66 Record of Policy Discussion

Canberra, 11 December 1974


Portuguese Timor

Mr Feakes introduced the paper1 which had been circulated before the meeting. By way of background he said that there was general agreement at an earlier FAS meeting that our policy on this issue should reflect our preference:-

  1. for the association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia; and
  2. that the future status of Portuguese Timor should be settled by means of an internationally acceptable act of self-determination.
  1. The need for the present paper had arisen out of recent developments, the most important of which were:-
    1. press reports following the Prime Minister's recent visit to Indonesia suggesting that 'a' (above) was our sole interest and concern.
    2. the difficulty of reconciling (a) and (b) above.
    3. the beginnings of a campaign in Australia about Portuguese Timor. This campaign involved members of the ALP Parliamentary Caucus and contained elements hostile to the present government of Indonesia.
  2. Mr Feakes added that he had already received some very valuable comments on the paper and, as a result, it would be amended to include more fully the following points:-
    1. The situation on the ground in Portuguese Timor. This caused some concern, particularly the volatile nature of the situation, the relative[ly] large number of people with some military training, and the openness of Portuguese Timor to outside arms supplies; all this pointed to a fluid situation with the potential for rapid change.
    2. Independence in Australian terms was five or so years off; it was not an immediate prospect.
    3. The importance of Portugal's views and the appreciation that developments in Portugal could affect Portuguese Timor.
  3. On other matters Mr Feakes said that the references to aid were of course subject to the views of OADAA; the phrase 'studied detachment' would be revised as it may not appeal to the Minister; there were now pressures for a Parliamentary delegation to visit Portuguese Timor, but we were trying to get the Prime Minister to put an end to this. Mr Woolcott remarked that he thought Mr Whitlam would be well disposed towards our view, but it was a difficult issue for him. Mr Feakes said that a visit by a Parliamentary delegation would be regarded as anti-Indonesian and could be seen as an indication that we were behind Ramos Horta. Mr Woolcott said that if such a visit eventuated, the delegation should be encouraged to go to Jakarta also.
  4. Mr Woolcott invited comments on the conclusions and recommendations of the paper.
  5. Mr Jackel said that what concerned him was the appreciation of the situation on the ground; there was a risk that Portuguese Timor could tum out to be a 'running sore' for Indonesia. The situation was very different from West Irian; many of the inhabitants had military training (1,000 in the army, 15,000 formerly in the army and therefore with some military experience and 3,000 in the reserves who received regular training); given the nature of the terrain it would be easy to mount and sustain a liberation movement with outside support. If a liberation movement did in fact develop, it would gradually attract international attention and Portuguese Timor would become more of an international issue; PNG, for instance, would soon become conscious and aware of what was happening.
  6. Mr Jackel added that he had sympathy for the Indonesians in the present situation, i.e. wanting to take control of Portuguese Timor now in order to prevent the realisation of their worst fears. The real danger, however, was that the Indonesians would alienate those not in favour of integration and so push them to some form of extreme action. There were signs of a strong stiffening of Portuguese resistance to recent Indonesian activity; the situation was therefore becoming more difficult.
  7. Mr Cook said he agreed with Mr Jockel. At the first FAS discussions on this matter no one knew much about Portuguese Timor. There seemed to have been a basic assumption that Portuguese Timor would be like West Irian; the people would accept integration, and from this assumption followed our commitment to an internationally acceptable act of self-determination. However, what was now clear was that the people of Portuguese Timor were not malleable; integration was not a winnable goal; the situation itself had changed as people were becoming more active as integration became more of a real possibility. Mr Cook said he thought that in the long run independence may be better than integration. What was our own view of the dangers of independence? Mr Feakes said that the situation was very difficult to be sure of the pros and cons of independence: we could not, of course, foresee the future. Also, there was still no Defence appreciation of the strategic situation. All that could be said to the Indonesians at present was what was in the paper; we could not come down absolutely in favour of independence although the dangers of absorption by Indonesia were apparent.
  8. Mr Fernandez said that in terms of our own self-interest we should avoid getting involved in another West Irian type situation, with all the implications that would have for our relations with Indonesia. He supported the idea of 'studied detachment' and agreed with the recommendations in the paper, but felt they were too complex and made too fine a point; the policy required simpler principles. He doubted also whether we needed an aid program. Mr Jackel commented that President Soeharto's views rested a great deal on the argument that Portuguese Timor would not be economically viable. If independent, it would be a country which relied on outside aid, aid which would come from communist countries with interests in the area.
