|Subject: Policy failure Australian legacy
in East Timor
Policy failure our legacy in East Timor by international editor Paul Kelly The Australian 13sep00
THE 885 pages of East Timor documents 1974-76 released yesterday reveal an Australian diplomatic tragedy. It set minister against minister, official against official and Canberra against our Jakarta embassy in what became an enduring policy failure.
In these pages, Australian policy-makers struggle with a crisis that defied them. There is a vast lode of history here and the Government has made the right decision to publish these records. The key issue reverberating on page after page is still with us how firmly should Australia apply pressure to Indonesia and how far does its influence with Jakarta run?
In these documents can be found support for every policy option during the 1975 crisis incorporation into Indonesia, self-determination for East Timor, support for a Fretilin-run state, a joint Portuguese-Indonesian-Australian supervisory authority and the conviction that Indonesia could never be persuaded against taking East Timor.
The two dominant figures in this history are Gough Whitlam and Jakarta ambassador Richard Woolcott. They believed that incorporation was the best result; that sound Australian-Indonesian relations were the priority; and that president Suharto had decided irrevocably for incorporation although he was a dove for a long time about the mechanism.
Whitlam was as rigid in his espousal of incorporation as Woolcott was resourceful. Rarely has any Australian ambassador operated with the audacity displayed by Woolcott in these pages as he asserts his own views, virtually defies his minister, challenges his own departmental head and knows better than most Indonesians what Indonesia is doing. He operated with the surety of having Whitlam's support. It is Whitlam and Woolcott who carry this policy, a deeply flawed legacy.
But the documents also convey a complex litany of insight into the defects of Whitlam's policy never before revealed. Foreign minister Don Willesee told Whitlam in December 1974 to avoid "any public impression of 'collusion' with Indonesia over Timor" and that Australia should try to persuade Jakarta to accept an independent East Timor; Willesee felt "very firmly that the prime minister is wrong"; senior official Michael Cook said that "integration was not a winnable goal"; the head of the Joint Intelligence Organisation, Gordon Jockel, warned a year before the invasion that a liberation movement could be sustained and "it would gradually attract international attention"; defence minister Lance Barnard, in a long February 1975 critique to Willesee, complained strongly that "the Indonesians do not appear to have a clear understanding of our opposition to the use of military force"; the head of foreign affairs, Alan Renouf, was repeatedly trying to modify the Whitlam position, telling Woolcott in October 1975 that policy must take account of principle and complaining that Woolcott was too soft with Jakarta, part of a sharp exchange of secret cables between them; the previous month another senior officer, Geoff Miller, complained that the Indonesians "have shrewdly compromised us", observed that Fretilin was in effective control, and suggested that Jakarta be urged to accept this outcome.
It is difficult to draw the lessons so early from such a vast archive. But five points should be given weight. First, Whitlam's policy was flawed from the start and Australia never recovered. Whitlam told Suharto at their famous Wonosobo meeting in September 1974 that East Timor should become part of Indonesia and this should be achieved via a self-determination process. These objectives were contradictory. Australia spent a year trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. The choice, in effect, had to be incorporation or self-determination, not both.
Second, Australia in effect ran a duplicitous policy the way the message played, it amounted to incorporation in Jakarta and self-determination at home. This had an inevitable consequence. Both the Indonesians and the Australian public ended up feeling betrayed.
Third, the Indonesians briefed Woolcott in such detail on their planned military operations that the fear arose in Canberra that Australia was compromised. Woolcott, of course, was only doing his job (just imagine the outcry if Australia hadn't known what was happening). There is, however, a subtle but decisive point here. If Australia were going to protest against Indonesian military action in East Timor, then it had to protest at the start. Yet it didn't. Australia waited two months and its public protest came only on December 7. One reason is that Australia felt unable to protest about plans to which it was a confidential accessory.
Fourth, the transition of power from Whitlam to Malcolm Fraser saw a continuation of the same policy as Jakarta's covert military operations on the ground further advanced. Documents 343 and 344 revealed that on November
25, 1975, Woolcott acting on Fraser's orders saw Suharto at his private residence (for discretion) and told him that Fraser felt that Indonesia was entitled to have "an appropriate solution" to the Timor issue, that he wanted "close personal ties" with Suharto, and that his foreign minister (Andrew Peacock) would visit soon. Fraser asked Suharto to treat the message as
The final and most important point is whether Australia could have persuaded Indonesia against incorporation by force. This is a historical argument to which there is no conclusive answer. Yet it is here that Woolcott is most adamant and most persuasive. Suharto was a dove whose resort to force came only
with deep reluctance. But Suharto's policy of incorporation was strong and unwavering the entire time.
Despite all the agonising by our diplomats, the documents convey an emotional fatalism within a Jakarta elite absolutely bent upon East Timor's incorporation. The Indonesians were provoked by Fretilin's claim of independence. They knew that the US did not care. They knew that South-East Asia favoured incorporation. They knew that Australia would complain, but that it had no teeth. The problem, then and now, is the limit to Australia's influence with Jakarta.
