Subject: Whitlam seeks to set record straight on Timor

E.G. Whitlam launches Bill Nichol, "Timor - A Nation Reborn"
by E.G. Whitlam, AC QC


University of Sydney Co-Op Bookshop, 26 June 2002


We have all learned much about East Timor in the last five weeks.

· On 24 May the Premier gave a State luncheon on the harbour in honour of Mr Jorge Sampaio, the President of the Portuguese Republic. The President drew attention to my visit to Lisbon in July 1976. I was the first Australian political leader to visit Portugal and was received by Mr Mario Soares, the Socialist Prime Minister.

· On 28 May I received a fax from Bill Nicol, whose book I take pleasure in launching to-day:

I write to see if you would be interested in launching my book on Timor.

You may remember the book. It was first published 25 years ago under the title Timor: The Stillborn Nation. It has now been updated and republished under the title Timor: A Nation Reborn. While the original contents are unchanged, I have added an additional 18,000 words in the form of a new preface on the media, a prologue and an epilogue.

The section you may be interested in most is the epilogue. While the material remains critical of the evolution of Australia's policy on Timor when you were PM, it does make a significant change in terms of your conversations with President Suharto at Yogyakarta and Wonosobo.

The source for the change is Geoff Forrester who explicitly corroborates your claim that you did not give Timor to Indonesia in these meetings. This is the first Independent eyewitness corroboration of your claims.

In 1975 Bill Nicol may not have known the politics of Australia but he knew the politics of East Timor better than any other Australian.

· On 3 June the Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, released the report which his predecessor, John Moore, had asked Mr Bill Blick, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, to make into Balibo. He dismissed the allegations made in the notorious book Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra published by an Australian National University professor, Des Bull, and a Sydney Morning Herald scribe, Hamish McDonald, in June 2000.

· On Tuesday last week the Premier gave a State luncheon in the Macquarie Tower in honour of Mr Xanana Gusmao, the President of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. I sat opposite the President and next to his Foreign Minister, Mr José Ramos Horta.

· Yesterday the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, declassified a damning report on Portuguese Timor by James Dunn, the Australian Consul in Dili (January 1962-August 1964).

We are now well qualified to correct much misinformation which has been peddled by abandoned partners, remote parents, novice diplomats, conniving archivists and a few Fairfax fanatics about East Timor in general and Balibo in particular.

Menzies urged incorporation

On 5 February 1963, on the basis of the Dunn report, the Menzies Government decided

the course which it seemed best to follow is for Australia to bring such quiet pressure as it can upon Portugal to cede peacefully and in addition to explore ways by which the international community might bring pressure on Portugal.

On the same day Foreign Affairs sent the following cable to Australia's missions in Washington, London, Jakarta and New York:

Following is report prepared by Australian Consul in Dili. This does not represent an agreed assessment but may be drawn on for background.

1. The Portuguese in Timor have little real support from the indigenous population who, if given the opportunity, will probably favour a change in the status of their territory. In these circumstances there would be some pressure towards the setting up of an independent state but the majority would probably favour Indonesian rule as the alternative to the continuation of Portuguese rule.

2. (a) Portuguese Timor is a poor and extremely underdeveloped territory. It has no secondary industries, poor mineral resources and low-level subsistence production in agriculture. Very little has been done by the Portuguese to remedy these weaknesses and there is no evidence of any genuine effort to overcome them in the foreseeable future.

(b) As an independent state it is difficult to see how Portuguese Timor could exist as a viable economic state without substantial financial and technical assistance from outside.

(c) Continued Portuguese rule will mean further stagnation of the economy with increasing dissatistaction on the part of the indigenous population and probably some attempts at insurrection. There is already some evidence of the existence of a movement with the aim of ousting the Portuguese, with aid of Indonesia.

3. In the event of an Indonesian attack few of the Timorese would remain loyal to the Portuguese. The Portuguese forces, with no air or sea support would be overwhelmed or driven into the interior of the island within a matter of hours. Without the support of the native population it is unlikely that they could resist long in guerilla warfare.

4. If Indonesia were to send in agitators they would undoubtedly win support and, with appropriate supplies of arms etc., could start a campaign of insurgency throughout the province.

