Subject: Transcript: Documents reveal Australia's hand in Indonesia

Australian Broadcasting Corporation PM News - Tuesday, September 19, 2000 6:10 -transcript-

Documents reveal Australia's hand in Indonesia

COMPERE: We begin with East Timor and the bodyguard of lies that's protected Australians from the truth about Indonesian involvement for 25 years. Indeed, the bodyguard looks more like a battalion tonight with Australia's foremost Defence intelligence academic giving details of the way successive Australian Governments have lied to Parliament.

Professor Des Ball of the ANU was given advance access to today's release of thousands more documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, covering the period from 1974 to 1976. Among the revelations, the Department refused vital information, including bone fragments reportedly from one of the Australian journalists killed at Balibo. And worse, our Embassy in Jakarta endangered the life of a key informant who'd worked with the Indonesians and was at Balibo by giving details to Indonesian intelligence.

Professor Des Ball, who co-wrote a book on the Balibo killings, has been speaking to Philip Williams.

PROF DES BALL: First of all, as the general message, which was one of connivance by the Australian Government in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, indeed our complicity in that invasion, that is the general message which comes through, continually through the documentation. Then there are a couple more specific issues. I think the most important of those specific ones concerns the fate of one of those five journalists. One of them does seem to have been dealt with rather differently than the other four.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: How do you know?

PROF DES BALL: We know because of the DSD intercepts of the Indonesian communications. On 16 October of 1975, it simply referred to four. We know from testimony of various witnesses who were at Balibo that morning and whose accounts have now been transcribed and deposited in the archives. We also know because there are literally hundreds of pages in the newly-released documents which refer to the Embassy's efforts, the efforts of the Embassy in Jakarta, to obtain the remains of the fifth journalist.

The Embassy had been given the remains of four of the journalists, or what are purported to have been the remains, in a box like a shoe-box, some time before the funeral. They were very anxious that when the funeral actually took place in December that they had the remains of the fifth one.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: What do we know though of what happened to that fifth one? What do you suspect happened?

PROF DES BALL: One of those who was present at Balibo that day, Jose Martenes [phonetic], has talked quite specifically about what happened, and in his words it really was quite horrific, too horrific to recap to ABC listeners.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Jose Martenes also, I believe, offered bone fragments to our Embassy when he later escaped, swapped sides, later escaped to Lisbon. Is that correct?

PROF DES BALL: Yes. He approached the Embassy in Lisbon. He offered to provide them with three fragments of bone as evidence of his knowledge of what happened to the journalists. He offered also to provide documentation, including his own notes that he'd made contemporaneously with the events through the course of the 15th, 16th and 17 October. He asked for $370 which was his airfare to where he had deposited these materials in safe-keeping. The Australian Government refused to pay his $370 airfare.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: So they didn't get that information?

PROF DES BALL: They did not get that information, no. They only got his account of what he had, rather than actually seeing what he had, including the bone fragments.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: What did the Australian Embassy then do with that knowledge of what was available?

PROF DES BALL: The Australian Embassy in Jakarta, having been apprised of Martenes testimony, cabled to Canberra, saying that they wanted to provide the full Martenes' account to the Indonesian authorities, and most specifically to [indistinct], the Indonesian intelligence agency. When a copy of that request also went to Lisbon, Lisbon protested quite vehemently and said that this would place Martenes' life in jeopardy.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: And what happened?

PROF DES BALL: Well, nevertheless, the full account of Martenes' revelations and his testimony and his details of his role and what actually happened when he was working with the Indonesians in October, November and December of '75 and through into early '76, that was given in full to the Indonesian authorities.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: So the information that was offered by him to the Australian Government wasn't accepted, yet that same information was passed on via an Australian official to the Indonesian Government?

PROF DES BALL: That is what the new releases reveal, yes.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: That's quite a startling revelation of the political machinations, the diplomatic machinations of the time?

PROF DES BALL: It really was quite a despicable act, yes.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Now, there was an official government inquiry, the Taylor Report prepared, in the wake of what happened. What do you think of the conclusion of that report, prepared by Alan Taylor, that seem to indicate that there was no evidence of Indonesian troop involvement in that invasion?

PROF DES BALL: Well, that is incredible. By the time that the Taylor Report was written, the Australian authorities knew full well of Indonesian involvement. Indeed, Taylor had been one of the individuals who had been briefed on 13 October about the forthcoming attack on Balibo. He had been privy right through to the unfolding of Indonesia's plans for the covert invasion. But, of course, it was the Australian Government's position at this time that this was a civil war in East Timor, that there was no Indonesian Government involvement, and hence it was impossible for Taylor, as an Australian official, to come clean and to write a report which incriminated the Indonesians. That would have been contrary to the official Australian Government position. He couldn't have done that [indistinct] not do that.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Against the background of what these documents have revealed and what history of the last few years have revealed, what do you think Australians can fairly say now about the information they were given at the time by various governments about what happened to these people and about what happened to East Timor?

PROF DES BALL: Well, they were lies. The Australian Parliament was told lies, the Australian people were told lies. The Australian people now must have real doubts about whether or not official spokesmen are telling the truth when it comes to sensitive matters like this.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: What does it say then about the more contemporary East Timorese history, leading up to the ballot, for example, last year that's been the subject of such controversy over the last few days?

PROF DES BALL: Well, the material, of course, doesn't say anything directly about this, but it puts in our minds various possibilities and suggestions, and the fact is at least as far as I believe, that intelligence was played with for political purposes all through 1999 in much the same way as it was through 1975. In other words, the Government was using intelligence for its own political purposes, and when it was contrary to Australian policy or contrary to what it wanted to tell the Australian people, it simply put a lid on that intelligence and didn't let it seep through into the policy-making process.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: So are you saying that nothing much had changed?

PROF DES BALL: It doesn't seem that much has changed at all, no.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Des Ball, thanks for your time.

PROF DES BALL: Thank you very much.

COMPERE: Professor Des Ball of the Australian National University, the Defence intelligence academic and author of a recent book on the Balibo killings, was speaking to Philip Williams about his access to the latest papers on Australia's Foreign Affairs and Trade documents covering the period 1974 to '76.

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