Subject: Is Defence Force chief now doing coroner's job, too?

Sydney Morning Herald


Is Defence Force chief now doing coroner's job, too?

June 15, 2007

If reported correctly, the statement of Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston following a meeting he had on Friday with a former general, now Governor Sutiyoso of Jakarta, is an astonishing intrusion into the forensic process being conducted by the Deputy State Coroner, Dorelle Pinch, into the manner and cause of death of Brian Peters, one of the Balibo Five, in October 1975.

Last Friday Reuters quoted Air Chief Marshal Houston as saying: "I accept his explanation and I have never doubted his innocence." An impeccable character reference if ever there was one. From interlocutor to advocate and thence to judgment in one sentence.

The Deputy Coroner thought enough of the evidence of Sutiyoso's connection to Balibo on that fateful morning in 1975, as an alleged member of Team Susi - the group which witnesses describe as shooting at the journalists as they tried to surrender - to send a police officer to invite the Governor to give evidence before her.

It appears, however, the Governor has decided to give his evidence through none other than our Chief of the Australian Defence Forces. It is a stunning achievement for Sutiyoso, who now stands in the diplomacy stakes at 3½ apologies to nil, in his favour. After all, he has fulsome apologies from our ambassador in Jakarta, our Premier, our Defence Forces Chief and the half from our Foreign Minister.

Air Chief Marshal Houston is reported as expressing regret to Sutiyoso for the "unacceptable circumstances", presumably a reference to the Sydney hotel "incident". He did not say if his "old friend" conveyed a similar expression for the killing by his military colleagues of the five unarmed civilians. Just days earlier that shooting was described at the inquest as a breach of the Geneva Conventions, something I do hope Air Chief Marshal Houston is familiar with.

One is moved to ask whether the apology proffered to Governor Sutiyoso was made on behalf of the Australian Defence Force or only by Air Chief Marshal Houston personally. If the latter, one would have reasonably expected it to have been made in private. This much at least must be clarified by him.

Air Chief Marshal Houston should likewise be required to make a statement of all he knows, from all sources, about the former general's movements on October 16, 1975. One assumes he carefully examined the Governor on that before he made his public apologies.

On behalf of the relatives of the Balibo Five, whom I have represented at the inquest, when can we expect to hear from Air Chief Marshal Houston?

Rodney Lewis
West Ryde

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