104 Letter from Feakes to Hill

Canberra, 5 March 1975


Forgive me for not having written to you sooner about Portuguese Timor. But we have been rather hard-pressed one way and another.

As you will by now have seen from the record of their conversation on 20 February, Senator Willesee raised the question of Portuguese Timor with Mr Walding.1 He said that Australia wanted to tell the Indonesians that it would be stupid for them to step into Portuguese Timor. Our intention, Senator Willesee said, had been to wait for Mr Woolcott to arrive in Jakarta and present his credentials before delivering this message but it might now be necessary for our Charge to go in before the new Ambassador arrived. Senator Willesee expressed the hope that the New Zealanders would support this Australian approach, which would be followed up by Mr Whitlam during a visit which President Soeharto was to make here later this year. Mr Walding replied that he could see no reason why the New Zealand Ambassador to Indonesia should not act but he would refer the matter to Wellington.

In discussion with the Minister and the Secretary later that day I expressed the view that the situation was not so urgent as to require action by our Charged'Affaires in Jakarta before the Ambassador arrived and that for various reasons (which I shan't go into here, but which might be described as atmospheric and cosmetic) it would be better to wait until the Ambassador arrived in Jakarta before we made our approach to the Indonesians. I also expressed the view that, when we did make an approach, we did not want to leave the Indonesians an impression that we and others were ganging up on them: it would be best, therefore, if the New Zealanders and others were not invited to join us. In any event, I considered, the New Zealanders would have little influence on the Indonesians. Apart from ourselves the only people with some influence in Jakarta on the question of Portuguese Timor in the context of possible Indonesian military intervention seemed likely to be the Americans. But in order to avoid leaving the Indonesians with the impression that we were ganging up on them I thought that we should discourage the Americans from making any parallel approach to the one we had in mind.

The Minister and the Secretary, with some reluctance, accepted these views. Meanwhile John Rowland received a message from Wellington that Mr Norrish2 wanted to speak to him, we assumed on the subject of Portuguese Timor. It was evident that the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra had reported the conversation I describe between Mr Walding and Senator Willesee. Eventually on 21 February John and I spoke to Mr Norrish on the telephone. He explained that shortly before he received the report of the conversation between the two Ministers-!think the date he mentioned was Wednesday 19 February-he had called the Indonesian Ambassador in to warn him in general terms of the dangers of precipitate action in Portuguese Timor. When he had received the message about the Minister's discussion he had decided to instruct the New Zealand Ambassador in Jakarta to make the same noises to the Indonesians at official level as he had to the Ambassador in Wellington. I thanked Mr Norrish for this information and explained that Ministers had not yet decided here what we should say to the Indonesians and by whom it should be said. But I promised to let him know what the outcome was.

The outcome has been that Dick Woolcott carried with him to Jakarta a letter from the Prime Minister to President Soeharto. The letter was aimed at:

  1. suggesting to the Indonesians that the dangers they saw arising in respect of Portuguese Timor need not be regarded as immediately pressing;
  2. placing it on record that no Australian Government could allow it to be thought that it supported military action in Portuguese Timor; and putting the Indonesians on notice of the damage that could be caused to our bilateral relations by resort to such action;
  3. interesting the Indonesians in considering other possible means in containing the dangers which they see in Portuguese Timor.

In relation to (c) the Prime Minister's letter to President Soeharto invites attention to new Portuguese proposals which could offer a promising basis on which to build a close and co-operative relationship between Portuguese Timor and Indonesia in a way which would meet the proper aspirations of the Timorese, the legitimate interests of Indonesia and the need to preserve regional stability.

I should be most grateful if in order to honour my promise to Mr Norrish, you could pass on the information in the preceding paragraph to him. With the Prime Minister's approval the only others whom we are advising of our approach to the Indonesians are the Americans. The text of the letter from Mr Whitlam to President Soeharto is being very closely held here, closely enough, I hope, to avoid its appearing in the press! The letter was delivered in Jakarta to the Indonesian Chief of Protocol, General Latif, on Tuesday 4 March.

We should much prefer the New Zealanders not to take any parallel approach to the Indonesians at a high level and we certainly shan't be putting that thought into their minds here. What their Ambassador in Jakarta will have said to the Indonesian authorities as a result of Mr Norrish's earlier instructions will not, I think, have done any harm as it may well not have percolated up to the very top. We have seen a New Zealand telegram reporting an approach to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry on 25 February.3

[matter omitted]

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1, XX]