MEDIA RELEASE

DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
AUSTRALIA

D67

24 August 1998

DEATHS OF AUSTRALIAN JOURNALISTS IN EAST TIMOR

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deeply regrets the death of Australian journalists during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 but completely rejects suggestions in today's Sydney Morning Herald of a "cover-up".

The deaths have been the subject of intensive scrutiny during the years since 1975. Much has been written and released at various points since then.

In this regard, it is essential to note that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gave Mr Tom Sherman QC wholly unfettered access to all material held by the Government to facilitate his Report into the circumstances of the journalists' deaths.

The Government not only made available all the material in its possession, but also accorded Mr Sherman absolute independence in coming to his findings. Officers of DFAT made every effort to ensure Mr Sherman had total and unlimited access to all material. In these circumstances, the suggestion of a departmental cover-up is entirely unfounded.

A key allegation in the Sydney Morning Herald today is the proposition that the Government had received -information that Indonesian forces were going to attack in the Balibo area, that it knew Australian journalists were in that area, and that it failed to provide adequate warning.

The Sherman Report addressed this issue directly. It concluded, at paragraph 5.66 " There is ample evidence that the Balibo five were warned of the dangers facing them in the border area."

It is reported today that the Australian Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists has called for a "Strong protest to the Indonesian government on behalf of all right thinking Australians at the ... killings". The ICJ has also reportedly called for a further inquiry.

The Australian Government has frequently made its views known to the Indonesian Government about the deaths of the five journalists. And as the Minister for Foreign Affairs said at the time of the release of the Sherman Report, that Report was as thorough and conclusive an investigation as was possible outside Indonesia and that any further investigation was most unlikely to produce additional findings.

At all times the Department has been, as it continues to be, ready to receive information from any person who has credible new evidence which is relevant to this matter.

Media Inquiries:

Tony Melville (02) 62611555