Subject: Aust pledges more East Timor aid
PM launches East Timor development plans, Australia rebuffs East Timor on seasonal workers
Aust pledges more East Timor aid
Monday, 25 August, 2008
Australia will be a reliable partner for East Timor for decades, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the impoverished nation's visiting premier Xanana Gusmao, as he pledged further aid.
Australia will "be a secure, reliable long-term partner with (East Timor) not only in the months ahead, not just in the years ahead, but in the decades ahead," Mr Rudd said during a joint press conference with Mr Gusmao.
After a receiving a full ceremonial welcome at Parliament House Canberra, Mr Gusmao held talks with Mr Rudd on issues ranging from training and education to defence and food security in East Timor.
Rudd pledges action
The discussions focused on ways of boosting education and public sector efficiency in the young nation.
"We have agreed to launch a joint education, training and employment initiative which will come back to us with specific recommendations for action by year's end," Mr Rudd says.
"In particular, what we are looking at is the needs in the (East Timor) public sector and its public service for an intensified training programme ... in order to make sure that East Timor is properly equipped to address its challenges for development."
The number of scholarships available for East Timorese students in Australia will also almost double, rising from 12 to 20 next year at a cost of three million dollars.
Australia has pledged 24 million dollars out of its East Timor aid programme of 96 million dollars to boost vocational education and ease youth unemployment.
Money for food, defence
Mr Rudd also promised an additional 3.8 million dollars to bolster food security in the Pacific island nation.
The initiative includes 1.3 million dollars for a mother and child nutrition program and 2.5 million for a seed programme to boost farm yields by improving crop varieties.
Mr Rudd announced that Australia would financially back the construction of a 5.7-million-dollar training facility for the East Timor Defence Force.
The facility will offer specialist training in areas such as communications, logistics, engineering and medical skills.
Construction began in Metinaro last month and training courses will begin in January next year, Mr Rudd's office says.
PM launches East Timor development plans
August 25, 2008 - 7:57PM
East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has failed to convince the Rudd government to include the tiny nation in a Pacific guest worker scheme.
Instead, Dili and Canberra will continue discussions about whether East Timorese workers can take part in the program, which is expected to begin later this year.
East Timor is keen to be a part of a trial scheme launched by the federal government earlier this month ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Under the pilot program, 2,500 workers from Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea will be given temporary work visas to perform seasonal agricultural work, such as fruit-picking.
Before his meeting with Mr Gusmao, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd indicated East Timor would be ineligible to take part because it was not a member of the forum.
"I'm looking forward to the discussions with the East Timorese, we'll work this through, but the scheme as we announced it at the Niue Pacific Islands Forum summit is as it stands," he told ABC Radio.
However, he softened his stance during a later press conference, indicating the issue would be considered as part of a new education, training and employment initiative.
"One of the matters to report back is this, and that is to be by year's end and possibly earlier, in terms of feasibility," Mr Rudd said.
"But let's take it from the ground up. There's still work to be done."
Mr Gusmao said he understood it would take time to negotiate the issue.
"We agreed with the Australian government, with the prime minister that we will discuss how we can participate and how the Australian government can give us this (opportunity)," he said.
The centrepiece of Monday's discussions was the education, training and employment initiative, to find ways to employ the large number of jobless youth in Timor, and also to bolster the performance of governance institutions, such as the public service.
"We have agreed to launch a joint education, training and employment initiative which will come back to us with specific recommendations for action by year's end," Mr Rudd said.
"In particular, what we are looking at is the needs in the Timor Leste public sector and its public service for an intensified training program - grassroots, middle level and senior level - in order to make sure that East Timor is properly equipped to address its challenges for development."
Australia will also increase from 12 to 20 the number of fully paid undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for East Timorese students to study in Australia.
The Australian government has also significantly increased the number of East Timorese student scholarships for Australia.
Mr Rudd announced the start of construction on a new $5.7 million specialist training centre for the East Timor Defence Force.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, who also met Mr Gusmao, said the funding was part of Australia's enduring commitment to East Timor.
"The specialist training wing will allow the East Timorese Defence Force to continue to develop as a national institution that secures and builds a better future for this vibrant democracy," he said in a statement.
Mr Gusmao thanked Mr Rudd for Australia's friendship, help and support.
"We know that as a close friend ... you will continue to play a very important role in the building of our state," he said.
Australia rebuffs East Timor on seasonal workers
25 August 2008
CANBERRA - Australia rejected East Timor's pleas to be included in a seasonal worker programme on Monday, with leaders of both countries agreeing to study the idea before allowing poor and jobless Timorese to take part.
Australia has announced a trial scheme for up to 2,500 people from four Pacific island nations to fly in for several months a year to help harvest crops. East Timor, desperately poor and with 40 percent unemployment, had asked to be included.
East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao raised the issue with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd in Canberra on Monday, but both agreed East Timor would not be included until at least the second year of the programme.
"It will take time," Gusmao told reporters at a joint media conference with Rudd, adding it was up to East Timor to create jobs for its young unemployed. "We agreed with the government, with the prime minister, we will discuss how we can participate."
Rudd said officials would report back by the end of the year on the feasibility of Dili one day joining the seasonal workers programme, but until then the scheme would remain limited to South Pacific islanders.
"The East Timorese are not members of the Pacific Islands Forum," Rudd told Australian radio. "The scheme, as we announced it at the Niue Pacific Island Forum summit, is as it stands."
Under the programme, Australia will accept seasonal workers from Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to harvest fruit and vegetables, with farmers saying they have about 22,000 seasonal jobs they can't fill because of labour shortages.
Rudd and Gusmao also discussed security in East Timor, where Australia has about 750 troops and 50 police among more than 2,500 international troops helping to maintain law and order and security in the country.
In 2006, East Timor's army tore apart along regional lines after 600 soldiers were sacked, trigging factional violence that killed 37 people and forced 150,000 from their homes.
In February this year, a militant chief led a failed assassination attempt on East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta, who was critically wounded, and Gusmao, who escaped unharmed.
Gusmao on Monday thanked Canberra for its help and medical treatment given to Ramos Horta, who was hospitalised and spent two months recovering in Australia's northern city of Darwin.
Rudd reaffirmed Australia's commitment to maintain a presence in East Timor and to help with the country's development.
"Australia will be a secure, long-term, reliable partner," Rudd said.
East Timor voted to break from Indonesian rule in 1999, triggering a wave of violence that led to thousands of United-Nations backed peacekeepers to be sent to the country. It gained full independence in May 2002.