One of the themes espoused by leaders of the government for more than two decades was that the fate of the former Portuguese colony was irreversible. It was presented to us ad nauseam, with its it's ‘written in concrete’ gusto. Bob Hawke told us to forget about East Timor. Gareth Evans, Canberra's first serial sophist, wanted us to believe that 'the world is a pretty unfair place'. Massacres were called 'aberrations'. Paul Keating convinced us that his Godfather's soldiers were really decent blokes once you got to know them. Malcolm Fraser still believes that it was an East Timorese activist who stole his pants in the United States: he has not once rescinded the communist label he branded onto all the Timorese. And Gough Whitlam continues to work around the clock trying to justify his contentious role in the long tragedy.
Australian governments all sought to influence the destiny of East Timor. This destiny became one of the longest ongoing acts of genocide since the European Holocaust of the Second World War. I am reminded of the French Vichy Government of that war which supplied and organised the freight train convoys that carried persecuted Jews to the Nazi ovens. Canberra's warts-and-all allegiance with Jakarta; the almost $2 billion in bilateral aid; the million of dollars in military gifts, defence training and defence co-operation; and the political lobbying in the international arena for Jakarta's position, all helped to create a similar cattlewagon, transporting the East Timorese to their diabolical fate.
Since last year's fall of the New Order regime, there have been some calls around Indonesia for the former president Suharto to answer charges of corruption and crimes against humanity. Questions must also be asked about how Australia's leaders aided and abetted such a brutal regime for so long while being in full possession of the facts regarding the human rights violations of the regime.
The genocidal dimensions of the persecution have always been well-documented in annual and extraordinary reports by the Catholic Church and NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as in the internal Foreign Affairs departmental reports, regular Department of Defence communications intelligence reports and Senate inquiries.
Canberra did far more than maintain silence when faced with Jakarta's crimes. Deliberate policies to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of East Timor's struggle against these crimes were adopted by the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Kiting and Howard Governments. The struggle of the East Timorese was trivialised, dehumanised and ignored. Canberra's role in East Timor's suffering has been a role of premeditated treachery. With full knowledge of the crimes inflicted upon the East Timorese, Australian leaders and opinion makers chose to have greater allegiance with the criminals than with the victims. When Indonesian soldiers murdered the journalists at Balibo, on 16 October 1975, Jakarta discovered that it could kill Australians with impunity: there was simply not one parliamentary leader willing to defend the victims of this serious crime even though it was alleged that the truth has been known.
The Australian government was delighted with the demise of Sukarno in 1965, and even though his successor, General Suharto, was in the midst of slaughtering his way to stability, Canberra celebrated the brutal conclusion of the Sukarno era with the commencement of a bilateral aid program and defence aid projects which, no doubt, helped to subsidise Jakarta's ever increasing military expenditures. There are no aid breakdowns for the years 1966 - 1970. However, basing an annual estimate for these years at a modest $10 million (1970/1971 being $15 million), by 1975 Canberra had granted Jakarta $141 million in bilateral aid. For the East Timor period of 1975 until the 1998 fall of Suharto, Canberra has granted Jakarta $1.8 billion. That amounts to a total of almost $2 billion in bilateral aid to the New Order regime.
Far more difficult to ascertain in dollar terms are the Department of Defence estimates for defence co-operation with Jakarta and defence training of Indonesian soldiers. Defence co-operation can include military aid, which again is difficult to quantify financially. However, in the critical period of 1972 - 1980, Australian military aid to Indonesia included 12 GAF Nomad 22B aircraft, sixteen Avon Sabre fighter aircraft, two Dakota DC3 aircraft, twelve Bell 47Greens Sioux helicopters, six Carpentaria class patrol boats, two Attack class patrol boats, the training in Australia of 1,200 Indonesian Armed Forces officers and mapping projects in Sumatra, Kalimantan, West Iryan and the Moluccas. The cost of military aid for this period is $50.5 million. Starkly illustrating the government position is the article in the Age newspaper on 7 November 1975. The deaths of the Australian journalists had still not been officially confirmed, yet Canberra was announcing the second of a three-year military aid program to Indonesia with the expected aid amounting to $25 million.
Humanitarian considerations of the aid perspective became a policy focus of consecutive governments who were keen to develop and exaggerate any ‘feel good’ factor that could camouflage Canberra's treachery to East Timor. In an unholy alliance with a criminal regime, the ‘feel good’ factor was particularly necessary to emasculate supporters of East Timor within the domestic electorate. It simply is not done to have anyone remonstrate against the Commonwealth Government for complicity in genocide.
The real history of East Timor is a litany of bloody horror. The failure
of Australian governments to honour obvious ethical and moral obligations,
as well as the same governments' determination to promote East Timor's
fate as irreversible, is of critical importance to any historical overview
of this issue. It is duty of the current Senate Inquiry into Federal Government
policy on East Timor to determine the degree of Australian Government culpability
in East Timor's fate, and to provide recommendations on measures to ensure
such abuse of power can never happen again.