Subject: TLPres: President's Speech to the Northern Territory Parliament
Presidência da República
Remarks by His Excellency Jose Ramos-Horta President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste To the Northern Territory Parliament
Darwin, 30th October 2008
Madame Speaker, His Excellency the Administrator, The Hon. Chief Minister, The Hon. Leader of the Opposition, The Hon. Ministers, Honourable Members, Honorary Consul of Portugal to the NT.
It is an honour and a real pleasure to be back in Darwin. I thank you Madame Speaker for your warm and generous hospitality not only today but when you offered me a glimpse of the famed Kakadu National Park back in June. I immensely enjoyed the visit and all those I met.
But before I proceed any further, allow me to bow in tribute and respect to the original owners of this vast land of Australia, one of the most ancient nations in the world, the Indigenous People of Australia. I know the many problems afflicting the indigenous peoples of this country and my heart bleeds with their pain but my message to them is do not despair, never lose hope of a better future.
As I return today to Darwin, I wish once again to acknowledge and thank the wonderful staff of the Royal Darwin Hospital, the Hospital Director, the chief surgeon Dr. Phil Carson, a warm, humble and compassionate human being, and all his many colleagues, the nurses and all other staff of the hospital who cared for me and rescued me from the clutches of death.
I thank the Australian Defence Force soldiers who donated many litres of blood as well as thank the ADF Medical Centre in Dili, whose expert doctors and nurses from Aspen Medical first cared for me as I struggled between life and death. As I stand here today, as I travel extensively in my country, as I continued my morning routine of power walk, as I continue to live a very fast paced life serving my people, I sometimes pause for brief seconds and think that only a few months ago I was near death.
I also thank Australia and New Zealand for maintaining a robust and credible security force in my country in assistance to, and close coordination with, our government and UNMIT. As I mentioned recently in my speech to the UN General Assembly the professionalism of the International Stabilisation Forces is visible to all and the behavior of the soldiers is irreproachable.
I had the opportunity to visit a Company of Australian soldiers last Saturday in the regional city of Baucau together with the ISF Commander Brigadier Mark Holmes. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with these soldiers, whom are mostly based here in Darwin.
Appreciating the good sense of humour of Territorians and Australian soldiers alike, as I walked through their private accommodation and noticed posters on the wall of poorly dressed women (I thought they must be quite poor given as it appeared they couldn’t afford many clothes). I mentioned to them jokingly “well, if you were really devout and patriotic soldiers, you would have more posters on the wall of John Howard and Kevin Rudd instead.” Well, they didn’t agree with me.
Seriously, it warms my heart to see these committed and compassionate soldiers proudly serving their Nation and helping my people. I sincerely appreciate the great sacrifice of their families and loved ones. I must relate to you all that you can be very proud of these soldiers, these fine ambassadors, these sons and daughters of the Northern Territory and Australia.
I must once again thank all the great people of Australia, from the common people to the Prime Minister, people of all walks of life, who prayed for me, who visited even when I was in induced comma and after. If I was already closely connected to this country, today I feel even more part of it.
A special word of gratitude to my fellow East Timorese who live in NT and elsewhere in Australia, many hundreds of whom sent me messages of friendship and sorrow, prayers and flowers. I have numerous family ties in NT, WA, NSW and Victoria, all together numbering more than 100. The oldest of the family, our great-aunt Luciana, a resident of Darwin since 1975, passed away at age 100 three days after I was shot.
I am always touched by the demonstrations of friendship and affection I have received from the Australian people and yet I don’t know what I have done to get such special treatment. Maybe it is my innocent, naive look? Maybe one day I should run for high office in Australia. My friend Kevin Rudd shouldn’t worry. This will not happen any time soon.
Madame Speaker, His Excellency the Administrator, The Hon. Chief Minister, The Hon. Leader of the Opposition, The Hon. Ministers Honourable deputies,
Geography has made our fates intimately linked. Proximity has its advantages and disadvantages. A close but bad neighbour is a cause for concern. We can look at the various countries that border each other in the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, or in Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, etc. Each might say in reference to the other or to several others: With neighbours like this who needs enemies?
Timor-Leste has two immediate neighbours with whom we share land and maritime borders, Indonesia and Australia. While the past of our relationship with our two neighbours was not one we would remember as exemplary, I have always opted for a more realistic and pragmatic approach to life and for affairs of State, trying to forget and forgive the harm and sins of the past, live the fruits of freedom and opportunities of today, and show gratitude to those who are helping us today.
In this regard, we can say today that we are fortunate to have two great neighbours who since 1999 have done everything possible (and can still do more) to assist us in the arduous and tortuous road in nation-building, peace-building and peace-consolidation, and economic recovery.
There are no two countries more important to Timor-Leste’s national well-being than Australia and Indonesia and I believe you all know how hard I and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao have worked to normalize relations with our neighbours, both (Australian and Indonesia) being equally important to us.
But before I dwell further on our relations, let me up-date you on the situation in Timor-Leste. Since the fateful 11th February irrational act by Mr. Alfredo Reinado and his henchmen, we have entered a new phase of peace and economic recovery.