5. The Timorese themselves are unlikely to succeed in any attempt to overthrow the colonial regime if only through lack of leadership. However, with Indonesian aid and inspiration the Portuguese position might soon become intenable.

Dunn has not quoted his own original report in his subsequent books and articles.

Portuguese Evasion and Indonesian Invasion

The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor commences with a declaration on colonisation and illegal occupation by Portugal and invasion by Indonesia:

Following the liberation of the Timorese People from colonisation and illegal occupation of the Maubere Motherland by foreign powers, the independence of East Timor, proclaimed on the 28th of November 1975 by Frente Revolucionária do Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN), is recognised internationally on the 20th of May 2002.

The preparation and adoption of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor is the culmination of the historical resistance of the Timorese People intensified following the invasion of the 7th of December 1975.

In My Italian Notebook (2002) I recounted the attitude of Australian Governments and American Administrations to the situation in East Timor between December 1960 and December 1975:

On 14 December 1960, the United Nations General Assembly approved a Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, although Portugal and Australia were among the nine countries which abstained on the vote. On 5 February 1963, the Menzies Government came to the conclusion that 'no practicable alternative to eventual Indonesian sovereignty over Portuguese Timor presented itself'. In the United Nations General Assembly the Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon Governments never voted against Portuguese colonialism. My Government was sworn in on 5 December 1972 and immediately voted against that country's colonialism. On 25 April 1974, with the overthrow of the Government in Lisbon by the Armed Forces Movement, the new Portuguese Government was committed to decolonisation. In August 1975 civil war broke out between the new-born parties in Dili, the capital of East Timor. During the night of 27 August, the Portuguese Governor and his officers decamped to the offshore island of Atauro.

On 13 November 1995 Henry Kissinger was asked at a business luncheon in Sydney about his and President Ford's reaction when, at their departure from Jakarta airport on 6 December 1975, they were told about Indonesia's imminent landings in Timor. Kissinger replied:

We didn't know much about East Timor. All we knew was that West Timor was Indonesian and that East Timor was Portuguese and that the Portuguese had already declared that they were leaving. When President Ford and I were leaving, the Indonesians told us at the airport that they were going to invade in the next few days. To us it looked like India taking Goa and it looked like the normal evolution of the end of colonial rule. It was also the year in which Viet Nam had collapsed and the Cubans were putting arms into Angola. We were not looking for a fight with Indonesia over a country we didn't know much about.

Before dawn on 7 December Indonesian marines and paratroopers landed in Dili. The Governor and his officers sailed home in three new Portuguese frigates commissioned in February, June and October 1975. The heirs of Vasco de Gama never fired a shot.

The Balibo Episode

There have been three official reports on the deaths of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo on 16 October 1975. The first, by Mr Tom Sherman, chairman of the National Crime Authority (1992-96) and former Australian Government Solicitor, was initiated by Foreign Minister Evans in late 1995 and furnished to Foreign Minister Downer in June 1996. Sherman found there was

sufficient credible evidence to conclude that it is more likely than not that they were killed a. at Balibo early in the morning of 16 October 1975, probably before 7.00am; b. by members of an attacking force under Indonesian officers consisting of Indonesian irregular troops and anti-Fretilin East Timorese; and c. in circumstances of continuing fighting between Fretilin and anti-Fretilin forces.

On 20 October 1998 the ABC's Foreign Correspondent TV program claimed that recent accounts from three East Timorese contained significant new information on the deaths. On 28 October Downer employed Sherman, who was no longer a public servant, to evaluate any information emerging from or relevant to the ABC program. On 25 January 1999 he concluded:

I believe all relevant factors were discussed in the 1996 report. The only additional light which has been cast on this issue was the account which suggests that the Balibo 5 became separated from the Fretilin defenders at an early stage of the attack.

Attached to Mr Sherman's second report was the letter I sent to President Suharto about the five on 7 November 1975.

