Submission to Peacock

Canberra, 17 March 1977



For the Minister

These are the draft notes we were proposing should be passed to those Senators requesting them.1 The thought would be for each to make his own selection of individual points and use them as he thought best.2

2. Do you wish to add to or modify any of these points please?3


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division



The Australian Government has nothing to be apologetic about in its Timor policy. The record of what the Government has done speaks for itself. It shows that the Government has adopted a position of principle while at the same time carefully balancing Australia's interests and responsibilities and keeping in mind the significance to Australia's national interests of our relations with Indonesia and the ASEAN area. Nevertheless the Government at no time has been inhibited from expressing its policy attitude on East Timor.

The Government policy on the Timor issue was based primarily on opposition to the use of force as a means of solving international disputes, support for the self-determination of the people of East Timor and the need to provide humanitarian assistance. It is fair to say that the Australian Government has been more outspoken than any other Western Government in support of an orderly process of decolonisation in East Timor.

The Government's policy was pursued vigorously both within the United Nations and through its bilateral contacts with the Indonesian Government.

Before the Indonesian attack on Dili on 7 December 1975 the Government sought to avoid conflicts breaking out by facilitating talks between the factions in East Timor.

United Nations

In late 1975 the Australian delegation to the United Nations in New York joined with the delegations of other countries in the region in efforts to gain UN backing for the attempts then still under way to get round-table talks going between representatives of the various factions in East Timor.

Unfortunately, these efforts were overtaken by Indonesia's military intervention on 7 December 1975. Nevertheless, the Australian delegation was able to play a leading part in the formulation of the resolution adopted by the UNGA on 12 December, which emphasised the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination and urged the withdrawal of all outside forces.

Australia was not a member of the Security Council, but in December 1975 and again in April1976, we worked with the Council in trying to bring about the constructive participation of that body in the Timor issue.

Mr Winspeare visited Timor in January 1976. On 1 February he flew to Darwin to attempt to establish radio communication with FRETILIN forces in Timor. A Portuguese naval vessel was placed at his disposal but there were technical difficulties impeding communications. The Australian Government made Australian Telecommunications Commission facilities available to supplement the radio facilities of the Portuguese vessel to ensure that there were no technical difficulties impeding contact. Despite this assistance contact with FRETILIN could not be made.

On 23 December 1975 a unanimous Security Council resolution requested, inter alia, the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative for East Timor. This move was first suggested by Australia even though Australia was not a member of the Council The Australian Government pressed hard for an early visit by the Special Representative (Mr Winspeare Guicciardi) to East Timor. The visit took place in January 1976. Australia's representative addressed the UN Security Council again on 14 April 1976 and called for:

  1. renewal of Mr Winspeare's mandate.
  2. withdrawal of Indonesian forces.
  3. genuine act of self-determination in East Timor.

These points were adopted in the Security Council's second resolution on East Timor on 22 Aprill976.

The Australian Government worked hard to achieve a second visit to East Timor by the UN Special Representative.

Australia had made repeated representations to the UN that a second visit to East Timor should be made by Mr Winspeare. Australia made efforts to encourage other governments to make similar representations. In the hope of ensuring that any second visit by Mr Winspeare to East Timor would be successful, Australia informed the UN Secretary-General that if FRETILIN were able to name an accessible venue in East Timor for a meeting with Mr Winspeare, and subject to all parties giving satisfactory assurances of safety, Australia would have considered a UN request for help with air transport for Mr Winspeare. Mr Winspeare, however, did not make a second visit.

The General Assembly in 1976 again took up the question of East Timor. The Fourth Committee prepared a resolution which was adopted in plenary on 1 December.4 The voting was indecisive for a United Nations resolution under a 'decolonisation' heading: 65 in favour (the main sponsors of the text were Algeria, Tanzania and Guinea Bissau), with 20 opposing (including Indonesia and three other member countries of ASEAN) and 53 abstaining (including New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Fiji, United Kingdom and the FRG).