I have travelled extensively in the country since my return home in April. Everywhere I have seen a renewed hope and faith in the eyes of our people.
Any visitor to Dili today would see a much more peaceful city, with thousands of people going about doing what people normally do, adults going to work, teachers and children going to school, fishermen at sea, farmers tending the fields preparing the earth for the coming rains, hundreds of shops and restaurants busy with clients buying and eating, cleaners trying to clean up a city that its residents have not learned the civilized way to keep it clean.
Most IDPs have returned to their communities. There have been tensions in the receiving barrios but we have been able to resolve them through patient dialogue.
The 700 or so former soldiers, the so-called petitioners, have accepted a generous financial package offered by the government and opted to resume civilian life rather than reapplying to rejoin the army.
We are continuing to address the root causes of the 2006 conflict with more attention and resources provided to our national police and defence force. In this we are generously assisted by a number of international partners, including the UN, Australia, Portugal and the US. Let me assure you all, this is an issue that I follow and pay close attention to.
In December, my office and the Prime Minister will host a two day symposium to review the progress (or lack of) of the security sector reform process. We will listen to inputs provided by speakers from Australia, New Zealand, the US, Portugal, Malaysia, China, etc. These inputs will help us formulate the best policies and strategies for our police and defence forces.
There has been much written about an East-West ethnic divide in Timor-Leste. This is an over simplification and exaggeration. I have spent countless hours since 2006 dealing with the conflict in the suburbs and villages, meeting with the youth and gang leaders.
I believe I have a good degree of understanding of the nature of the conflict, somewhat better than those who pay short visits and write up fancy academic papers or newspaper articles, mostly forecasting doomsday scenarios for our nascent and vibrant democracy.
In 2006 there were opportunistic violence and crimes committed by common criminals who in the absence of a strong law and order force robbed, looted and killed.
There was the well-documented armed stand off and shooting involving elements of our police and defence forces and of Mr. Reinado.
There were also political leaders whose words and actions either have caused the flare-up of tensions and violence or at least were not helpful in the tense situation.
However, much of the violence had a more elementary and important reason and that was dispute over land and housing, market and job opportunities.
With the neutralization of trouble-makers by our special police units in partnership with our defence force as a deterrence force, and generous financial packages to the so-called petitioners, IDPs, as well as well to veterans and vulnerable groups, we have been able to make good progress in normalizing the situation in the country.
However, much remains to be done to discipline our police and defence forces, provide them with more training and education, as well as basic infrastructures and tools that are in desperate need.
Let me add that I am not being overly optimistic. I have always warned my colleagues in the leadership and my countrymen about how fragile the overall situation has always been in our country. Anyone pouring over my media remarks and speeches over the past 8 years will easily find many references to the fragile peace in our country.
Peace has been and is fragile because fragile are all our State institutions and economy, and because there is still widespread extreme poverty, and because it takes time to undo decades of violence and humiliation that have entered each East Timorese family.
However, the 11th February was a profound shock to our nation and everybody took a pause and stepped back from the edges. On 17th April, on my return, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to say no more to violence. I believe that the possibilities of consolidation of peace are there and the risks of renewed violence as desired by the prophets of doom are very much minimal.
As Head of State I will spare no effort in unifying the nation, in healing the wounds, and in creating conditions for a better life for the people who have nothing or very little and yet deserve so much.
In this noble endeavour no man is an island and no man can nor should expect to carry the burden alone. I know I can count on my compatriots and on our friends around the world.
You could be asking how long should the UN and the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) remain in Timor-Leste?
I have stated on a number of occasions that the East Timorese leadership, the UN and our friends should not make the same mistakes of the past. There should not be any hasty withdrawal. We need the current UN mission size to remain more or less intact up to 2012 with some minor adjustments as deemed advisable. As far as the presence of ISF in Timor-Leste is concerned, I hope that Australia will maintain a capable force on the ground to fulfil this critical function until 2012.
We have made modest progress in reactivating our police force but I believe that it will take us at least another three years before we can declare that we have turned the corner in the redevelopment of our police force. The same can be said of our defence force.
I very much favour closer defence cooperation with Australia and the US that includes the development of a maritime security capability. I welcome the offer of assistance made by Australia and the US and I wish to see this offer taken up by our Government.
It is in our two countries interest to enhance defence cooperation in all fields. Timor-Leste is vulnerable and wide open to a wide range of illicit predatory activities in our part of the Timor Sea, be it illegal fishing or people smuggling by unscrupulous elements.
It is our determination to enforce our sovereign rights in our seas but it is also our obligation not to allow our territory and seas to be used as a staging ground of transnational crime for Australia and New Zealand. There have been already several attempts by people smuggling rings to smuggle individuals from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan into Australia. In two cases, even our weak water-police have intercepted such activities.
However Timor-Leste, alone or with only modest assistance from Australia, will not be able to defend itself and to uphold its responsibilities towards its neighbours.