  9. Referring to visits to Portuguese Timor, Mr Laurie said that, within the context of our policy, they would be best limited to visits by officers in Canberra. Alternatively, a post apart from Jakarta could have responsibility for Portuguese Timor. Mr Feakes said that staffing problems would result from limiting visits to Canberra-based officers; it would be best to have a blend of visits from Jakarta and Canberra. Mr Woolcott said that he was inclined to agree with Mr Laurie; i.e. the balance of visits should be from Canberra.
  10. On the question of Australian representation in Dili, Mr Robertson said that he would prefer not to re-open the post. He added, however, that the paper had overlooked the consular and immigration angle in its consideration of this question. Mr Feakes explained that it was already planned to add these points. It was, however, difficult to say, on the one hand, that we were not re-opening in Dili, but, on the other, that we were opening in Darwin. Mr Robertson said that the two were quite separate cases; Dili would involve opening a new post, whereas in Darwin we would be merely putting an officer in, to take over an existing office. Mr Woolcott said that he wondered whether, in all the circumstances, we should not go into Dili. In reply, Mr Feakes said that that conclusion may in fact be reached when policy was next reviewed, but what was needed now was to take a couple of steps back from involvement in Portuguese Timor.
  11. Mr Gilchrist reminded the meeting that in the not too distant future, perhaps twelve months, we would have to discuss with someone the delineation of the seabed boundary between Australia and Portuguese Timor.
  12. Mr Rogers said that the paper was a clear and skilful presentation. He had, however, some queries and doubts. In respect of paragraph 7, too much emphasis was placed on Australia's interests all being 'best served by its incorporation into Indonesia'. He said that States often ran into difficulties after incorporating additional territory, and this depended in large part on the method of incorporation. By way of example he mentioned the Eritrean problem in Ethiopia. In paragraph 13, he said that the incompatibility of the two policy objectives should be explained more fully. Mr Feakes replied that this was something which would be done in the covering submission when a revised paper was sent to the Minister.2
  13. Mr Rogers said that what we had done elsewhere, particularly in the United Nations on South African issues and on Guinea Bissau, had made it difficult for us to operate in our own area in a different way. This problem would have to be faced at some time, perhaps when the Committee of 24 considered Portuguese Timor in June (?) of next year. Touching on another matter, Mr Rogers said that Defence had been asked for a strategic appreciation of Portuguese Timor when the issue was first raised, but it had still not been produced. Regarding reopening a post in Dili, he said that such action could invite problems with future political refugees.
  14. Referring back to the question of aid, Mr Feakes said he agreed with Mr Fernandez that an aid program was not necessary. Mr Cook said he felt that something could be said for an aid program. If independence came, as he assumed it would, aid would inevitably follow; we would be that much further behind by not starting a program now. Mr Fernandez said he doubted if Indonesia would accept an independent Portuguese Timor, therefore it would be better not to give aid now. Mr locket remarked that President Soeharto was very conscious of his international standing as he wanted to be seen as the opposite of Sukamo. Soeharto had also said Portuguese Timor should not be an emotional issue. Mr locket therefore felt that incorporation into Indonesia should not be regarded as a foregone conclusion.
  15. Mr Rogers again raised the possibility of the Committee of 24 shortly considering Portuguese Timor. He suggested that when discussion in the Committee of 24 did eventuate, there would be the inevitable petitions from interested parties and individuals, perhaps even from some Australian groups such as the Australian Union of Students. In line with past practice on African issues, he thought the Committee would listen to all petitioners. Dr Cumes said that he agreed with some of Mr Rogers' points, but there was a difference between Southern Africa and Portugal/Guinea Bissau, and the question of preventing the incorporation of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia. He added that it was necessary to separate the African approach to European colonialism from their approach to other 'colonialisms'. Mr Rogers referred to UN resolution 1541,3 which recognised that independence was not always the answer for small territories, and resolution 15142,4 which maintained independence to be the answer to everything. He said that we could always fall back to 1541.
  16. Mr Woolcott said he was not sure that the situation was as bad as some seemed to think; the Prime Minister thought it would be better if Portuguese Timor was incorporated into Indonesia, but he had escape clauses if necessary. Mr Feakes said the paper he had had prepared was in part designed to invite the Prime Minister to take the escape route; if he did then we of course had a problem with Indonesia.

[NAA: A1838, 696/5, iii]