 troops in East Timor for 12 months. We can rotate those forces within that 12-month period.

The issue we are considering today is a critical one. It is therefore important that we be aware of the background of this historic deployment. As we all know, the government supported the decision of the Indonesian government—a tripartite agreement set out on 5 May—to hold an action of consultation in East Timor on 30 August. It is well known that Indonesia had responsibility for security in the period surrounding the ballot and that on the day of the vote there was very little disturbance. We acknowledge the role of the Indonesian government in achieving this.

The widespread violence after the ballot, however, was completely unacceptable. Since then the Australian government has worked tirelessly to help stabilise the situation and to provide a path for the will of the East Timorese people to be given effect. We were well pleased when the Indonesian government announced its decision to accept a multinational peacekeeping force. The Australian government worked very closely with the international community to obtain the agreement of the United Nations to allow the deployment of troops into East Timor.

The United Nations Security Council reached its resolution in an incredibly short time. The UN mandate is a strong one, and we believe it fully meets INTERFET's requirements. The mandate authorises INTERFET to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect and support UNAMET and to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations. Importantly, INTERFET is authorised to take all necessary measures to fulfil the mandate.

At the request of the United Nations Secretary-General, Australia accepted the leadership of this peacekeeping force. Major General Peter Cosgrove, one of Australia's most distinguished service-in-combat soldiers, has been appointed to the commander's position, and I am sure that all Australians are very proud of the role that he and his colleagues are playing. This was all achieved within the space of three weeks, and that is worth recording. I have certainly never seen that before. It is a great credit to the diplomatic efforts of the Prime Minister, my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs and senior officials of our departments.

This deployment is a very important one. As I said in the House earlier this week, it clearly meets the test of Australia's national interests. We have a vital strategic interest in promoting peace and stability in East Timor. Without that peace and stability we cannot be confident of our own security, so our leadership of INTERFET not only is about being a good international citizen but equally is about promoting regional peace, security and Australia's national interests.

It is our objective to ensure that the United Nations process moves back on course as soon as possible. Our aim is for phase 3 of the United Nations process—the period after the Indonesian parliament ratifies the 30 August vote and a United Nations transition authority takes over—to commence as soon as possible. The intention of the Australian government is for the multinational force to carry out its mandate and to hand over to the United Nations transition authority as soon as possible. Currently, phase 2 of the operation, INTERFET is expected to last for up to four months.

I would now like to turn to the current status of the INTERFET operation. As of this morning, there were 2,750 personnel deployed in East Timor, comprising some 2,416 Australians and 282 foreign forces. Another 987 Australian personnel are serving on ships involved in Operation Stabilise. The build-up of troops, stores and equipment will continue today through both the port and Dili airport.

INTERFET is continuing to develop its operations. Yesterday the Bacau airport was secured by Company Group in preparation for the deployment of further INTERFET forces. A suspected militia location in the Tropicana Hotel in Dili was investigated by INTERFET forces yesterday. A cache of approximately 40 weapons, mostly handmade, were discovered and five personnel were detained for questioning. Twelve Black Hawk helicopters are now located in Dili. Security elements will be deployed to Dare and Uamori today. Twenty C-130 sortis, of which nine are Australian, have been planned between Darwin and Dili today, including three air drops of humanitarian aid—two by Australian aircraft and one by French aircraft. A total of 85 C-130 sortis, 52 of them Australian, have been completed between Darwin and Dili up to and including yesterday. This includes six humanitarian drops delivering over 100,000 pounds of food and supplies.

As far as the current state of the INTERFET coalition is concerned, firm commitments have now been received from 12 countries. These are the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, Italy, France, Canada, Ireland, Brazil and Malaysia. Eight other countries have indicated a willingness to contribute but actual commitments have not yet been agreed. These countries are Fiji, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mozambique, Norway, Spain and Denmark. International contingents continue to arrive in Australia and will be deployed in Dili in due course as part of the force build-up. Forces or elements from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and the US are located in Darwin and will continue to deploy to East Timor. Brazil and Italian force elements are undergoing force preparation in Townsville prior to deployment. This has been an excellent deployment and an excellent example of international cooperation between nations. I commend the ADF on this well-planned and well-executed operation. I thank the nations involved for their contributions and, in particular, for their speedy response to the request from the United Nations.

