"It's looking good", Natasha Simons, Resistance national coordinator, told Green Left Weekly about the 24th Resistance conference, being held July 7-10 in Melbourne. "We are expecting a very enthusiastic crowd. And things will start with a big event, the public rally at the YWCA auditorium with the theme 'Free East Timor — Freedom in the Asia Pacific'."
The rally will support the international campaign for independence in East Timor, an end to military ties with Indonesia and an independent and nuclear-free Pacific. Speakers will come from East Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia.
The Australian government has imprisoned 18 East Timorese who recently arrived in Darwin by boat, fleeing oppression in their homeland. Another 700 East Timorese, many survivors of the November 1991 Dili massacre, have recently arrived seeking permanent residence. One of these survivors, Nunu Santos, an activist in the underground OJETIL organisation, will be a speaker at the conference. He brings the rarely heard story of how the East Timorese youth during the 1980s and 1990s were wakened into political action.
The meeting will be the first time an East Timorese and an Indonesian activist — both from the same generation — will speak on the same platform in Melbourne. Shanti is a leading member of the East Timorese solidarity group, called SPRIM. "The youth in Indonesia, in particular, must defend the right of the East Timorese people to a referendum which will genuinely allow them to determine their future", Shanti told Green Left Weekly.
"Evans and Keating have betrayed both the East Timorese and the Indonesian peoples", according to Jo Brown, a member of the Resistance National Council. "That's why it is so important meeting to have representatives of the two struggles speaking together. That's why we must unite, in Australia and through the Asia-Pacific region."
One person who has played an important role in bringing progressive forces in the region together is Renato Constantino Jr — "RC" as he is known in the Philippines. He convened the first Asia-Pacific conference in support of East Timor last June. He and the other conveners risked imprisonment to fight off attempts by the Filipino government to ban the conference. The conference was a great success putting East Timor permanently on the Philippines political agenda.
RC will be representing the Philippines point of view on East Timor and the wider issues of freedom in Asia and the Pacific. Michael Garay, a leader of the progressive KAMALAYAN student movement, will also be present and will be speaking later in the conference on the youth movement in his country.
As part of the attempt to suppress the Manila conference, the Philippines government issued deportation orders against a number of the international delegates. Amongst the 10 who were summoned to the immigration court was Max Lane, a writer for Green Left Weekly. Following in the spirit of the conference organisers, he and the nine others also defied the orders, refusing to acknowledge the summons and challenging the government to come to the conference venue at the University of the Philippines to detain them. Again the Filipino regime backed down.
"We need the biggest possible movement in Australia to fight the money-grubbing foreign policy of Evans and Keating", Lane told Green Left Weekly. "Profits and dollars are what motivates them, not freedom and independence of the peoples of our region. That has to be the slogan we raise now in Australia: a foreign policy for people, not for profits. East Timor has been sold out, as have Bougainville, Cambodia and the people of Indonesia."
Lane sees the Keating-Evans response to French nuclear tests in the same light. "The only reason the right-wing Chirac government can explode bombs in the Pacific is because it has refused to give independence to its colonies in the region. Where have Evans and Keating stood on this issue over the last 10 years? Quietly in the shadows, that's where, frightened of losing trade with France. Now they expect their prancing to be taken seriously. What a joke!
"What we have to discuss now, and we can make a good start on July 7, is how to build the strongest movement for change here in Australia and in an expanding movement across the region."