Subject: It's time for Australia to come clean with its neighbors

The Age [Melbourne] Monday 17 January 2000

It's time to come clean with our neighbors

By SHIRLEY SHACKLETON [her husband was one of the journalists killed at Balibo]

AT THE close of the previous millennium, after decades of shame at Australian government inaction over Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor, it at last appeared that Australians had reason to hold their heads high. As a result of huge public pressure, John Howard took a moral stand and ordered Australian troops into East Timor.

The members of the Jakarta lobby were thoroughly discredited and their modus operandi exposed. Some of their methods were: vilification of anyone holding views opposed to their own (activists for the Timorese were frequently described as anti-Indonesian); doom-laden rhetoric playing upon ignorant but popular fears; and failure to offer evidence for their exaggerated claims.

It seemed at last that old ghosts could be put to rest, though the bad memories remained. How could we forget Gough Whitlam demanding that the rights for the East Timorese be dropped from the UN agenda? Or former Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans celebrating the infamous treaty with Indonesia over oil deposits in the Timor Sea, while Timorese suffered death, hunger and torture?

Instead, the adage "the more things change the more they stay the same" applies. The old guard are up to their tricks, rushing into print with strident criticisms of Howard and warnings of dire consequences if we fail to resume our supine attitudes to all things Indonesian. The Jakarta lobby are born again, and trying to persuade us it is we who have done something wrong by supporting the rights of the East Timorese.

As Scott Burchill, a lecturer in politics and international relations at Deakin University notes (on this page, 28/12/99): "If we were to rely solely on opinion pieces by the Government's critics, we might think Mr Howard had responded to a natural disaster in East Timor, instead of state terrorism."

The prophets of doom have the gall to use the same tactics that worked so well in the past and there are new kids on the block, eager to join the born-again Jakarta lobby in the art of panic mongering.

One of these is a Dr Howard Dick of the department of management, University of Melbourne, who heaps scorn on Burchill (this page, 11/1), one of the best-informed and most analytical commentators in Australia. A great deal in Dick's piece is questionable, but I will restrict myself to his creation of the "macho" Aussie who, he assures us, "is a painful bore" who "does not need to be indulged". Indeed, such a person would not need to be indulged anywhere. If Dick has evidence of these "macho Aussies" and/or their macho statements on which he has based his allegations, let him publish the facts.

While Dick wastes our time by introducing perceived issues, he deflects us from attending to the big ones: how we can be of use to the majority of Asians by being honest with those who rule them, and how we can achieve a clean slate with Indonesia by holding a full judicial inquiry into the cold-blooded murders of six Australia-based journalists (Malcolm Rennie, Brian Peters, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham and Greg Shackleton at Balibo, 16/10/75, and Roger East in Dili, 8/12/75).

Meanwhile, the born-again Jakarta lobby show us that even after the vengeful destruction of East Timor, planned and put into operation by the highest echelons of the Indonesian military, they have learnt absolutely nothing.

Shirley Shackleton's husband was one of the journalists killed at Balibo. E-mail:

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