[NB Note the continuing crap about the provocation by the 28th Nov Decln of Independence, given all the above evidence that Indonesia was determined to invade, that its troops were in East Timor already, that their first invasion was 16th October. Australia did not protest the 16 Oct invasion, this was the green light if any further was needed. Since then we've had apologists for the Indonesians dominating leading newspapers, (not the smh) and institutions such as AIBusinessInstitute etc None has answered Gareth Smith's repeated claims about the secret media moguls meeting which Mr Kelly featured strongly in, to steel the resolve to support Indonesia almost no matter what. Wes] ****
Papers reveal Timor truth By Foreign affairs writer Robert Garran 13sep00
AUSTRALIA knew of Indonesia's plans to invade East Timor more than 12 months before the 1975 offensive, but avoided criticising Jakarta because of the "paramount importance" of good relations, documents released yesterday show.
The formerly secret Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister's department documents from 1974-76 show then prime minister Gough Whitlam was a strong supporter of incorporating East Timor with Indonesia. His stance was backed by Australia's ambassador to Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, who urged the prime minister to take a "pragmatic rather than principled stand" in the national interest.
Mr Whitlam, supported by Mr Woolcott, argued that "good relations with Indonesia were of paramount importance to Australia", comments that Indonesia regarded as a green light for the invasion.
"I am in favour of incorporation, but obeisance has to be made to self-determination," Mr Whitlam told officials in September 1974.
However, there was considerable dissent among officials and ministers, with foreign minister Don Willesee, in particular, arguing against Mr Whitlam's line.
After the dismissal of the Whitlam government on November 11, 1975, the new caretaker government of Malcolm Fraser also gave private reassurances to Indonesia.
The reports also show the government knew Indonesia's October 15 invasion would take place through Balibo in East Timor. But it gives no evidence the government knew that five Australian-based journalists, killed the next day, were there.
The documents reveal diplomats' contortions as they struggled to get the
Indonesians to confirm the journalists' deaths, even though details were
already well known from Australian intelligence source.
Alexander Downer yesterday said the Government decided to respond to exceptional public interest in East Timor by speeding up the release of the records, which are normally secret for 30 years.
The Foreign Minister said the documents showed the Department of Foreign
Affairs "had no information beforehand of any intention to kill the journalists".
However, the Government decided not to include any intelligence reports among the released documents. As a result, they shed no light on a message said to have been intercepted by the Defence Signals Directorate five hours before the attack showing that the Indonesian military knew the journalists were in the area and intended to kill them.
Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton said yesterday the release of the documents did not go far enough. Mr Whitlam refused to comment on the report yesterday.
***** Whitlam put Jakarta first by Robert Garran The Australian 13sep00
THE strongly held views of former prime minister Gough Whitlam towards East Timor were a key factor behind Australia's acceptance of the Indonesian decision to invade the territory, the Timor documents show.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday released 885 pages of confidential diplomatic cables from the period immediately before and following the Indonesian take-over.
Mr Whitlam first appears in the documents as officials discuss how to prepare for his visit to Indonesia in September 1974, when he was to meet president Suharto.
The question of East Timor had been thrown into prominence by a left-wing coup in Portugal in April and the new regime's call for self-determination in its overseas territories, including East Timor.
Australian officials discussed in their exchanges with one another the difficulty of balancing Indonesian plans with the principles of self-determination.
But Mr Whitlam needed no persuading. The secret record of his September 6 meeting in Yogyakarta with president Suharto records the prime minister's stance: "First, he believed that Portuguese Timor should become part of Indonesia. Second, this should happen in accordance with the properly expressed wishes of the people of Portuguese Timor."
A few weeks later, seeking to ensure his views were understood, Mr Whitlam was blunter still.
"I am in favour of incorporation, but obeisance has to be made to self-determination.
"I want it incorporated but I do not want this done in a way (that) will create argument in Australia, which would make people more critical of Indonesia," he said in a cable to foreign minister Don Willesee and ambassador to Indonesia Robert Furlonger.
However, Whitlam moderated his views after a series of press reports by Michael Richardson and Peter Hastings suggesting that in the Yogyakarta meeting Mr Whitlam and Mr Suharto reached an understanding that Portuguese Timor was to be "handed over" to Indonesia.
In a February 28 letter to Mr Suharto, Mr Whitlam put a different weight on the issues. Commenting on their meetings in September, he wrote: "We agreed that the solution which we preferred was that the territory should become part of Indonesia, but that this outcome would need to result from the properly expressed wishes of its people."
In the same letter Mr Whitlam notes that public debate in Australia does "serve to indicate the delicacy of the question".
When Mr Whitlam met president Suharto in Townsville on April 4, 1975, they had a long discussion on East Timor. Mr Whitlam said Australia did not want to be seen as having a "primary responsibility" for the outcome in Portuguese Timor. "Our actions in regard to Portuguese Timor would always be guided by the principle that good relations with Indonesia were of paramount importance to Australia," the record of the meeting said.
Richard Woolcott, ambassador to Indonesia since March, noted in an October 15 cable to Canberra: "There is no doubt in my mind that the Indonesian government's fundamental assessment of our position is predicated on the talks between Mr Whitlam and president Suharto in Townsville," in particular, the stress on the importance of good relations with Indonesia.
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