Subject: ABC PM: Whitlam appears at Balibo Inquiry

Also: Whitlam Despicable, Says Balibo Widow; Australian ex-PM 'doesn't recall' seeing intelligence warning of Timor invasion


May 8, 2007

Whitlam appears at Balibo Inquiry

PETER CAVE: Well, from Timor present to its murky past and for the first time in 31 years, Gough Whitlam has spoken publicly about the deaths of five Australian based journalists killed in Balibo, East Timor in 1975.

Mr Whitlam was Prime Minister at the time. Today he gave evidence at the inquest into the death of one of the men, Brian Peters.

Mr Whitlam told the coroner he had warned Peters' colleague, Greg Shackleton that the situation was dangerous and that the Australian Government couldn't protect them if they travelled to East Timor.

He told the court he did not see and could not recall being made aware of a cablegram from Jakarta warning the Government that Indonesia was going to invade Balibo the day before the men died.

Emma Alberici reports.

EMMA ALBERICI: The former Prime Minister told the court he'd been to Melbourne twice in late September 1975 to be interviewed by Channel Seven Reporter Greg Shackleton. Once about the budget and another time about the onstitutional convention.

On both those occasions Gough Whitlam said he warned the journalist privately that it was too dangerous to go to East Timor and that the Australian Government couldn't protect him.

During cross examination Mr Whitlam said that when he heard the five Australian journalists had died in Balibo, his thought was that Greg Shackleton had been irresponsible if he hadn't told his colleagues about the risks and that he'd be culpable.

In court Greg Shackleton's former wife, Shirley Shackleton was visibly upset by the comment.

SHIRLEY SHACKLETON: I despise the Prime Minister for attempting to do that.

EMMA ALBERICI: Did Greg tell you the Prime Minister had given him a warning not to go to East Timor?


EMMA ALBERICI: Would he have told you if the Prime Minister warned him?

SHIRLEY SHACKLETON: He would have said oh my God there's really something big happening up there Gough Whitlam's just told me.

EMMA ALBERICI: Gough Whitlam's diary covering the day of the deaths and the four days after show he was largely preoccupied by the decision of then Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser to block supply on the 15th, the day before the killings.

On the day of the deaths he was entertaining the Malaysian Prime Minister. The day after he flew to Sydney where the only entry in his diary notes that he attended a Gymea Lilly show.

On the Monday he hosted a cabinet meeting at which he says there was no mention of the events in Balibo.

Mr Whitlam says he knew nothing of the events in Balibo until five days after the men's deaths. The former Prime Minister told the coroner he doesn't recall ever being told how the men actually died.

SHIRLEY SHACKLETON: I think he must have gone blind and deaf because he didn't hear any of the radio reports that they were missing either did he?

Five days, he was running of to flower shows, he remembers what tie he wore. As I said when I started, I reckon they said "get out of Canberra, you can't know that this is happening".

EMMA ALBERICI: The court was also keen to hear Mr Whitlam's memory of a cablegram sent from the former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott to Canberra on October the 13th, three days before the men were killed

The document warned the Government that the Indonesians were about to invade the border towns of Balibo and Maliana and that any Australians in the area should be warned to leave.

Gough Whitlam told the coroner he did not recall seeing or hearing of the cablegram.

In fact Mr Whitlam said he had no prior knowledge of any Indonesian hostile military presence in East Timor until the official invasion on December the 7th 1975.

Part of Gough Whitlam's testimony was taken in a closed court because of the sensitive nature of the evidence. It related to an extract in his book Abiding Interests in which he said:

GOUGH WHITLAM (voiceover): "Furthermore I am advised that I should not yet reveal why we did no know about the Indonesian incursions across the border into Balibo and why we were able to learn immediately afterwards that five men had been killed."

EMMA ALBERICI: This afternoon former Defence Minister in the Whitlam Government Bill Morrison took the stand. He told the court that he'd seen the October the 13th cablegram warning of an attack on Balibo.

