Subject: Downer and Rudd on East Timor's Independence

Alexander Downer


15 May, 2002

East Timor: Birth of a Nation


At midnight this Sunday East Timor will achieve formal independence.

For many, independence represents the end of a long road since the autonomy ballot in August 1999. For the people of East Timor, the road has been much longer, stretching back to 1975 and even before. For all of us who have joined, at some point, East Timor's road to independence, it will be a great day of celebration for the newest nation of the 21st century.

For all of us it will be the beginning of a new journey.

Australians, from all walks of life, admire the people of East Timor deeply. The strength of that admiration will be clear on Sunday, when our Prime Minister leads so many Australians in Dili to the formal independence ceremony – from federal, state and local governments, from academia, from church, service, civil rights and aid organisations, and from business.

East Timor's celebration is truly a celebration shared by Australians, and I am pleased that many people here in Australia are organising their own celebrations for Sunday evening. For us it is the climax of our involvement in helping East Timor along the path to independence.

We are witnessing the birth of a nation.

Australia and the international effort in East Timor…

Australia has worked hard, together with the United Nations and other international friends of East Timor, in helping the East Timorese reach 20 May. We should be encouraged by the many and significant achievements over the transition period, to which we have contributed.

It is worth recalling that the opportunity for change in East Timor came in 1998 at the end of the Soeharto era. A more open-minded president in Jakarta and our own survey of the East Timorese Diaspora in Australia and elsewhere and within East Timor itself, provided a better appreciation of how East Timorese leaders saw their future, and helped form the basis of our policy change. This was marked by the Prime Minister's letter to President Habibie in December 1998 which outlined a possible new approach to the East Timor.

The Howard – Habibie Summit in April 1999 in Bali helped pave the way for creating the conditions for a successful popular consultation. Australia's significant diplomatic and political effort helped firm up international support for an act of self-determination and later, when security broke down, to restore that security.

Australia was involved from the outset. We participated in the first UN monitoring mission, UNAMET, which culminated in a public verdict in favour of independence. We led the INTERFET mission which restored security in East Timor in the dark days of 1999. And we have contributed a great deal to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor known as UNTAET.

Our effort has been enormous, and sustained. In short, we have played no small part in providing East Timor with building blocks for its future.

Australians have watched East Timor's transition keenly: from the devastation of the post-ballot violence and destruction of late-1999, to a new country with a functioning executive and legislature, a developing judiciary, and the foundations for a strong public sector and civil society.

Australians responded overwhelmingly to the 1999 crisis with many communities around the country quickly mobilising to help.  Our national effort has involved thousands of Australians living and working in East Timor, and many more contributing in kind, from their homes, churches, schools and places of work.

The concern of ordinary Australians for the plight of East Timorese has been reflected in the commitment of the Government to assisting East Timor.

We recognised very early on the significant international support that would be required to assist East Timor to independence, and to help repair the truly devastating post-ballot violence and destruction. Our initial humanitarian effort, in 1999 and 2000, totalled around A$81 million. And then we moved quickly to pledge A$150 million over four years in bilateral aid, to ensure certainty for East Timor in the transition period and early independence years.

Our humanitarian and aid assistance, of course, has come on top of our significant defence support for East Timor: between July 1999 and June 2001 Australia's contribution to the peace keeping effort was valued at some A$1.4 billion. Over 15,000 Australian defence personnel have served as members of the international peacekeeping force.

Australia's response to the situation in East Timor has not been in isolation. The international response – to which we contributed and helped build - was a remarkable example of international resolve to address a humanitarian and security crisis.

That resolve has continued through the joint donor trust funds, supporting the East Timorese administration and projects to rehabilitate and develop a fledgling state. Biannual donor conferences have enabled multilateral and bilateral donors to consult regularly with the East Timorese leadership. We were pleased to host the fourth Donors Conference here in Canberra.

We have to be realistic about the level of assistance the international community is able to sustain for East Timor. But the Government remains concerned that the progress we have made is not compromised by lack of resources or commitment. It is critical that the donor community continues to engage East Timor through the crucial first years of independence.

East Timor's future …

For our part, Australia will continue to work closely with East Timor, the United Nations and other donors to ensure the people of East Timor can build for themselves a peaceful and prosperous future.

…a democratic base …

Building a stable and sustainable democracy is critical to its future. It is a task that we've supported strongly. Since January 2001 the Australian Electoral Commission has been helping develop skills and resources for managing electoral processes. We saw these displayed in the recent Presidential election. The Australian observer delegation witnessed a peaceful and well managed election. The continued high voter turn-out - more than 86 per cent - was a greatly encouraging sign for East Timor's democratic future.

