Subject: Letter: Pleading the 'rogue's defence'

The Age (Melbourne)

April 22, 2004 Thursday


Pleading the 'rogue's defence'

Tony Parkinson (Opinion, 16/4) asks what Australia could have done to pre-empt the destruction it knew was to be released in East Timor. In his view, being complicit with the Indonesian army was the only alternative to "open conflict with our nearest neighbour".

This is "the rogue's defence". Whitlam first used it in 1975 when he asked if people thought he should have gone to war over East Timor and it has been used by every foreign minister since. It makes the ridiculous assumption there is no action possible between doing nothing and allowing 2000 people to die and have their country ruined, and going to war with Indonesia.

Instead of opposing preventive action, Australia should have advised Indonesia it would escalate diplomatic action if its army plans were not abandoned. This would have included briefing the UN Security Council to activate diplomatic action by its members who had guaranteed the security of the people of East Timor, and briefing the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other nations and agencies whose concern and influence were only brought to bear after the destruction.

The final sanction, Australia could have told Indonesia, would be to make public knowledge of the looming disaster even if this did upset relations with Indonesia for a time.

I agree that Australia's leadership in quelling the violence and restoring order to a traumatised society was "one of the high points of Australia's contribution to the world". A much higher point would have been reached if Australia had prevented the destruction, as was in its power to do. But instead, fearful Australia again remained complicit with Indonesia and allowed the East Timorese people to suffer.

David Scott, founding member, Australia-East Timor Association

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