Subject: After 25 years of secrecy, Whitlam reveals his E Timor policy

Australian Broadcasting Corporation The World Today Monday, December 6, 1999 12:10 p.m.

Whitlam reveals his East Timor policy

COMPERE: After a quarter of a century of secrecy, documents covering the Whitlam Government's contacts with Indonesia at the time of the invasion of East Timor have today been made public. The papers covering 1973 to 1975 were approved for release by the retired Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, as he came before a Senate Committee to give evidence on East Timor. The records include notes of his conversations and letters with the former President Soeharto.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Graeme Dobell, was at this morning's hearings.

UNIDENTIFIED: I welcome to this hearing the Honourable Gough Whitlam. For the Hansard record, will you please state your full name, address and the capacity in which you appear today.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Edward Gough Whitlam, elder statesman.

GRAEME DOBELL: The 83 year old former Prime Minister now uses a walking stick, but his walk through history is as confident as ever. Gough Whitlam says that East Timor must be seen as a problem of colonialism.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Not for the first time, Australia has been expected to clean up the mess created by Europe's imperialists in our region. Professional Australian electoral officers and soldiers have been mainly responsible for creating a new nation in our region. The Shermann Inquiries has exorcised Australian journalists of their demons over Balibo. This Committee can exorcise the devout right and the rabid left of their demons over East Timor.

GRAEME DOBELL: Mr Whitlam told the Committee that his government in the 1970s shared the view of the Menzies Government in the 1960s, East Timor was not viable politically or economically as an independent state, and the only way for Australia to stop Indonesia invading East Timor would have been to wage war in the midst of the Whitlam Government's confrontation with the Senate over its refusal to pass the 1975 budget.

GOUGH WHITLAM: We could make big fellas of ourselves by saying, "Here, Supply's been held up, and we're in a crisis. Let's have a war." That's what is being urged now. We could have sent troops in.

GRAEME DOBELL: The hearing saw the official release of some of the most argued-about documents in Australian foreign policy history, Mr Whitlam's contacts with President Soeharto in the lead-up to the Indonesian invasion. Among them, the record of conversation of the meeting between the two leaders in April, 1975. Mr Whitlam is recorded as saying that Portueges Timor should be integrated into Indonesia, but this should not be done in a way to upset the Australian people.

Mr Whitlam refers to speculation about an Indonesian invasion, but affirms that Australia does not want primary responsibility for Timor. Mr Whitlam on the documents and the way they've been used.

GOUGH WHITLAM: The amazing thing is that people give more attention to people who leak documents than to the full range of documents which have not been leaked. And leaks, of course, from the Department of Foreign Affairs didn't originate in the last few months, they have, in fact, gone on for several years. They even took place under my government, selective ones. And, of course, if they're leaked, they have greater authenticity than the full range of documents. And I've come to some pains to show you all the documents that the Department and I can find.

GRAEME DOBELL: The former Prime Minister ended his evidence by saying that his policy in 1975 was right, that the Indonesian military had over-played its hand and the Dili massacre in 1991 marked the turning point for any Timorese acceptance of incorporation by Indonesia.

GOUGH WHITLAM: What I said in '75, what I said in '82 was completely correct. I went all round East Timor in '82 and there was no risk at all. But I do believe that from then on the position deteriorated, and that was obviously the turning point, of course. There was the massacre in Dili, just as the massacre in Ballarat was the turning point. Thereafter, it was pretty clear that the Indonesian military had over-played their hand.

COMPERE: That was the former Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, still strong on servitude after all of these years, with the tabling of those documents this morning. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Graeme Dobell, at that Senate Hearing on East Timor.


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