… self-administration …

Australia's assistance to East Timor's transition has focussed on building local capacities. We have trained over a thousand East Timorese civil servants – including from central and district administrations. We have helped develop effective budget management and tax systems, and other basic functions of government. And we have provided scholarships targeted at developing and improving skills.

Our efforts have helped East Timor's government to grow and develop over the transition period – and the reins are now very much in East Timor's hands. The vast majority of civil servants now are East Timorese. It is a process that now has its own momentum, preparing the East Timorese for government at independence, and, clearly, beyond.

… civil society and development…

A strong and effective democracy cannot develop without a strong civil society. Australian aid is helping strengthen civil society by partnering Australian and East Timorese organisations working on reconciliation and peace building, good governance, human rights and support for the more vulnerable people in society.

Likewise, a strong democracy cannot be built in East Timor without attending to the needs of all East Timorese. The vast majority of the population live in rural areas. So Australia has worked to ensure that our assistance reaches beyond Dili. We have begun projects in water supply, sanitation, community development and health in a number of districts. And we support micro-finance programs, offering small loans to poor people in rural communities to start small businesses and generate much needed income.

… the economy …

We applaud the first - and responsible - budget for an independent East Timor, and we hope that such realism continues. Budget projections for East Timor suggest that it will be critically important to broaden and deepen the economic base, and to develop an environment for the private sector that promotes growth and investment.

Setting in place a legal and regulatory framework for developing the private sector – including resolving land tenure issues - will be crucial to ensuring economic growth, private investment and new jobs. Over the past two years, our support has helped build the capacity of the East Timorese administration to manage all aspects of government and private property. The skills and knowledge we are helping to build should help the East Timorese develop and implement legislation to manage their land ownership issues in the future.

Australia and East Timor have reaffirmed their commitment to the joint development of Timor Sea petroleum resources, recognising in particular the crucial importance of these resources in promoting East Timor's economic development. To this end, Australia and East Timor have been working on converting the Timor Sea Arrangement into a new treaty. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources and I met Chief Minister Alkatiri on 10 May, which was last Friday, and had very productive discussions. Having agreed on the “architecture”, I hope the two governments will be able to sign the new Timor Sea Treaty in Dili on East Timor's independence on 20 May. Australia and East Timor are committed to expeditious development of the key Bayu-Undan and Greater Sunrise petroleum fields.

…human rights, reconciliation and the rule of law …

A crucial part of any functioning democracy is the safeguarding of human rights. The Australian government has been concerned to see the perpetrators of human rights abuse in East Timor brought to justice. We have welcomed Indonesia's ad hoc human rights tribunal on East Timor. And we are looking to see the trials proceed with independence and integrity.

Likewise, Australia has welcomed the establishment of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor. One of the key objectives of the Commission is to provide a legal mechanism for reconciliation and re-integration at the community level. The work of the Commission is still at a very early stage but progress is encouraging - and we are pleased to have supported its work, and the work of the serious crimes unit in East Timor.

The role of East Timorese leaders in national reconciliation is vital. The President-elect, Xanana Gusmao, has been particularly active meeting former militia leaders, and encouraging refugees to return to East Timor.

Settling the refugee situation in west Timor will be crucial to East Timor's future stability as a nation. Australia has been helping refugees to return either voluntarily to East Timor, or to resettle elsewhere in Indonesia, in a program worth $13 million since 1999.

We are particularly pleased to hear of the high levels of refugee repatriation following the Presidential election.

… relations with neighbours …

The East Timorese will not live in isolation after independence. The international community and the regional community are keen to embrace East Timor. A key to East Timor's future will be the relationships that it forges abroad. Most important, of course, will be East Timor's relations with its neighbours.

I am gratified at recent positive steps in relations between East Timor and Indonesia. The meeting I attended with my East Timorese and Indonesian counterparts in February this year was an important step to normalising East Timor's relationships in the region and will be the start of further cooperation between our three countries.

I make particular note of the constructive approach to the relationship demonstrated by President Megawati and her Government and look forward to further initiatives where our three countries can work together in a regional partnership, such as at the inaugural South-West Pacific Dialogue to be held later this year.

As a close friend and neighbour, Australia hopes to continue and build on the strong ties that have characterised our relationship. We will do that and other things too to help East Timor integrate into the international community.

… UN support …

The United Nations mandate for a newly independent East Timor – UNMISET (UN Mission of Support in East Timor) - does not shy away from the challenges in East Timor. Instead, it provides for support over two years in three main areas: essential public administration, law and order, and external security.