I wish to turn now to Timor-Leste and Northern Territory’s relationship. We are 1hr flight away from each other. And yet there is little going on between Darwin and Dili.
A handful of East Timorese are able to study in Northern Territory. Australia provides a modest number of scholarships for East Timorese students to study in Australia, this year 10 and next year I believe this will increase to 20. I would like to see at least 100 East Timorese students enrolled in TAFES in NT, Queensland and WA. Just an interesting note, you all know about Cuba and the difficulties in that state. Well Cuba is hosting close to 700 East Timorese medical students, all expenses covered). Along with the 100 Doctors being trained at a medical training facility in Timor, trained by Cuban Doctors, if all of these Timorese Doctors are successful Timor will have one of the highest Doctor to population ratios in the world.
There are a handful of Australian English teachers in Timor-Leste compared with the number of teachers from Portugal, Brazil and Cuba.
After several years of letter writing and conversations with past and current Australian governments, no decision has been made in granting temporary work visas for East Timorese to work in Australian fruit farms in NT, Queensland and WA.
The Republic of Korea has agreed to welcome at least 1,000 East Timorese workers. This number will increase to 6,000. They will each earn US$1,000/month plus food and accommodation.
I do not wish to sound ungrateful because Australia’s is by far Timor-Leste’s largest donor, with 2008/2009 budget increased to $100 million. However, I would like to see a larger share of the aid money going to poverty alleviation schemes, to support agriculture and rural development and technical and vocational training (in Timor-Leste and Australia). I know AUSAID is sensitive to these priorities and are working to focus in agricultural development.
Darwin residents hardly visit Timor-Leste. Dili is much safer than most cities in the region according to UN Police studies. Compared to Darwin, Timor-Leste doesn’t have such dangerous crocodiles, which I hear enter people’s homes and garages.
Timor-Leste boasts pristine coral reefs, cited by experts as among the best diving in the world. Our mountains and forests are sanctuary to pristine natural landscapes, unique cultural diversity and historical footprints that bind our two countries. There are bountiful investment opportunities and most striking for visitors is the friendliness and affection of the local people.
Of course we know that the price of travelling with Airnorth is one of the greatest obstacles to Australians visiting Timor-Leste. A return ticket between Darwin-Dili can cost around AUS $900. It is cheaper to fly from Bangkok to Paris than from Darwin to Dili.
Dili, Darwin and Kupang should develop better air links, and increase joint cultural and sporting activities and I thank you Chief Minister in your leadership on expanding these sporting relationships.
To end my remarks, let me touch upon the issue of the Greater Sunrise LNG field. My views on this issue are known to all. We must develop Greater Sunrise as a priority. There has been much talk about where a pipeline should go or there might not be any pipeline at all as there could be an on site FLNG. If it is going to be a pipeline, the following questions must be answered:
* What is the distance from Greater Sunrise to Darwin and to Suai? * Are there insurmountable technical difficulties in bringing the pipeline to Suai, which is less than half the distance from Greater Sunrise to Darwin? * What are the costs for either option, Suai or Darwin? * Which side offers better fiscal incentives? Timor-Leste’s new tax law is far simpler and more generous than Australia’s. * What are the security conditions in Suai? We feel there is as much possible security threat in Suai as there is a possible terrorist threat in Greater Sunrise (or Bayundan) or Darwin.
While Timor-Leste is eternally grateful to Australia for its steadfast support since 1999, our sincere sense of gratitude cannot be such that we surrender all to Darwin. The pipeline will go where it should go, the shortest route and the cheapest.
Timor-Leste cannot and will not bow to pressure from the Woodside CEO millionaires. I for one prefer to forgo Greater Sunrise than surrender to the diktats of a bunch of oil executive millionaires. We are ready to study and analyse all options, to talk and explore ideas and arrangements that are mutually beneficial.
We are not saying that the pipeline should go to Suai, rather the decision will be based on commercial (sound) and technical (safer). If an independent study proposes that the pipeline should go to Darwin, we will accept and then sit down and look at negotiate sharing of down stream benefits. We are not dogmatic or political.
Timor-Leste will soon designate a senior negotiator for Greater Sunrise and will be happy then to sit down, talk and find an amicable solution, the best of options.
I love Australia, I feel very much part of it. The blood within my body is Australian, donated by young Australian soldiers. But I love my country and people more. Not only because it is my country, soaked with the blood of too many in the fight to attain freedom, but because my country is small and weak, my people are poor and have been victimized for too long. You are rich and powerful. So I have to side with my country and people who are weaker and poorer. I hope you understand this.
Madame Speaker, Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing Madame Speaker, I would like to reciprocate your warm hospitality by inviting you to visit my country any time at your convenience. The invitation is also extended to His Excellency the NT Administrator, the Hon. Chief Minister as well as the Hon. Ministers and Members of Parliament. Your visit would very much help to expand and cement the relations between our two countries and would help you see the situation on the ground that is somewhat different from what you hear or read often.
May God the Almighty and the Merciful bless the Australian people. END