61 Draft Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 5 December 1974



Portuguese Timor

Australia's Attitudes

  1. Australia has no axe of its own to grind in Portuguese Timor. But it is also true that what interests we have-deriving from the territory's proximity, its straddling of important shipping routes, its nearness to our seabed resources zone, and our small commercial stake-are all best served by its incorporation into Indonesia. Moreover, if not contained in this way, Portuguese Timor could become a source of tension with Indonesia, and between Indonesia and other neighbouring countries. It is for these reasons that, as one part of our policy, we have favoured association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia, recognising that Portuguese Timor is part of the Indonesian world.
  2. The second part of our policy flows from our commitment to self-determination. This stems from the Government's general philosophy-in the United Nations and elsewhere-but also from an assessment that to decide the future of Portuguese Timor against the will of its inhabitants might well lead to instability and trouble later on. Moreover, some Australians, with the example of Irian Jaya in mind, would be very sensitive to any appearance that decisions on Portuguese Timor's future were being taken without proper consultations with the people there.
  3. The Prime Minister explained both aspects of our policy to President Soeharto in Yogyakarta on 6 September. While he said that he shared the Indonesian reservations about an independent Portuguese Timor, and agreed that Portuguese Timor should become part of Indonesia, he also stressed the importance of self-determination, adding that the incorporation of the territory into Indonesia against the wishes of the people would adversely affect Australian domestic opinion. You made much the same points in your discussions in New York with Adam Malik on 26 September. Australian officials rehearsed our position in the annual officials' consultations with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry on 28 October.
  4. While we have thus expressed ourselves clearly enough to the Indonesians, the impression has developed in some quarters, including some Australian journalists, that what in fact was agreed at Yogyakarta was an understanding whereby Portuguese Timor was to be 'handed over' to Indonesia. It has also been suggested by Australian journalists (Hastings and Richardson) that that was the clear interpretation that the Indonesians themselves had put on your remarks. Indeed, while he did not go as far as to say that the Indonesians had taken the Prime Minister's comments in Yogyakarta as in any way a green light for a takeover, Ali Murtopo told our Ambassador in Lisbon on 14 October that Australian support for the idea of incorporation had helped Indonesia crystallise its own thinking.
  5. On the domestic front, there have been criticisms of our attitudes among members of Parliament. Reports of allegations that Australia is prepared to make a free gift of the territory to Indonesia have had some impact in Portuguese Timor itself. Mr Ramos Horta is said to have concluded that an understanding to this effect had been reached between Australia and Indonesia. In reaction to reports of the Prime Minister's visit to Yogyakarta, a minor demonstration took place in Dili protesting about the alleged 'understanding'.1


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/112, i]