Australia will continue to play a lead role, including in the peace-keeping force and UN police presence, which will be drawn down over the next two years. We are committed to helping develop a modest East Timor Defence Force and Police Service. Our goal remains the gradual withdrawal of the UN mission - as East Timor develops its own capacities.

Conclusion …

It is appropriate for the Government formally to register its gratitude to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, for his decisive leadership on East Timor over the last few years. Mr Sergio Vieria de Mello, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative and Transitional Administrator in East Timor, deserves our thanks as someone who has been instrumental in achieving so much in time for independence.

While there have been many heroes among the Australian armed forces who have served in East Timor, I want to mention particularly Lieutenant General Peter Cosgrove who led the INTERFET and was an asset not only to Australia but also the international community.

The Government commends Mr James Batley, our head of mission in Dili since June 1999, and a number of superb officers from across government, for their unfailing dedication in East Timor's transition to democracy, and Australia's part in it. I say thank you on behalf of all Australians for your work.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank members of parliament on both sides of the House who have shown a particular interest in this issue. There have been times when we have had boisterous disagreements. On this occasion, I particularly acknowledge the member for Kingsford-Smith who, as the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs – the longest serving opposition spokesman on foreign affairs in history, I believe – served in that job with particular focus on East Timor and with a great enthusiasm for the issue of East Timor. He was a participant in our observer mission during the ballot in 1999 and has participated on other occasions as well in observer missions to East Timor. Whether I disagree or whether I agree with everything he said – and it is a combination of both – I think one should respect his sincerity and his commitment to that issue.

Let me also say that the biggest congratulations go to the people of East Timor and their leaders. Australia wishes them well as they face the challenges and joys of nationhood. We stand ready to help. 

Last year Australia celebrated one hundred years of federation, and of peaceful democracy, as the first newly independent nation of the 20th century. At midnight on Sunday, East Timor will become the first newly independent nation of the 21st century. Together, as friends and neighbours, our descendants can look forward to celebrating 100 years of peace and democracy in East Timor at the beginning of the 22nd century.

It is immensely gratifying for the Government to have helped secure the ballot on independence, to have worked through the difficult transition to independence, and to be able to celebrate with East Timor on 20 May. It is to the great credit of the Prime Minister and his leadership that Australia can reflect proudly on its contribution to East Timor's achievement of nationhood.

It is gratifying personally for me, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, to have been a part of this process. I know, too, that the coming of independence is also a matter of pride for the many Australians who have also given their support, in many and varied ways, to the East Timorese people.

Most importantly, I can only begin to imagine how the prospect of Sunday's transition feels for the people of East Timor, who have endured so much. They have achieved independence at last.

As a Government, and as a people, our heartfelt support goes to East Timor on the occasion of its independence. It is, truly, the birth of a nation.





[Speech by Labour Party foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd]

Mr RUDD (Griffith) (3.54 p.m.)—It is not often that we witness the birth of a new nation-state. This Sunday it will be our privilege to do so as we welcome East Timor into the international community of nations as a friend, a neighbour and a partner in the great enterprise that is democracy. Together with the Leader of the Opposition and with my colleague and friend, Mr Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari in the Northern Territory, it will be my privilege to represent the Australian Labor Party at East Timor’s independence celebrations, which the foreign minister and the Prime Minister will also attend. This will be an important day—East Timor Independence Day, 20 May.

Independence has had a long, arduous and often cruel road for the gentle people of East Timor: 400 years of colonial occupation, a Japanese invasion and, most recently, that of Indonesia. So I begin by congratulating the people of East Timor for maintaining their courage over such a long period of time and for keeping the faith when their friends—including in this place—were few. I congratulate them for the way they have risen to the challenge of democracy —peacefully and with a great commitment, as reflected by the numbers who have voted in the independence ballot, in the parliamentary elections and, most recently, in the presidential elections. I also congratulate their elected leader, Xanana Gusmao. It is a rare thing in modern history for a revolutionary leader to become a democratic leader exhibiting great grace towards his enemies and a spirit of reconciliation towards the enemies of his people. I congratulate also the United Nations, its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and its commitment through three and prospectively four institutional manifestations of the United Nations in East Timor— UNAMET, INTERFET, UNTAET and now UNMISET, the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor. I congratulate the United Nations Secretary- General’s Special Representative in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and note also the role of the individual UN agencies and the NGOs, who I have met on many occasions in the field in East Timor— UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Program, the UNDP and the UNHCR.

