Subject: Fernanda Borges - Keynote speech 5th March 2009

Fernanda Borges - Keynote speech 5th March 2009

Today at 6:29am

Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2009

National Gallery of Victoria. (Check against delivery.)

Thank you so much for the privilege of letting me be part of these celebrations. Itís a real pleasure to be back in Melbourne. Our family was supposed to settle down in Melbourne when we came to Australia as refugees 30 years ago but our sponsor (my aunty) moved to Darwin, so we settled down there instead.

Itís good to see the great community spirit in Melbourne. We watched the fires on TV and felt solidarity with you. After all, we know what this kind of destruction is like. In 1999, 80% of our countryís infrastructure was burnt down by the withdrawing Indonesian military. It was at that crucial time that the people of Victoria and other states got out into the streets and demanded that something be done to stop the killing. And that is why InterFET went in ≠ the Australian Defence Force-led peacekeeping mission.

During World War II, our East Timorese people sheltered Australian commandos from Japanese forces.

These are important ties, and I hope these bonds of friendship and support continue well into the future.

Iíve been asked to say a few words about my personal journey of leadership. Iíll keep these remarks brief so we can all enjoy the festivities and the great food and drink this evening.

I was born in 1969 while East Timor was still a Portuguese colony. East Timor was invaded by the Indonesian military in 1975. Before the invasion, my mum and dad and our family fled across the border to West Timor. We lived in a refugee camp there for about 12 months. We wanted to return to our home but we really couldnít because of the human rights violations that were being perpetrated there.

After about 12 months we went to Portugal. It wasnít easy because we were told we would disappear in the middle of the ocean. But we took the risk because we realized that we could die one way or another, and it would be preferable to die trying for freedom than die doing nothing.

Our family arrived in Portugal in August or September 1976. We lived in a refugee camp in Portugal, and then in 1976 we left Portugal for Australia.

As I said earlier, our family was supposed to settle down in Melbourne but my aunty (our sponsor) moved to Darwin, so we settled down there instead.

I lived in Darwin till 1986, and then - aged 16 - I moved to Wollongong to study Commerce and Economics. I lived in the YWCA in the womenís lodging.

I was not involved in East Timorese party politics but in community meetings.

I benefited from my upbringing and education in Australia, and the experience of working in a corporate environment in Australia, with its traditions of professionalism and reliability.

I became actively involved in the struggle after the Santa Cruz massacre (12 November 1991).

I saw Indonesiaís economic woes, and the corruption involved in Indonesiaís banking system. I was a business banking manager in my region. These were places where men tended to dominate. I tried to break through those barriers by being well-informed, well-read and well-prepared. I had to learn to not take a back seat.

Being a woman in a largely male-dominated political class in East Timor, I tend to be more willing to listen, and to think about issues a lot more. I have learnt to not be scared of questioning things. I try - and I think women tend to do this - to drill into the details a lot more.

These are just my own experiences, but perhaps some of what Iíve been saying may be part of your experiences too.

I worked in the banking sector, where there were a lot of changes in the 1990s. A lot of new banks had entered Australia after Hawke and Keating deregulated the industry, and then in the 1990s there were bank mergers. Change management was something I had to get proficient in very quickly, and I believe that experience has helped me in a fluid environment in East Timor.

I think I have something to offer. Politics in Timor would benefit if more professional, technically correct knowledge became available. This can take us away from the personalisation of issues. It would allow us to respect the rule of law and have a coherent approach based on values and the rule of law.

I was working for National Mutual Royal Bank, which was bought out by ANZ bank. I later worked for Westpac bank, but after the Indonesian military left East Timor in 1999, I came here to Melbourne to get ANZ bank to come to East Timor. They are still operating in East Timor, and are the only Australian bank to be operating there.

I hope to get to know you all in the years to come. I hope you stay in touch with me and my friends in East Timor Women Australia.

There is something else Iíd like to ask of you: in order to uphold the rule of law, in order to have justice for the terrible things that were done to our people, especially our women, during the occupation of our country, I hope you will speak up for justice for East Timor at every opportunity. International law is supposed to guarantee that those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity face justice. We must have an international tribunal for those who committed such serious crimes. It is also important to deny a visa to those suspected of serious crimes.

But as a small nation, we on our own cannot achieve this. It will take time, we recognise this. But with your help, and especially if you as individuals and as groups break the silence and speak up about justice for these terrible crimes, I am confident that we can achieve justice.

Thank you once again for your company this evening, and I hope we begin new connections and strengthen old ones.

Fernanda Borges


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