Subject: Defence flip on Timor death
Defence flip on Timor death
May 4, 2010
THE Australian Defence Force has contradicted itself a second time over its handling of the death of an elderly East Timorese woman who was hit by an Australian army vehicle.
Defence chief Angus Houston has admitted he was wrong when he told a Senate estimates committee hearing in February that Australia had organised and paid for the funeral of Gracinda da Costa, 65, who died from a head injury hours after being struck walking along a street in Dili on December 18.
At the hearing, Air Chief Marshal Houston said Mrs da Costa's son ''was quite understanding of the circumstances and we assisted with the funeral arrangements. We paid for the funeral.'' However, in a letter to the committee sent last week, he retracted the claim.
Days before the Senate committee hearing, Defence retracted an earlier claim that it gave Mrs da Costa's family compensation forms and advice on how to fill them out, admitting to The Agethat the forms covered property damage, not personal injury or death.
In Timorese tradition, families are compensated, even in a token way, by people involved in a death, no matter who was to blame.
Mrs da Costa's family had earlier told The Age that Australian soldiers were unaware for 13 days that Mrs da Costa had died from a head injury hours after being struck.
At the February Senate hearing, Air Chief Marshal Houston promised that more care would be taken of civilians injured in accidents involving Australian troops in foreign countries. He acknowledged that not enough had been done to check on Mrs da Costa's well-being, and said reforms would be made.