452 Submission to Peacock

Canberra, 26 May 1976


Timor: Journalists

The purpose of this submission is to seek your agreement to a course of action for the future handling of this matter both in Australia and vis-a-vis Indonesia.

  1. First, we have received the report of the Embassy team of their visit to East Timor.1 The report is in two parts: the report itself and conclusions. Both telegrams are available in your office. We propose that they be tabled in the House.
  2. Second, Mr Price has prepared a report of his discussions in Melbourne on 10 May with Jose Martins.2 This report was submitted to you earlier this week. Mr Price is to prepare a revised version of the report which omits those sections in which he analyses Martins'character and motivation.3 In its revised form this report too could be tabled in Parliament.
  3. The major point to emerge from the Price report is that Martins does not claim to be an eye-witness. He was not in Balibo at the time of the deaths of the newsmen. His account is based on what he was told by others; in particular his principal source of information was Tomas Gonsalves, the commander of the APODETI forces at Balibo.
  4. In the event the Embassy team was able to have direct contact with Tomas Gonsalves. His account-that the newsmen were evidently caught in the crossfire and their bodies discovered after the fighting—does not support Martins' allegations. Neither do Lopes da Cruz nor the Rajah of Atsabe, both of whom, according to Martins, were privy to the Gonsalves contrary account. In other words we have a situation where the Martins account is not consistent with what others, including the stated sources of Martins' own information, have told us. While we know that much of what Gonsalves, da Cruz and the Rajah of Atsabe have had to say has in all likelihood been scripted by the Indonesians, we do not know that their account of the actual manner in which the newsmen met their deaths is not substantially correct. Nor, of course, do we know that Martins is not telling the truth (about what Gonsalves, etc, told him). All that can be said on the basis of what we know is that it is still not possible to come to firm and final conclusions as to the circumstances and manner of the deaths of the newsmen.
  5. But the matter cannot be allowed to rest here. As a next step we believe it necessary to confront the Indonesian Government once again with Martins['] allegations. We should lay before them the Price report and seek their official reaction. Martins has also identified certain Indonesian officers—Colonel Dading, said to have been the overall field commander in the area at the time, and a Major Andreas, who Martins claims led the attack on Balibo. We think that a request will need to be addressed to the Indonesian Government by the Embassy to interview both officers. Likewise in regard to a West Timorese BAKIN personnel, Louis Taolin, also named by Martins. There are, as well, a number of Indonesian journalists to whom Martins has referred and who ideally should be interviewed if we are to follow-up all leads.
  6. There are of course difficulties-actual as well as potential-in all this. Both the Indonesian Government and the provisional authorities in Dili could refuse further cooperation. Indonesia may react sharply to requests to interview further Indonesian military personnel and officials. At the very least we must expect a drawn-out response in which there could be much ducking and weaving as between the Indonesians and the PGET. And at the end of the day we are unlikely to have any clearer picture of what happened.
  7. The foregoing could be an argument in favour of trying to wrap-up the issue with a statement to the effect that the Government has now gone as far as possible with its investigations. But to argue this way would invite further domestic criticism and, probably, renewed demands for some form of judicial enquiry. The Government is already on public record as stating its intention to follow up all avenues of enquiry. We think that the Government has little alternative but to do so. Accordingly we believe that the approach to the Indonesians outlined in paragraph 6 above must be made. We are seeking your agreement to doing so.
  8. In regard to the handling of the matter domestically we should favour the following steps:
    1. a statement in the House in which you might confirm that the Embassy and Price reports have been received, invite attention to the continuing conflict in evidence, and foreshadow the further approaches to the Indonesians. We also think that you might confirm the intention to table the reports in the House once they have been conveyed to the next-of-kin-a draft statement has been submitted to you separately.4
    2. the department should convey the Embassy and Price reports to the next-of-kin (excluding Mr Rennie in Britain who, as you will know, has written asking not to receive further communications on this matter).
    3. tabling in Parliament, perhaps later next week, of the Embassy and Price reports along with a summary which we are preparing of all other accounts of the deaths of the newsmen.5
  9. A separate issue has been raised by the AJA submission to the Government that Australia seek reparations from the Indonesian Government in regard to the deaths of the newsmen. The AJA submission does not rest on the authenticity or otherwise of the Martins account. The AJA argument is that Indonesian involvement in the attack on Balibo is indisputable and that, under international law, Indonesia must accept responsibility for the newsmen's deaths. The preliminary view of the Department's legal adviser is that a prima facie case can be established for such an approach to Indonesia. More work will need to be done on the matter and indeed it may be some time before the legal position has been completely clarified.At this point we simply note that you will probably need to come to a decision in the next month or two on whether an approach for compensation should be made to the Indonesians.
  10. Meanwhile, it is recommended that you agree to the proposed course of action outlined in paragraph 9 and that you also agree to our making a further approach to the Indonesians as per paragraph 6.6

LANCE JOSEPH - Assistant Secretary South-East Asia Branch

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1/2, iv]