Anniversary should give
cause for reflection
The full report entitled ‘Parliamentary visit to East Timor, 12-13 February 2001 - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee’ was tabled in the [Australian] Senate on Monday 2 April 2001
It is a year since an Australian Parliamentary delegation visited East Timor on 12-13 February 2001. Led by senator A B Ferguson (Liberal) and Mr D P M Hawker, MP (Liberal) the delegation consisted of three Liberal, three Labor, one Democrat and one National Party federal parliamentarian(s), accompanied by a military adviser and secretary.
Their report, dated 6 March 2001, provides "an outline of the visit and some observations relating to military and humanitarian concerns".
Not one of the formal contacts the delegation made during their visit was with East Timorese, though they do mention informal contacts.
Their sole recommendation was:
"That the Australian Government consider the establishment of a permanent war memorial in East Timor to honour Australians who died in East Timor."
They made only this single recommendation, despite concluding that a memorial pool, provided "by the Australian people for their ('all the people of East Timor's') use in grateful recognition of their assistance to Australian soldiers during the Second World War", was in a state of disrepair.
Though positive in their report about general progress made, the delegation were "concerned over the pace and priority of the UN effort" and "particularly concerned about the threat to peace and long term stability posed by the militia based in West Timor." They went on: "Until a solution can be found to repatriate those displaced persons in West Timor who wish to return to East Timor and to provide a measure of justice to those who committed criminal acts, the problem will not go away. The delegation members urge the UN to place a higher priority on addressing this issue."
Four out of eight points of their conclusions concern Australia's military and nation-building commitment to East Timor.
They also state: "Longer term, apart from
the essential effort to create a public service, proper health care, schools
and police, issues like resolving land titles and 45 per cent illiteracy
pose a problem. The issue of language remains sensitive, with older
Timorese being schooled in Portuguese, younger ones in Indonesian (Bahasa),
and English becoming more common, in addition to
the local Tetum language."
Finally they conclude: "Maintaining commitment over the long term by Australia, our parliament and the UN will be a challenge to which we must remain alert."
Let us do so.
Dierk von Behrens