Hawke, Evans maintain soft stand against Indonesia

December 4, 1991

By Norm Dixon

In the face of widespread calls for tougher action against the Indonesian regime over the Dili massacre and the continued illegal occupation of the East Timor, the Australian government refuses to do anything that may disrupt the cozy relationship that has developed between Australian big business and the generals in Jakarta. That especially includes taking any effective action to defend the human rights and right to self-determination of the East Timorese people.

Aid agencies, human rights groups, the Timorese community, solidarity groups and some sections of the Labor Party and trade union movement have demanded that the Australian government support the creation of an independent inquiry under United Nations auspices to investigate the massacre, end all military aid to Indonesia and withdraw Australia's recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor.

Many of these groups have also called for Australia to campaign for UN-supervised talks between Indonesia and the Timorese resistance. Prime Minister Bob Hawke and foreign minister Gareth Evans have resisted these calls at every turn.

On November 22, the Australian Catholic Bishops Committee for Justice, Development and Peace called for Australia to move in the UN General Assembly for the Dili massacre to be investigated by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

In Melbourne, the Australian Workers Union said it would delay ships carrying Indonesian goods by at least 24 hours. The Victorian Trades Hall Council called for national union bans on Indonesia and called for the Australian government to end recognition of Indonesia's claim to East Timor and to cut aid to Indonesia. It also demanded that sanctions similar to those imposed against Iraq be applied to Indonesia.

Over the November 22-23 weekend, the Tasmanian ALP state council urged the Australian government to cut aid to Indonesia until a UN investigation was permitted to take place. It also called for the withdrawal of Australia's recognition of East Timor's annexation. A similar motion was presented to the federal Labor caucus on November 26.

But the motion's drafters allowed it to become so watered down and toothless that it merely endorsed Labor's present feeble policy. Evans met with them late into the night, pleading that caucus should not force the government into any "preemptive and provocative" moves. In the end, the motion dropped calls for a UN investigation and sanctions and accepted the Indonesian commission of inquiry.

The Australian government has carefully skirted supporting an inquiry independent of the Indonesian government or drawn from the international community.

Australian officials have made plain that an of November 12 would be that the troops in Dili lost control and over-reacted to the demonstration. That the massacre was the result of a 16-year policy of military repression directed from the very top of the Indonesian regime has already been ruled out by government spokespeople at all levels. For example on November 19, Department of Foreign Affairs secretary Richard Woolcott said: "My view is that this was not directed from the centre; that this incident arises from not particularly well-trained, and disorderly, troops."

The Australian government refuses to question Indonesia's brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor, an occupation that has killed over 200,000 people in the last 16 years, because Australian big business is doing particularly well there. Exports jumped 40% over the last financial year to $1.5 billion, and Australia has over $800 million invested there.

The most important economic factor that drives Australia's policy toward East Timor is the oil deposits that lie between Timor and Australia. Australia and Indonesia signed the Timor Gap treaty in December 1989. It allows access to oil in a jointly administered area of the Timor Sea. If Australia withdrew recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor, the treaty would become null and void. Australia is due to award oil exploration permits on December 10.

"Australia has its eyes on oil in East Timor and that's one of the reasons it supports Indonesia's actions", said Alfredo Ferreira, an East Timorese representative in Darwin.

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