For reasons stated by our delegation, Australia abstained in the vote on the resolution. The Government took the view that the resolution failed to make a balanced appeal for the avoidance of further bloodshed (i.e. the appeal was not properly addressed to both sides in the conflict). The Government had reservations about the language and elements of judgement involved. It thought that some of the steps that were proposed in the resolution were unnecessary. There were, however, points of principle in the resolution which, although not expressed as the Government would have preferred, are fundamental to Australian policy as consistently stated by the Government. For this reason Australia did not oppose the resolution. On the other hand we did not regard it as being realistic or constructive, and for that reason we abstained.

The aspects of the resolution about which the Government had misgivings became more apparent when the resolution is compared with the UNGA resolution of 1975, which Australia supported. The 1975 resolution was addressed to all parties in the Timor dispute and it sought to preserve the options of the Timorese people to seek independence as a separate state or to integrate with Indonesia. The 1976 resolution, by contrast, did not have the breadth of appeal and it proposed only independence. The 1975 resolution called for a peaceful solution: the 1976 one promoted a 'liberation struggle'. Where the 1975 resolution sought to make a constructive contribution, the 1976 resolution made no effort to look for new or constructive proposals. The Government's policy was, then as now, forward-looking, realistic and constructive: it did not seem that the 1976 resolution was compatible with this approach.

Contacts with Indonesia on Timor

The Government's stated policy at each and every stage of developments relating to Timor has been placed forcefully and unambiguously to the Indonesian Government. During his visits to Jakarta in January and April1976 the Minister for Foreign Affairs pressed for a cessation of hostilities in East Timor, the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor, the holding of a genuine act of self-determination and the return to the territory of the ICRC. These points were also made continuously through diplomatic channels.

The Government has not recognised Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor. (It was not represented at either stage of the act of self-determination arranged by the Indonesians.) But for practical reasons such as the provision of humanitarian aid and the re[uni]ting of families separated by the Timor troubles it has accepted certain realities.

The Government is still opposed to the use of force by Indonesia in East Timor Gust as Australia was opposed to Indonesia's use of force during confrontation with Malaysia and in West Irian in the fifties and sixties).

It is a fact that neither Australia nor any other member state of the UN nor the UN itself has been able to have a policy supporting an orderly and peaceful settlement in Timor fully implemented. As the Indonesian Government now regards East Timor as an internal matter, it is quite unlikely that this situation will be changed in any way by the activities of an Australian Senate Select Committee.

Humanitarian Assistance to East Timor

The Government has repeatedly expressed its regret and concern about the loss of life and human suffering which resulted from the fighting in East Timor.

The Government has been in the forefront of governments from most countries in providing humanitarian assistance to East Timor.

We consistently supported the relief operations in East and West Timor of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Government expressed its disappointment and regret that the ICRC's operation in East Timor came to an end.

The ICRC relief operation came to an end when three quarters of the original Australian pledge of $250,000 had been spent. The Government then indicated that it would be prepared to pledge a further $250,000 if the ICRC relief operation was resumed in East Timor. It made strong representations to the Indonesian Government and to the then authorities in Dili that an ICRC presence in East Timor be allowed again.

It became clear, however, that the ICRC would not be allowed to return.

In the circumstances the Government was anxious to find ways of continuing to assist in East Timor. The Indonesian Red Cross (IRC) was the only available channel for such aid.

In October 1976, therefore, the Government provided $83,000 to the Indonesian Red Cross for humanitarian aid in East Timor.

A second contribution of $250,000 was made available to the IRC in December 1976. The Australian contribution has been spent on medical and relief supplies and on upgrading and providing clinics and hospitals and is thought to have had a direct effect in helping to alleviate the suffering of at least some of those people in East Timor who have suffered because of the fighting and disruptions to peace that have occurred.

Fate of Journalists from Australia

  1. Five Journalists killed at Balibo on 16 October 1975

    The Australian Government has made persistent attempts to determine the fate of the five journalists from Australia killed at Balibo in East Timor in October 1975. Substantial obstacles have stood in the way of the enquiries mainly due to the fact that the deaths occurred in a foreign territory during a period of undeclared hostilities.

    After a long period of representations the Government succeeded in getting a team from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta to Balibo. Although the team had no authority to insist on the appearance of witnesses or persons with knowledge relevant to the deaths, it was able to interview, among others, Tomas Goncalves, who claimed to have been the APODETI leader during the attack on Balibo. In Australia the Department of Foreign Affairs interviewed at length the KOTA leader JOSE MARTINS who claimed also to know how the journalists died. In response to the requests for assistance in following up statements by Mr Martins alleging that certain Indonesians possessed knowledge of the event at Balibo, the Indonesian authorities stated that they believed that they had cooperated as fully as possible and could not agree to pursue the matter further.

