Subject: ET NGOs Defunded by Australia
Wednesday, 30 November 2005
The PRESIDENT—Order! I draw the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the chamber of a parliamentary delegation from the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, led by Mr Faustino Godinho da Costa MP. On behalf of all senators, I wish you a very warm welcome to Australia and, in particular, to our Senate.
Senator BOB BROWN (2.49 pm)—This question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is he aware that the minister last year, on the 56th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in announcing grants to human rights groups in the poorest country of our region, East Timor, said that Australia has a proud tradition of protecting and promoting human rights and of supporting grassroots organisations that do so? Is it true that the government has since stripped that funding from the 13 struggling organisations in this new democracy to our north because they dared to sign an advertisement which was critical of the Australian government about East Timor oil and gas resources? Will this shameful action by the Minister for Foreign Affairs be reviewed, and will the government restore this funding to these much-needed organisations in this fledgling democracy?
Senator HILL—I would need to refer the detail of the question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but, speaking generally, Australia has been a strong contributor to the new country of East Timor. In fact, it would not today be an independent state if it were not for the contribution of Australia. The Howard government showed great courage in its decisions in relation to East Timor—courage that was never shown by the Australian Labor Party, I might say, in its 13 years in office. The brave and courageous Australian Defence Force supported the government and helped the East Timorese achieve a just independence.
Since then, the Australian government has been East Timor’s strongest supporter in helping it build a viable state. That is a difficult challenge for any new country, but for one that is economically poor and small, such as East Timor, it is doubly difficult. We recognise that. It is a neighbour. It is in need of support, and our government will continue to support it. I need only reflect upon my own portfolio. It is the ADF that is helping the small East Timorese defence force establish itself with training. I recall only last night I signed another brief to provide further support for the fledgling East Timorese defence force. The same principle applies across the portfolio areas in relation to East Timor. So, in relation to the specific grants of which Senator Brown is speaking, I will seek an answer. But, in general, I can assure him that Australia stands behind East Timor, will support it and recognises the challenges it faces, and that East Timor will find no better friend than this country.
Senator BOB BROWN—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. At the time of this savage take-back of the money from the East Timorese groups by AusAID as directed by the minister, I ask the minister: what is the point of this puerile, pointless pencil distributed from AusAID today to recognise the 12 million people living with AIDS in the South-East Asian region? Would it not have been much better to have spent this money on the purchase of condoms or, indeed, on directly fighting the scourge of AIDS in our north instead of this self-promotion by the government in this pointless fashion?
The PRESIDENT—That sounds to me like another question. Minister, I do not believe you have to answer it if you don’t want to.