I make particular mention of the UNHCR—an institution which is often maligned by some in politics and often seen as a convenient political tool for some in politics—an agency which has been indispensable in settling, in large part, the refugee problem in East Timor. The UNHCR has been a critical agency in assisting Australia’s interests in resettling refugees on that troubled island. The UNHCR undertook the massive task, in Australia’s interests, of repatriating some 200,000 East Timorese refugees who were forced across the border to the west after the extraordinary violence of late 1999. Regrettably, some 30,000 to 60,000 remain.

I take this opportunity in the parliament to honour those three UNHCR officials who were butchered by militia in Atambua in discharging their functions not just on behalf of the international community but in the service of humanity. It is imperative, when we reflect upon the role of the United Nations and its agencies in East Timor, that we recognise more broadly the role and importance of the United Nations and UN multilateralism, not simply as a mechanism to assist peace and development elsewhere in the world but as a mechanism of direct service to Australia’s national interests as well. If it were not for the machinery of the United Nations, this country’s national diplomacy towards East Timor post-1999 would have failed, which is why we on this side of the House believe that UN multilateralism is directly in Australia’s national interests. It aids Australia’s interests as well as the interests of the world.

The question not often answered by those who criticise the United Nations is this: what would we have in its place? What would be the shape of the international order in the absence of the United Nations? What would we have in place of UN agencies such as the UNHCR, such as the World Health Organisation, such as UNICEF, if they did not exist? The critics seldom answer that question. The truth of the matter is that the world is an infinitely better place for the existence of the United Nations and for the existence of the multilateral machinery which exists under its umbrella. Were it not for the United Nations, there would be no independent East Timor today; that is a simple matter of documentary fact.

We also congratulate the Australian government for its contribution to East Timor’s independence. I congratulate the Prime Minister for his contribution and the foreign minister for his contribution as well. I commend the contribution of our magnificent armed forces—I have seen them in the field in Dili and at Batugade and Maliana—and the professionalism of the 15,000 of the Australian Defence Force who have served in East Timor, and not just served their country proud but served the international humane order proud by virtue of their work. We honour and recognise the contribution of the Australian Federal Police.

We honour and recognise the contribution of our diplomats in the field, the mission headed by James Batley, who personally demonstrated, as did his colleagues as well, great courage not just in the turbulent events of September 1999 but in the period since then as well. We recognise also the contribution of AusAID in the development projects which it has on the ground, often in difficult circumstances. We note the contribution of Australian Electoral Commission staff in the various ballots which have been held in East Timor, including the independence ballot and the two that have been conducted since then as well. The Australian national effort in assisting in bringing about East Timor’s independence has been impressive.

I have given credit to the government for its contribution to East Timor. I would also like to take this opportunity to record credit where it is due to those in the opposition who have made such a longstanding and substantive contribution to East Timor’sindependence process as well. When we look at the change in government policy towards East Timor which occurred in the period since February 1998, many factors have been raised as the basis for the policy change. Most particularly the minister in his remarks just now referred to the change in the Indonesian presidency in February 1998 with the fall of President Suharto and the fall of the Indonesian New Order period.

If we are to have an accurate recollection of what brought about policy change in this country in relation to East Timor, we must also recognise the contribution of others involved in the debate. We must recognise the contribution made over many years by the member for Lingiari in this place and others in the Australian Labor Party and in other parties in this parliament who have been consistent supporters of the independence process for East Timor. In the 12 months prior to policy change being suggested on the part of the government, there was also a significant contribution in this respect by my predecessor, the member for Kingsford-Smith. The member for Kingsford-Smith, it needs to be recorded, in March 1997—that is, 12 months prior to President Suharto’s fall—initiated a process to bring about change in Australian Labor Party policy on East Timor. In March of that year he recommended to the ALP national policy committee a change to Labor’s platform.

It read:

It is Labor’s considered view that no lasting solution to the conflict in East Timor is likely in the absence of a process of negotiation through which the people of East Timor can exercise their right of self-determination.

In June 1997 Mr Brereton, the member for Kingsford- Smith, proposed new language along similar lines to the New South Wales state ALP conference. In November 1997 the new draft platform along those lines for our national conference was released and in January 1998, at his proposal and at his recommendation, the Australian Labor Party national conference adopted a new platform on East Timor incorporating that language. Those contributions need to be acknowledged and recorded as being important in the evolution of policy towards East Timor not just on the part of our party but on the part of this parliament as well. When we look back to that period, it is plain that the external circumstances which changed Indonesia in early 1998 made possible some of the changes in government policy which then ensued. But it is my belief, having looked at the historical record, that a large part of the reason for government policy change in 1998 was the pressure brought about by change in opposition policy, which was in large part brought about by the member for Kingsford- Smith himself. We honour him for that.