    The Government has studied other accounts of the deaths of the journalists. It has, without success, sought to interview those who were alleged to be eye-witnesses.

    There have been, and continue to be, many conflicting accounts of the journalists' deaths. The Government's investigations, as the papers placed in the Parliamentary Library by the Minister for Foreign Affairs show, have not led to a substantiated account of the tragic event. But it cannot be claimed that the Government has failed to do what it can to determine the facts surrounding the death of the five men.

    No new avenues of investigation have been opened up that suggest that any additional form of enquiry would add to what is known already. The experience of the Government on this issue to date suggests very strongly in fact that any new enquiry would achieve little more than going over the same ground with the same results.5

    Before going over the well known accusations and counter-accusations, claims and counter-claims surrounding the Balibo affair we should also keep in mind the sensibilities of the next-of-kin, some of whom would prefer to let the matter rest in order not to be constantly reminded of the grief and pain they have suffered already.

  2. Roger East

    The Government shares public concern in Australia about the fate of Mr East since 3 December 1975 when he declined an invitation to join an evacuation flight from Dili. The only information available about him has been obtained at second-hand and contains conflicting allegations. (On the one hand it is said that Mr East was shot by Indonesians in Dili on about 7 December 1975; on the other, that he went with FRETILIN forces and supporters into the mountains at about that time.) The Government's enquiries have been as exhaustive as possible in the circumstances: they include approaches to the previous so-called Provisional Government of East Timor, the Indonesian Red Cross and (on many occasions) the Indonesian Government. Also at the Government's request the UN Special Representative, Mr Winspeare Guicciardi, enquired about Mr East during his visit to Dili in January 1976, without success. No new evidence has been brought to light that raises hopes that Mr East's real fate might be now discovered.

Timorese Refugees

The Australian Government has made facilities available to refugees from Timor. It has been sympathetic in according the right of permanent residence in Australia.

The Government has emphasised the need to alleviate the suffering caused by the conflict in Timor. To this end, the Prime Minister reached agreement with President Soeharto in Jakarta in October last year that Australian and Indonesian officials should meet to resolve the problems of the East Timorese refugees who came to Australia without their families. Several such meetings have now taken place, and progress is being made towards finalising the arrangements which will have to be made for the family reunion of persons concerned.

In addition, the Government is considering applications for entry from Timorese refugees now in Portugal.

Discussions with the Indonesians about arrangements for the reunion of separated families have so far made good progress and the Indonesian authorities have been cooperative and forthcoming. It is a strong possibility that if a Senate Committee were to launch an enquiry into the Timor issue, progress on reuniting refugees might have to be suspended until the enquiry was completed. This would be of little comfort to those suffering the effects of separation at present.

Allegations of Atrocities

Many allegations of Indonesian atrocities and large scale killings in East Timor have been made. Some are disturbing, but others are clearly exaggerated and unsubstantiated. It is alleged, for instance, that the number of people killed in East Timor since the troubles started could be as high as 100,000. A source for this figure is a statement by an ex-UDT leader LOPES DA CRUZ who said in Jakarta that there had been 60,000 casualties in the conflict. This statement was later clarified and it transpired that the figure included the 40,000 refugees in West Timor and others whose lives had been disrupted. There is no substantiated evidence that 100,000 people have been killed; it would seem to be exaggerated by a factor of ten.

The allegations that 100,000 people have died as a result of Indonesian actions have not been supported by any concrete evidence. These allegations depend on hearsay and second-hand evidence coming from persons who would have had no opportunity to make even a cursory check through the whole of the territory of East Timor.

There have also been allegations of atrocities committed by FRETILIN followers on which some documents have also been produced (with photographic evidence) by the PGET authorities and by the Indonesians themselves.

Impact on the South East Asian Region

A Senate Committee of Enquiry would be likely to affect adversely Australia's image and standing in the eyes of the other ASEAN member countries.

[NAA: A1838, 3038110/112, v]