In my book Abiding Interests (1997) I recalled my warnings to the leader of the five:

Before Greg Shackleton left for Timor I had spoken to him twice at Channel 7, where he produced the Sunday program This Week. On 18 September, before I recorded an interview on the Budget, he told me that he was taking a team to cover the civil war in East Timor. I warned him that the Australian Government had no way of protecting him or his colleagues. At the end of the interview I responded to questions on East Timor:

It is a Portuguese colony and the Portuguese Government ought to accept responsibility instead of just clearing out and dropping their bundle ... We've provided a very great amount of transport and communications to help the contending forces in Timor to get together and settle their differences ... Fretilin hasn't got to its present position as a result of self-determination. They got the Portuguese Army's weapons and they then tried to clean up their opponents. That's not an act of self-determination ... There are three contending parties. They've all emerged in less than two years. They ought to get together. We have supported all along the idea of self-determination. The Portuguese ought to help in that process and the Timorese parties ought to get together and help it ... We don't support any of the parties ... That's why we spent a lot of time, a fair amount of money, a lot of Air Force effort and communications to help the Portuguese envoy get the parties together.

In Melbourne on 25 September 1975, during the second session of the Australian Constitutional Convention, at which I was again leading the Commonwealth delegation, André Pasquier, the regional delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross for South-East Asia, and Leon Stubbings, the secretary-general of the Australian Red Cross Society, sought an urgent meeting with me. At the end of August my Government had provided Pasquier with radio equipment and an RAAF plane for use in East Timor. By the first week in September, 15 Red Cross members were supplying the only medical service in East Timor. On 18 September my Government gave $100 000 to ICRC programs in the territory. On 25 September Pasquier and Stubbings sought assistance for programs in West Timor, to which 40 000 East Timorese, including UDT and Apodeti combatants, had fled from Fretilin. In 1970 the estimated populations of West and East Timor were 2 475 000 and 610 270. The comparable figures would be about a quarter of a million refugees landing in Australia. My Government provided $150 000.

On 28 September I gave a live interview about the Constitutional Convention on This Week. I gave Shackleton the Red Cross information and again warned him that the Australian Government had no way of protecting him or his colleagues. Nevertheless, he took his team to Dili on 10 October and to Balibo the next day. On the way they passed three ABC TV newsmen and an AAP correspondent who were returning to Dili. On 12 October Horta met the rival Channel 9 newsmen when they alighted in Dili and drove them straight to Balibo. Horta left Balibo on 14 October and four Portuguese television newsmen left on 15 October. In one of his despatches Shackleton told Channel 7 that it was the team's intention to link up with Indonesian troops should there be an invasion. Cyril Jones, the channel's chief of staff and news producer at the time, has disclosed that they appeared confident that this could be achieved.

Department's book

A report on Portuguese Timor - Political Situation and Prospects, co-authored by Dunn on 3 July 1974, was included in the book Australia and the Incorporation of Portuguese Timor 1974-1976 published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2000. The earlier Dunn report should have been included in the book.

In August 2001 I wrote to the Secretary of the Department about the shoddy editing of the book:

As the first Australian Prime Minister to address the UN General Assembly since Menzies, I set out the Australian policy on East Timor on 30 September 1974. I spoke in the presence of the Australian, Indonesian and Portuguese Foreign Ministers. Not only does your book omit the passages on East Timor but it gets the date wrong. Just two lines of my address are quoted at the foot of page 120 and on page xix the date is given as 2 October. On that date I was with the Australian Ambassador in Washington. On 4 October Foreign Minister Willesee and I had discussions with President Ford and Secretary Kissinger.

On page xxi the book lists "17 March [1975] - Australian Parliamentary delegation visits Portuguese Timor". It was not a delegation from the Parliament but from the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. The six members, led by John Kerin, met the newborn political parties, Apodeti, Fretilin and UDT, and made a report.

In the book there is a photograph with the caption:

Australian Parliamentary Delegation leaving Darwin for Dili, 16 September 1975: (from left) Rick Collins of Australian Associated Press, Senator Neville Bonner, Michael Darby of ASIAT, Senator Arthur Gietzelt and Ken Fry MP.

Here again there was no such delegation. The Liberal and ALP senators and the ALP MHR were on a frolic with Darby, who was the Liberal candidate against me in Werriwa in May 1974 and became the head of ASIAT. They were flown in East Timor by Frank Favaro. Bonner returned to Australia after 10 1/2 hours and Fry and Gietzelt the following day. Darby, on behalf of Fretilin, had accepted the surrender of Baucau on 8 September and remained a spokesman for Fretilin. (Between 14 and 17 September Prince Charles, the Kerrs, the Whitlams, Malcolm Fraser and Garfield Barwick were in Port Moresby for the PNG independence celebrations.)