He says he assumed at the time that the Prime Minister had also received the advice, which said that no Indonesian flag would be used in the operation because the Indonesian Government wanted the invasion to proceed with as little cost as possible to Indonesia's international reputation.

Bill Morrison recalled another cable he Received from Jakarta on the day of the Balibo deaths in which the Australian Ambassador in Indonesia told the Government about the Indonesian Government's desire that Australia keep quiet about Indonesia's involvement in the East Timorese conflict.

Bill Morrison said the Defence Department was well aware of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in October 1975 but that he didn't discuss it with the Prime Minister.

Neither Gough Whitlam nor Bill Morrison said they had any information from any sources that the Indonesians had ordered the killings of the five journalists. But the former Defence Minister said it wouldn't surprise him to learn that the Indonesians were monitoring the Australians' movements in East Timor at the time.

PETER CAVE: Emma Alberici reporting.


Herald Sun (Melbourne)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Whitlam Despicable, Says Balibo Widow

A WIDOW of one of the five journalists killed in East Timor in 1975 has called former prime minister Gough Whitlam despicable after his evidence to a coronial inquest today.

Mr Whitlam, 90, spent nearly three hours today giving evidence at the Sydney inquest into the death of cameramen Brian Peters, who was killed along with colleagues Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Tony Stewart in Balibo in October 1975.

Mr Whitlam told the inquest he knew nothing about the deaths of five Australian-based journalists in East Timor in 1975 until five days after they were killed and that he twice warned Mr Shackleton against going to East Timor.

Outside court, Shirley Shackleton commented: "If I had been him, I would have sacked his whole intelligence department."

Ms Shackleton described Mr Whitlam's evidence as "bizarre" and said his evidence had been of little value to the inquest because he said he could not remember vital details.

She also attacked Mr Whitlam over his claims that he had warned her husband twice in September 1975 that the Australian Government could not protect him if he went to East Timor.

"I just think he is despicable," Mrs Shackleton said.

"He is totally despicable. Dead men can't tell stories so it's left to their poor old wives to do it for them."


Australian ex-PM 'doesn't recall' seeing intelligence warning of Timor invasion

SYDNEY, Australia, May 8 (AP): Australia's ex-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam testified in court Tuesday that he had no prior knowledge of Indonesia's 1975 East Timor invasion, in which five Australia-based journalists were killed.

Whitlam, 90, was giving evidence at a coroner's inquest into the deaths - a rare court appearance by an Australian leader.

Some activists and relatives of the journalists have accused his government of covering up knowledge of the invasion to protect Canberra's ties with Jakarta.

Dorelle Pinch, the deputy coroner of New South Wales state, quizzed Whitlam about whether he had seen an Australian intelligence cable dated Oct. 13, 1975, indicating an Indonesian military operation was to start in East Timor on Oct. 15 and would include an attack on Balibo town, where the journalistsdied. Indonesia invaded on Oct. 16.

"I do not recall reading that," Whitlam said.

Whitlam said he had learned the five reporters had been shot dead during the attack on Balibo on Oct. 21, when defense and foreign affairs officials told him about an intercepted radio message from Indonesian forces about "white bodies" being foundin Balibo.

Pinch, the coroner, is investigating the death of British-born news cameraman Brian Peters, whose family sought the inquest in the hope it would resolve long-running disputes about what happened to the five men.

Even if Pinch finds Indonesian forces culpable in the deaths, she has no power to launch proceedings against them.

Indonesia maintains that the journalists were accidentally killed in crossfire, but several people claiming to be eyewitnesses have testified before Sydney's Glebe Coroner's Court that Indonesian troops were ordered to fire on the unarmed correspondents, then burn their bodies.

The Australian government's repeated investigations have concluded there is no evidence that Indonesian forces deliberately targeted the journalists, but the controversy has persisted.

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