15 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 16 [July] 1974


Portuguese Timor: Visit to Australia of Ramos Horta

Mr Ramos Horta, a leader of the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), arrived in Canberra on Tuesday evening, 16 July.

  1. ASDT is one of three political parties in Portuguese Timor. Despite its name there is nothing at this time to suggest that it is a social democratic party in the accepted international sense. It has a small following, predominantly of intellectuals. Like the other two parties, it has yet to develop any substantial support among the mass of ill-educated Timorese. For most Timorese political awareness is still circumscribed by emotional loyalty to Portugal. Ramos Horta is the brightest politician to have emerged in Portuguese Timor. He is ambitious and may see himself as leader of an independent Portuguese Timor. ASDT favours strongly independence, as opposed to continued links with Portugal or an association with Indonesia.
  2. Ramos Horta visited Jakarta in late June where he obtained from Malik what he described as assurances of Indonesian non-interference in Portuguese Timor. Of some significance is that Horta tended to put his own gloss on meetings he had in Indonesia and to tailor his accounts of meetings with Indonesians to his (Timorese) audience.
  3. His visit to Australia undoubtedly follows from the common Timorese perception that Australia is of major potential importance to Portuguese Timor, and possibly even a counter-balance against Indonesian influence.
  4. In the formulation of policy on Portuguese Timor, we need to try to avoid courses likely to irritate Indonesia without good reason. Indeed one of our over-riding concerns must be to pay careful attention to Indonesian susceptibilities over Portuguese Timor. There exists a possibility that politicians such as Ramos Horta, irrespective of any good intentions they may have, may seek for domestic consumption to exploit supposed undertakings from us by claiming Australian assurances against Indonesian interference.
  5. Horta may seek to see Australian officials and Ministers. (In Jakarta he saw Malik three times. This was largely a product of very favourable publicity he obtained through the influential Christian newspaper Sinar Harapan.) We envisage responding at the official level to his visit but see little advantage, and some disadvantages in his being received at the Ministerial level. Ministerial attention would give too much weight to his visit, which he would be certain to publicize, or even misrepresent. As a result, he could pre-empt our policy options on Portuguese Timor or even embarrass our relations with Indonesia. At this inchoate stage of politics in Portuguese Timor, it would be prudent for us to avoid too close a contact with one or other of the emerging groups.
  6. Horta may seek assurances of the opening of an Australian consulate in Portuguese Timor. The Department is, in fact, considering recommending this but any assurance given to Horta is certain to be exploited domestically by him on his return. We have not yet given an indication of our thinking to either the Portuguese or the Indonesians.
  7. It is recommended:
    1. that you should avoid receiving Mr Ramos Horta;
    2. that discussions be conducted at the official level.1

First Assistant Secretary
South Asia Division

[NAA: A1838, 3038110/1, vii]