Frank Favaro is described in documents 215, 244 and 275 and on page 846. The book should also acknowledge that he was an ASIS agent. (That's why I sacked W.T. Robertson in front of Renouf and other departmental heads.)

General Stone is mentioned in documents 269, 285 and on page 852. The book does not mention the circumstances in which he and Kerry Packer took the first Channel 9 team to East Timor in September 1975.

There is a reference to 'Jim Dunn (ACFOA)' in document 279 of 20 October 1975. The Australian Red Cross request through ACFOA is mentioned in document 306 of 29 October 1975. The book does not mention that the Red Cross then withdrew from ACFOA because Red Cross neutrality was compromised by Dunn's support for Fretilin.

The Introduction could not have made its assessment of the relations between Willesee and me if the author(s) had checked with the volumes of Hansard. Willesee and I were using all our efforts to persuade the gutless Portuguese to carry out their responsibilities to get all three Timorese parties to lay down their arms. I agree with everything that Willesee said in the Senate.

President Ford's visit to Indonesia in December 1975 is mentioned in a note to document 345. The book does not mention that the President and Secretary Kissinger assented to the landing of Indonesian marines and paratroopers in Dili.

In December 2001 the Secretary replied:

I am embarrassed by but grateful for your pointing out errors in the publication Australia and the Indonesian Incorporation of Portuguese Timor 1974-1976. The error in the chronology was occasioned by a discrepancy in the official record used by the editors of the volume. Volume 45 of Australian Foreign Affairs Record publishes the text of your speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 30 September 1974 [pp.576-83] but also erroneously lists you as addressing the General Assembly on 2 October [p.721].

I am grateful, too, for your pointing out that an exact description of the delegation that visited Portuguese Timor in March 1975 would be that it was a Federal Parliamentary Labor Party delegation. As for the delegation that visited Timor in September 1975, I thank you for making me aware of its exact status. Some confusion had been caused to the editors by Senator Gietzelt's having described his presence there as part of an official delegation in the Parliamentary Handbook. The editors of the volume should nevertheless have been more exact in their descriptions.

Santamaria's reflections

In My Italian Notebook I had also examined the diverse views of B.A. Santamaria on East Timor:

The Australian published a weekly column by Santamaria. In his first piece, on 5 March 1976, he mentioned the Whitlam 'revolution'. After the deaths at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili on 12 November 1991, which he said were between 50 and 100 in number, he wrote on 4-5 January 1992:

Of all the nations caught up in the East Timor issue, Portugal's role is the least creditable. Throughout the period of Portuguese dominion, it did next to nothing for the Timorese. The present tragedy, furthermore, stems largely from the collapse of Portugal's overseas empire following the seizure of power in Portugal by the communist/Maoist junta in April 1974 ... In East Timor the Portuguese military not only decamped but handed the armouries over to the largely communist Fretilin forces ... Portugal no longer has any role to play in South East Asia, and its present attempt to restore the pre-Indonesian situation in East Timor cannot succeed and is simply mischievous.

On 15-16 July 1995 he wrote:

The tragedy of East Timor might well have been averted ... if the Australian government of the day, headed by Gough Whitlam, had committed Australia to join with the Indonesians in establishing a trusteeship over East Timor. The project was perfectly feasible in 1975, when the then Portuguese communist government ran out on its responsibilities to East Timor and attempted to transfer power to Fretilin.

Santamaria was not the first commentator, inside or outside the Parliament, to ignore authoritative and contemporary documents. The memorandum on East Timor that Barwick had given to the Menzies Cabinet on 21 February 1963 had been made available under the 30-year rule and was kept in the National Archives established by my Government. In it Barwick referred to correspondence between Menzies and Salazar. In a letter to Menzies on 1 March 1963 Salazar raised the possibility of an Australian dominion or condominium in Portuguese Timor. On 15 October 1963 Menzies replied: 'Let me say that this is not a solution that we have ever contemplated or would contemplate. It is a solution which in my view would appeal neither to the Timorese nor the Australian people.'