I now turn to the issue of sustainability of our contribution to INTERFET and East Timor. Clearly the scale of our deployment in East Timor is posing major challenges for the ADF. However, because of the decision we took in February this year to raise the readiness of a second brigade, we have now available to us sufficient forces to deploy and maintain on East Timor a contingent of up to 4,500 personnel for a year. This includes sufficient forces to allow for a rotation of the units. The government has been advised by the ADF that they are planning for units to spend no more than nine months on deployment, and if possible less. These are operational matters.

The government has very close contact with the leadership of the ADF and will naturally act on its advice on this important matter. As I said at question time, we are also conscious that our troops in East Timor have families back here. Within the bounds of the operational requirements, we will try to provide as much certainty for families as possible regarding the expected duration of the deployment. We hope that, within a year, the situation in East Timor will have improved to the point that our forces can be withdrawn, or at least significantly reduced. We are currently working with the United Nations to ensure this occurs, but the government recognises that there is a possibility that we may need to sustain the deployment longer than that.

Our present force will allow us at the same time to maintain significant forces to deal with other contingencies, may they arise, and to ensure that we have the forces for critical national tasks, such as a counter-terrorism response for the Olympics.

I would now like to turn specifically to the important issue of the possible need for rotation of the Australian contingent. This is an issue that has been under close consideration by the government. Firstly, we need to be clear that the current mandate should not be seen as a substitute for the tripartite agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations. The purpose of the current deployment is to create the conditions on the ground that will permit the process put in place under the agreement to get back on track as quickly as possible. If this can be done quickly and effectively, there should be no need for the rotation of the forces currently in East Timor. We intend to work vigorously towards that outcome. All parties to the mandate are keen to see the situation on the ground stabilised to the point where we can transfer the mandate for a peace enforcement operation to a United Nations peacekeeping operation in support of a United Nations transitional authority in East Timor.

Australia will, of course, contribute to the peacekeeping force as well as to the transitional authority. The nature and scale of our contribution to phase 3 of the peacekeeping force will be tailored to the situation at that time. I can say, however, that I expect we will not need to deploy on the same scale as under the current peace enforcement mandate. It is likely, however, that phase 3 of the peacekeeping force will be required to support the transitional authority in East Timor for some considerable time. Accordingly, my department is now planning the likely manpower and resource requirements to allow an effective ADF contribution to such a force. Our initial studies indicate that the support for phase 3 of the peacekeeping force could largely be sustained from within the current force structure. There is a need, however, for prudent planning in case the peace enforce ment operation under the current mandate needs to be extended beyond the current projections for phase 2.

As I said in question time, I am advised that the current manning levels are robust enough to support a projected ADF contingent of some 4,500 personnel, including any requirement for rotation, for a period of at least one year, although additional resources will be required to cover equipment and operating costs. Any extension of the current mandate beyond the 12 months would require some form of expansion to maintain a force at the higher end of the scale. This will require an early decision on the requirement to raise additional regular elements based on 7 Brigade in Brisbane. My department is now doing the detailed planning work on this issue and I will take the matter to the National Security Committee very shortly. While I do not wish to pre-empt their consideration, I can say with great confidence that the government will take whatever decision is necessary to ensure that our defence forces are properly manned, trained, equipped and sustained to support our forces in East Timor, whether under the present peace enforcement mandate or under the phase 3 peacekeeping mandate.

The coalition has spent the last three years focussing Defence on its reasons for being: providing combat capability to protect Australia and its interests. That focus on combat capability through the Defence Reform Program has shifted resources from administrative areas to the sharp end. Because of this, there are more Regular Army personnel combat and combat related roles than when the coalition came to power. We have brought a second brigade sized group, 1 Brigade in Darwin, to a higher state of readiness, at 28 days notice to move. In December 1997 we introduced the Army individual readiness notice. Personnel must now meet set fitness requirements and be ready to deploy, focusing our individual soldiers on their need to be combat ready. So we are in a strong position to support any deployment.

Listening to the contribution made by the member for Cunningham today, I have to say I totally reject the scaremongering of the opposition on this matter. We do have suffi cient forces to deploy and maintain a contingent of 4,500 personnel on East Timor for a year. That includes sufficient forces for a rotation of those units. The government is working closely with the leadership of the ADF to ensure that our deployment to East Timor is adequately resourced. That is the case at the moment and it will continue to be the case for the total period of the deployment. The government is committed to ensuring the ADF is properly resourced.