Subject: JRH takes Australia to task over education aid

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East Timor takes Australia to task over education aid

Updated 9 hours 49 minutes ago

East Timor's president Jose Ramos Horta has called on Australia to be much more generous in providing access for East Timorese to work and study in Australia, describing Canberra's current stand as "embarrassing". He says he is disappointed with Australia's efforts, which are lagging far behind that of Portugal, the United States and even Cuba.

Presenter: Jim Middleton Speaker:Jose Ramos Horta, president of East Timor

RAMOS HORTA: Well, Australian aid to East Timor now under Prime Minister Rudd has gone up significantly towards something like 90 or 100 million dollars a year, making in Australia by far the largest donor to Timor Leste and we are very appreciative of that. Way back with John Howard and Alexander Downer, and now with Kevin Rudd, I've been insisting on Australia opening up more space in technical colleges for vocational training that are very needed in Timor. Unfortunately, even though Australia is our closest neighbour, Australia still provides very, very few places, no more than ten or 20 a year, compare that with Cuba, a poor country, 20,000 miles away, has received almost 700 Timorese students to study in the medical field.

Now if Australia wants to really assist Timor Leste, now in order to prepare the country for the future, it should be more generous and more expeditious in allowing Timorese students in greater numbers to study in Australia and to allow guest workers from Timor, including youth, to come Australia.

MIDDLETON: How extensively have you discussed these questions with the Australian Government, with Kevin Rudd, for example?

RAMOS HORTA: Oh, extensively I have made this point.

MIDDLETON: And you got a sympathetic hearing?

RAMOS HORTA: Yes, a sympathetic, but so far, in terms of the students, the number of East Timorese students coming to Australia is embarrassingly low number and I am totally disappointed with it, even less than Portugal's taking, even less than the United States, and now because of Australia's reluctance to take more Timorese students I have started talk with Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines, for us to send students to the Philippines and the Philippines very much welcome this.

MIDDLETON: So you are suggesting that the Australian Government may have good intentions, but when it actually comes to delivering on its proposals, it's lacking?

RAMOS HORTA: There is this almost phobia because of the extreme reluctance to welcome people like from East Timor to study in Australia. Of course, we have many thousands of refugees because of accident of history, the violence of the past. But now that we need to invest and we want help on that, we invest much more on education, particularly through vocational training, Australia is I think doing very, very little. The number of students graduating from Australian university institutes is very, very low, embarrassing for a country like Australia.

MIDDLETON: But its people to people contacts are worth gold. So that's one thing to say. But the second thing it's skills guarantees a nation's future, doesn't it?

RAMOS HORTA: Exactly, so the number, a greater number of East Timorese students are coming to Australia and guest workers coming to Australia, it's strengthens their relationship between the two countries. We are no longer strangers in the same region. It builds tremendous bridges of affinity, of understanding. Besides, our people come here (Australia), they send money home, to help with reducing poverty and also they will acquire technical skill, experience that are very important when they go back home.

MIDDLETON: It brings me to one further point which is you and Xanana Gusmao go back a long time, go back to the days of the 1970s before independence and now here you are in one way or another, running the country. Where are the next generation of leaders for East Timor, and I mean that with great respect?

RAMOS HORTA: When you mention leaders, leaders in a country are not only the president and the prime minister. Leaders are those in the government, in the government you have today more than two thirds are from the new generation who were born just before the Indonesian invasion. They studied in Timor, they never left the country, grew up in Indonesia or in East Timor. So these are the people who make two thirds at least of the new government and make over 90 per cent of the national parliament. 

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