306 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 29 October 1975


Portuguese Timor: Aid

To date the Government has provided the following humanitarian assistance to Timor:

  • $100,000 to the ICRC appeal, half of which was set aside for relief of the 40,000 Timorese refugees in Indonesian Timor.
  • An army medical team-all costs borne by the Government.
  • RAAF aircraft-first for the evacuation operation and later for the ICRC. Although the ICRC no longer has call on the full-time services of a Caribou aircraft, in practice the RAAF is responding favourably to ICRC ad hoc requests to transport supplies from Darwin to Dili free of charge.

Therefore the Caucus calls on the Cabinet to give urgent consideration to the following resolution:

  1. publicly state the view that Indonesian activity in East Timor is prolonging hostilities and obstructing the process of decolonisation and self determination;
  2. take prompt action to recover the bodies of the journalists and determine the circumstances in which these five Australian citizens died;
  3. increase official Government aid to East Timor;
  4. use its good offices to mediate between the parties involved in the dispute.

Australian assistance has far exceeded that provided by any other country. As far as we know New Zealand is the only other government to have announced a contribution-of $NZ25, to the ICRC, although a number of national Red Cross societies may have offered small contributions.

Request for Assistance

[matter omitted]1


  1. This question of food aid to Portuguese Timor is fraught with political difficulties. In brief, if Australia were to provide food aid to Portuguese Timor, it would be difficult to avoid the impression that we were providing direct underpinning to the FRETILIN administration in Timor, with all that implies for our relationship with the Indonesians.
  2. When this matter was last considered in detail (a copy of our earlier submission to the Acting Minister2 is attached) the Government was able to deflect pressure for a decision because of ICRC advice, conveyed to the Acting Minister by Mr Pasquier, that there was no food shortage in Portuguese Timor at that time. Pasquier felt that reports to the contrary were exaggerated, and based on an Australian regimen of food intake. Under normal consumption patterns, he felt that there would be sufficient food supplies to see the territory through until mid-November when the new rice harvest would be in.
  3. Although there was come confusion at the time, it seems that Pasquier's assessments were based in part on the assumption that the Timorese who had joined fighting units would soon return to their fields. In addition, he expected that a Portuguese ship with 500 tons of rice would be arriving in Dili before the end of November. That ship has not come and is unlikely to do so. Nor has the expected return to the fields taken place. Moreover, the latest advice we have from the ICRC (14 October) is that, contrary to earlier advice, they expect a food problem to emerge in two to three weeks, particularly in the coastal towns. Thus we are no longer in the position of being able to say publicly that the ICRC does not assess that there is a food shortage in Timor.
  4. Meanwhile, we must anticipate that domestic pressure to provide food to Timor will increase. Part of the ACFOA team has now returned from Dili and the Australian Red Cross request was channelled through ACFOA. We can expect recommendations strongly supporting FRETILIN and stressing the need for further assistance from the Government, including food aid, probably for much larger quantities than the Australian Red Cross has suggested.


  1. None of the foregoing alters the Department's view that in terms of Australia's foreign policy interests the Government would be best advised not to provide food aid to Portuguese Timor at this stage. This is particularly so if Ministers are also about to make a public comment critical of Indonesian military involvement in Portuguese Timor.
  2. If Timor is in need of emergency food supplies (and we are still to be convinced that this is the case) it might be asked why Portugal, the colonial power, does not provide it. Instead the Portuguese act as though they no longer have any responsibilities for, or indeed any cares about, the welfare of the Timorese. It is not as if the Portuguese economy were bankrupt: foreign exchange reserves at $US650 million may have begun to run down but Portugal still has huge gold stocks worth $4.2 billion at current market prices. Some weeks ago, the Portuguese Government was toying with the thought that a rundown of food stocks in Timor would be a good thing since it could bring FRETILIN to its senses and oblige it to negotiate with the Indonesians. There is something in this argument.
  3. Were you nevertheless to decide that Australia should provide food aid to Portuguese Timor, we believe there are several considerations that should be taken into account.
  4. In the first place, there are a number of reasons for keeping our financial powder dry at this stage. It is still relatively early in the financial year and the latest ICRC appeal, for example, only covers the period until the end of December. But, more than that, we think that as much as possible of the $590,000 available for food aid should be kept aside for later expenditure in Timor in the event of a political settlement there which would require a positive gesture of Australian support. Such a political settlement could ensue from the talks the Portuguese are still trying to arrange with the Timorese parties, or from Indonesian pressure, or from a combination of both. The important point is that at the end of the day the Australian Government may be under considerable pressure to make some kind of financial commitment to the territory and it would not wish to be in the position of having used all the funds available.

[matter omitted]


  1. There are no reasons rooted in our foreign policy interests which could lead the Department to recommend the provision of food aid to Portuguese Timor at the present juncture. The question is whether domestic requirements should override these foreign policy preferences. If you decide that they should, we recommend that any further contribution to the ICRC be limited at this time to $A100,000 with $A50,000 of this amount being earmarked for the refugees in Indonesian Timor. Finally, we would propose that any public announcement of the contribution to the ICRC be expressed in cash terms. That the contribution in fact will be used to purchase food supplies should be seen to be the ICRC's own decision.3
  2. ADAA concurs with this submission.

G.B.FEAKES - First Assistant Secretary - South-East Asia & PNG Division

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/112, iij]