19 Memorandum to Posts1

Canberra, 7 August 1974


Portuguese Timor-Visit to Canberra of Ramos Horta

Attached is a report prepared in the Department on the recent visit to Canberra of Ramos Horta.


Indonesia Section



[matter omitted]

  1. Horta's visit, as the first by a Timorese political leader to Australia, was of some importance. It stimulated interest in Portuguese Timor and was a step in the development of Australia's relations with the territory. Horta hoped by means of the visit to secure certain political objectives, notably an Australian commitment to support of his party, to the independence of Timor and to give aid. Undertakings along these lines would have enhanced Horta's personal political standing in Portuguese Timor. During his visit to Jakarta, Adam Malik gave Horta a letter guaranteeing Indonesian support for Portuguese Timor's right to independence (copy attached, see para [7] below). Such a guarantee has direct implications for internal politics in Portuguese Timor, for among the three political parties, it is only the ASDT which seeks independence.
  2. Department officials told Horta that they had not yet asked ministers to consider Australia's policy towards the future of Portuguese Timor. But they expected that ministers would endorse the objective of self-determination as consistent with Australia's policy towards other Portuguese colonial territories and in the belief that the people of Portuguese Timor should be free to decide their own future. Australia would expect an act of self-determination in Portuguese Timor to be a genuine one. Officials expressed understanding of the need for delay in order to prepare the people to exercise self-determination. The difficulty about endorsing the objective of a particular party or otherwise seeming to prefer one party over the others was explained to Horta. He was told that the provision of Australian aid would require the agreement of the Portuguese Government at this stage. Officials also explained to Horta the need for Australia to explore Portuguese thinking about Timor.
  3. Horta was somewhat disappointed by the outcome of his visit to Canberra, which he contrasted unfavourably with that to Jakarta. He emphasised Australia's 'debt' to the Timorese for the assistance that they provided during the Pacific War and dropped hints about looking elsewhere for friends, particularly among the communist countries. But Horta did not complain to the Departmental officials about the treatment that he received. Although he probably felt that more facilities could have been offered to him, he wrote to the National Times to deny a report that he was 'cold shouldered' by Foreign Affairs. (Mr Dunn helped him write the letter, which was carefully worded.) We understand that Horta initially hoped to see the Minister but he did not ask the Department to arrange a meeting.
  4. While the outcome of the visit may have disappointed Horta's personal hopes, it was probably salutary. He should have received the impression that, while Australia's disposition was friendly, it would move deliberately in relation to Portuguese Timor and not in such a way as to favour a particular party or individual. Another lesson was that Portuguese Timor had to compete among many claims for the attention of the Australian Government. Horta's attempt to solicit financial aid for ASDT from the federal secretary of the A[L]P was unsuccessful. He indicated that he might attempt to obtain funds from the Liberal Party (in the course of an interview he had in mind with Mr Peacock) but in fact he did not do so.
  5. A factor colouring Horta's attitude was the ease with which in Jakarta he obtained Adam Malik's endorsement of the idea of independence for Portuguese Timor. The wording of Malik's letter (para 3 above) is unequivocal but it probably leaves a false impression of Indonesia's position which, in fact, is far from certain. There is a strong temptation for the Indonesians to work for the incorporation of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia. Malik's commitment to Horta would be unpopular among several interested groups in Jakarta. It is difficult to know why Malik gave such an undertaking. Perhaps it represented a belief on his part that Portuguese Timor should have the right to independence and was an effort to block those who may be disposed to interfere.
  6. The Indonesian Embassy took an active interest in Horta's visit. Representatives of the Embassy told the Department that Horta had exaggerated Malik's commitment to the principle of Timorese independence. (Malik's letter belies this claim but the Embassy was probably reflecting the tone of its briefing from Jakarta. There ha[ve] been other indications that the Indonesians wish to play down Horta's visit to Jakarta. The Embassy has informed us that Malik received Horta only because of their journalistic associations and because the Indonesian press - notably Sinar Harapan - had made a fuss over him.) The Embassy was surprised to learn that we had not officially sponsored Horta's visit to Australia. It received Horta at his request and plied him with questions in order to avoid answering any awkward questions from Horta himself. The Embassy expressed relief that Horta was officially received in the Department because otherwise there would have been a too noticeable difference between his reception in Jakarta and in Canberra.

[matter omitted]

  1. Horta's visit to Canberra was premature in terms of the evolution of Australian policy. Portuguese Timor is a sensitive factor in our relations with Indonesia. The Prime Minister's visit should provide an opportunity for an authoritative exchange of views with the Indonesians after which we should be able to develop our policy towards Portuguese Timor more confidently. At that stage there may be more scope for cultivating the Timorese political leaders.

[NAA: A10463, 801113/1111, ii]