Senate inquiries

There have been two Senate inquiries into the situation in East Timor. On 26 November 1981 the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence was asked to report on the human rights and conditions of the people of East Timor. The Committee reported in September 1983. Peter Hastings and I gave evidence on the tour of the territory that he, as Foreign Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, and I, on behalf of the Australian Red Cross, had made by jeeps and helicopters. We made six flights in an Aérospatiale Alouette III and five in a Bell Jet Ranger. We were unarmed and unprotected.

On 30 September 1998 the Senate asked its Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to conduct an Inquiry into East Timor. The Committee has published my 183 pages of submissions and my oral evidence. The only other parliamentarian to give evidence was my minister, Tom Uren, who was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Timor in 1943. The Committee reported in November 2000.

Press Vendetta

Opening a photographic exhibition in the Old Parliament House in Canberra on 11 November 2000 I ridiculed Hamish McDonald's articles in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Hamish McDonald alleges that I sacked the head of ASIS on 21 October 1975 in a tirade which could be heard outside: "You're fired. And you can forget about your super too!" Sure I sacked the head of ASIS in 1973. I had had to tell him twice to put an end to the work his agents in our embassy in Chile were doing to undermine Allende on behalf of the CIA. Earlier his agents had worked with the same ambassador to undermine Sihanouk in Cambodia on behalf of the CIA. In 1975 he employed an agent in Dili without my authority. I sacked him in front of four other permanent heads. There were no corridors outside. McDonald also embroiders a story about 16 October 1975 by asserting that I took Willesee to a dinner at Government House for Tun Razak. He had not taken the trouble to read the vice-regal notices in his own newspaper. Willesee was not at the dinner.

The credibility of the Ball-McDonald book was comprehensively demolished by the conclusions in the Blick Report on 3 June 2002:

· The Ball/McDonald account reports (page 118) that Australian intelligence intercepted a communication about the deaths of the newsmen on 16 October 1975 within a couple of hours of their being killed.

· In fact, although there was intelligence on 16 October about the attack at Balibo, first intimation Australian intelligence had that Australians might have been killed was not until 17 October, after the publication of OCI's situation report for that day. The Director of JIO promptly reported this to the Minister for defence.

· OCI circulated its first formal report about the deaths on the following business day, ie Monday 20 October. It included in this a range of other intelligence that had become available in the meantime.

· The allegation common to informants from within the intelligence community and the book Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra was that DSD had intelligence before 16 October that, if passed to the government, could have alerted it to the possibility of harm to the newsmen.

· The inquiry concluded that intelligence material meeting this description did not exist, although there was intelligence material relating to journalists in Timor.

· A second, associated allegation was that the aforesaid material was not passed to government and, indeed, that DSD deliberately withheld a particular item of intelligence. The inquiry concluded that all relevant intelligence was passed to government and, in particular, that the intelligence report most closely resembling that said in Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra to have been suppressed, was circulated well before there was any intelligence about the deaths.

· Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra also mentioned certain material that the authors believed would provide support for the above allegations. To the extent possible the inquiry pursued these leads, both by examination of documents and discussions with witnesses. They failed to provide the support suggested in the book.

· Finally, there was an allegation that a JIO officer visited a defence facility shortly after the killings and removed records. The inquiry found no evidence of such a visit or removal of records.

In tabling the Blick report Senator Hill stated:

This is now the third investigation into matters relating to the Balibo events. The conclusions of all three are similar: intelligence material was passed rapidly to government and there was no holding back or suppression of data by the agencies tasked with providing such material. This episode was a tragic one for the journalists involved and their families. I am satisfied that Mr Blick has conducted a thorough and independent investigation and I accept his findings. I hope that his conclusions can at last provide closure in relation to key aspects of the Balibo affair.

The Sydney Morning Herald has not published the Blick Report.

Bill Nicol's book

Bill Nicol was in Lisbon when the Balibo five were killed. His is undoubtedly the best contemporary report of the political scene in Portugal as well as in Timor. He was not sidetracked by the Balibo sideshow. He has had the grace to review some of his earlier assessments. His epilogues give a realistic assessment of the internal and external problems and assets of the Newborn State. Indonesians, Timorese and Australians will benefit from reading the book which I now launch.


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