We should also honour and recognise the contribution of other countries to East Timor’s independence. I have mentioned the United Nations. We should also mention the United States. The United States provided Australia with heavy lift capacity in order to execute the substantial military task which it faced in the period post-1999. There was some debate in this country about the need to have, I think the language used was ‘US boots on the ground’. I think that created for a period a mild crisis in Australia-United States relations. The minister smiles with some recognition of that fact. I think that could have been avoided, but the bottom line is this: the United States did assist in a manner which we required. They provided Australia with the heavy lift which was militarily necessary to achieve the political objective, which was to create the security circumstances necessary for a transition to independence.

We also thank the government of New Zealand for its contribution. There is no other greater contributor to the post-1999 military effort in East Timor than New Zealand. The difficult parts of the border which separate both sides of Timor have been respectively policed for a large period of time by AUSBAT and NZBAT. This is difficult terrain and we have seen considerable threat to physical life on the part of the combatants from New Zealand over that period of time. We thank New Zealand for its contribution. We also thank the contributors from other nations to the peacekeeping force.

If we turn to the future, we see the challenges are in fact great. There is the challenge of security. This is a difficult border. It is a porous border for those of us who have seen it up close and have spoken to those representatives of our military who face the challenge day to day of ensuring that security is guaranteed to those people living on the eastern side.

There is also a parallel challenge of internal security, and it is to be hoped that a future of trilateral cooperation between Jakarta, Canberra and Dili will bring about the long-term circumstances which will ensure the security of those border regions in the absence of substantial garrisoning of them.

There are also challenges which still remain for the repatriation of refugees. I pay tribute here to the role played by the Jesuit Refugee Service and others who have, at the coalface, together with representatives of the UNHCR and others, done the work in trying to get people back—family by family, village by village —from one side of that island to the other, but still 30,000 to 60,000 remain. It is a difficult set of circumstances. I have seen those camps first-hand: they are not pleasant places at all, and infant morbidity and mortality is high. They should not be forgotten as world history marches by. There is a large number of people remaining and we have a continuing moral responsibility for them.

There are the challenges referred to by the minister of resolving outstanding human rights abuses as a basis for long-term reconciliation within East Timor. Without that, long-term political stability is in fact a difficult goal to achieve. There are also the challenges of economic development. These are huge. If you peruse the most recent East Timor human development report for the year 2002, you will see the task is a formidable one. Life expectancy in East Timor is 57 years, 45 per cent of children under five are underweight and 41 per cent of East Timorese live in income poverty; that is, less than US55c per day. Unemployment is a huge problem, bearing in mind that there was no functional economy at the time independence was achieved, and some 20,000 young people are merging into the East Timorese labour market each year. If you look at the UNDP’s human development index, the HDI, you will see that now registers at 0.421 for East Timor. It is the lowest HDI in Asia. It is a HDI equivalent to that of Rwanda in Central Africa. Of the 162 states for which human development indexes have been calculated by the UNDP, East Timor comes in at No. 152.

So far we have had the easy bit as far as East Timor is concerned, although those who have participated in it would not see it as such. It is, however, now time for the hard bit, the long-term bit. Before speaking in this debate today, I spoke to Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor’s foreign minister. I asked him what he would have me say to the parliament about what East Timor’s long-term development needs were and what the central tasks which he faced as a member of the new administration were. What he asked me to convey was this: that the next three years for East Timor will in fact be absolutely critical in moving East Timor towards long-term sustainable economic development and democratic stability—or the reverse. He said it is critical that the East Timorese are able to attend to the problems of employment, it is critical that they are able to rebuild schools, as most have been destroyed, and it is critical that they are able to build a health system. We all remember the stories at the time of independence that there was one doctor in all of East Timor. It is critical that they have an opportunity to develop agriculture —in that country always fragile, always difficult in an inhospitable physical terrain—and it is critical that they have an opportunity for human capacity building.

Australia is well positioned to help in all of these areas. However, it is not a task just for us alone. This is a critical juncture in East Timor’s future: it is a time when classical donor fatigue often sets in. We have had the celebrations—prospectively—of independence, CNN will probably broadcast its last broadcast from Dili and the business will be seen to have been done, but there are those of us who need to remain. Australia will, under whichever government occupies the Treasury bench. That will be our challenge. But our challenge is also to continue to engage the moral commitment of the international community of nations to assist in that long-term task. We should not be pessimistic about East Timor’s future; we should have about us a deal of realistic optimism. East Timor is our new neighbour and our new friend, and together with its new government we intend to build a new partnership with it for the future.



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