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Historical documents

345 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 27 November 1975


For Secretary and Minister

Since speaking on the telephone to Feakes I have had a chance to consider the proposed statement by the Minister which Feakes read to me over the telephone.1

  1. I fully appreciate the situation created by the Richardson articles2 and the domestic pressures aroused by the Timor situation in Australia.
  2. I feel bound however to recommend to the Minister that the statement not be made.
  3. I believe that the statement as read to me would damage Australia's relations with Indonesia. Indonesia is already critical 0f what they regard as an over-active Australian involvement in Timor especially as we have maintained that we are not a party principal. I believe that the statement would be disadvantageous to the Government developing further relations with Indonesia if it is returned to government on the 13 December.
  4. The proposed statement would appear to the Indonesians to be inconsistent with the message from the Prime Minister which I conveyed to President Soeharto only two days ago.3 It is even possible that the Indonesians might consider leakingg the Prime Minister's message to offset the proposed statement by the Minister.
  5. The Indonesian Government continues to deny its military intervention in Portuguese Timor. However transparent these denials may appear the proposed statement would in effect accuse, in the name of the Minister, the Indonesian Government of lying. (It is true and we know it is but public acknowledgement by us at this level must be expected to create a strong reaction in Indonesia.) The Indonesians could also interpret the phrase that the Minister has reason to believe that press reports are true as a breach of confidence in what I and other senior political officers in the Embassy have been told by close personal contacts. These contacts have taken us more fully into their confidence than could reasonably have been expected on the grounds that the Australian Government should know what was really happening and that it would do its best to be helpful to Indonesia.
  6. I consider that the Indonesians would be surprised that the Caretaker Government would make a statement which they would see as going beyond the previous Minister's statement of 30 October.4 (There has as you know been no new development in Indonesian military intervention in Portuguese Timor since Senator Willesee's statement except that it has become more public.)
  7. As far as we know no other countries are contemplating a similar statement. By making one we would be putting ourselves in the vanguard of Indonesian critics at the same time as we are maintaining to the Indonesians the great importance which we continue to attach to our relations with Indonesia and while we are saying that we are sympathetic towards Indonesia's objectives. The ASEAN countries presumably continue to say nothing and we could also be setting ourselves further apart from the countries of the region with which we are seeking closer identification.
  8. One of the reasons the Indonesians are so sensitive to Australia's activities in respect of Timor is that they believe that public influence in western countries is to a large extent influenced by Australia's attitude. They could well see a statement by Australia shortly before President Ford's visit as putting some pressure on the United States in respect of the Timor situation. This of course would also not be welcomed by the United States.5

[10.] Most countries including Australia maintain that the most logical outcome of the decolonisation of Timor is its integration with Indonesia. The breakdown in Portuguese decolonisation policy, instability in Lisbon itself and the resort to force by two relatively small and immature political parties are largely responsible for the situation in which Indonesia now finds itself. In these circumstances what Indonesia wants of its friends is support and understanding. If this is not forthcoming it looks to them for silence and acquiescence as the next best policy. If this is not forthcoming then Indonesia looks for as low a level of activity and criticism as is possible especially from countries like Australia which endorse Indonesia's objectives (although not the means it is using) and seek to consolidate and develop further their relations with Indonesia.6


[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/1111, xvi]

  • 1 Neither a record of this discussion nor the proposed statement by Peacock has been found.
  • 2 On 26 November, the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald published front-page articles by Michael Richardson, stating that an Indonesian bomber and at least one Indonesian warship had been involved in an attack on Atabae on 25 November. An editorial in the Age on 26 November referred to the Indonesian Government's repeated denials of military involvement in Portuguese Timor and described Richardson's report as 'certainly prima facie evidence for the Australian Government to stir itself from its torpor and demand a frank and detailed explanation from the Indonesians'.
  • 3 See Documents 343 and 344.
  • 4 The draft ofWillesee's statement in the Senate is published as Document 308. See also Documents 310 and 311.
  • 5 President Ford was to visit Indonesia in the first week of December.
  • 6 In a note for file dated 28 November, Woolcott recorded that Peacock had telephoned to advise him that he had decided not to make a statement about Portuguese Timor for the time being but would discuss the issue with the Prime Minister over the weekend and reconsider it during the following week. On the same day Peacock's private secretary, M.G. D. Williams, noted in a minute to Feakes that Peacock had rejected all the arguments listed in Cablegram JA3326 against making a statement except that 'concerning the recent exchange of messages'. Williams added that Peacock had 'reacted strongly' to the argument that a ministerial statement which did not deny reports of Indonesian intervention in Portuguese Timor would be tantamount to accusing the Indonesians of lying.
Last Updated: 29 November 2013
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