By Pip Hinman
SYDNEY — "Australians can be made to understand the problem with trading with Indonesia's genocidal generals", renowned author and film maker John Pilger told a 450-strong meeting here on December 2. "Trade is not the holy grail, as the Australian government would have us believe."
Organised by Green Left Weekly, the public meeting at Trades Hall was packed to well over capacity (some 60 people had to be turned away), evidence of the strength of feeling in Australia that East Timor has a right to independence.
Gina Soares, from the November 12 Committee, Dita Sari, general secretary of the Indonesian Workers Struggle Centre and Max Lane, a founding editor of Inside Indonesia, co-convenor of Aksi and national executive member of the Democratic Socialist Party, also spoke passionately about the struggle for justice in East Timor.
Lillian Crofts from Australian Humanitarian Aid for Bougainville also put the case for her country's sovereignty. "This is the first war where Australia has complete control", she said, urging Australians to pressure Canberra — "the control room" — to stop Papua New Guinea's military invasion of the island.
Pilger, whose outspokenness on the Australian government's role in Cambodia and East Timor hasn't won him many friends in high places, recounted his time researching his film on East Timor, Death of a Nation. Holding up a list, compiled by a Timorese priest, of 271 people, from infants to the aged, who died at the hands of Indonesian soldiers in just one village in 1983, he said, "I would like to put this document of genocide under the noses of Prime Minister Keating and Foreign Minister Evans".
The killing, as the 1991 massacre of 270 people in Dili proved, hasn't stopped. "Those who collaborate with the Indonesian regime, who give comfort and support to it, who appease it, are dealing with genocidists", Pilger said.
"The Australian intelligence community has long been in bed with the Indonesian defence and security apparatus", Pilger noted. "Evans knows how many people were killed in Dili."
The Australian government's close collaboration with the Indonesian regime goes back some way. Pilger recalled how in August 1976 the then prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, was warned by the White House to toe the line and support Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. In October 1976, Australia was the first country to give de facto recognition to the Indonesian military takeover. This year, Pilger noted, "Keating went to the US to tell Congress off for being too harsh on the Indonesian regime. For that Keating was called a 'comrade-in-arms'" by the Suharto government.
In January 1995, the International Court of Justice in the Hague will pass judgment on the legality of the Timor Gap Treaty. According to legal experts, Pilger said, a 1970 United Nations resolution (which Australia helped to draft), would deem the treaty "a contract with a thief".
"We have a lot to do. We need to let as many people know about the facts as possible. But we also need to do more than that", Pilger said. "We need to build the movement for independence in East Timor and oppose the 'special status' position for East Timor put forward by Evans."
For Dita Sari, while international campaigns have an important impact, they are not enough. The Indonesian working class has an important role to play in the struggle for East Timor's independence, she said. "It's the same regime which in 1965 killed 2 million people and the same regime which pays workers less than the minimum wage."
Sari made the point that there are more than 120 Australian companies in Indonesia, including in the Timor Gap. Both Indonesian and Australian workers had a crucial role to play in the struggle for East Timor's independence. But, she cautioned, that will require a struggle by the Indonesian trade union movement against the yellow union, the SPSI, and by Australian unionists against the ACTU.
Vice president of the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) Gina Soares criticised the Australian government's hypocritical stand over human rights. We have to question Keating's motives for insisting that he doesn't feel obliged to raise the human rights issue every time he meets Suharto, she said. "Fretilin and the UDT have vowed that they will continue to fight until the last Indonesian soldier leaves East Timor.
"We are committed to national unity, and we demand that the Australian government suspend economic cooperation with Indonesia until it leaves East Timor."
"The resolve and courage of the East Timorese independence fighters, a group of which recently occupied the US Embassy in Jakarta to get their message out, is one sign that we can afford to be optimistic", said Max Lane. "The emerging alliance between the East Timorese nationalists and the Indonesian working class is another sign."
Lane said that while the Indonesian government had not yet changed its policy towards East Timor, the Indonesian political elite is feeling the pressure.
"Will Suharto change his policy? Yes, because the East Timorese have resolved that they will make East Timor ungovernable."
Lane called on all democratically minded people to organise together to demand that the Keating government suspend all war cooperation with the Indonesian regime and that the ACTU ban work in the Timor Gap — much as it helped the Indonesian independence movement in 1945.
"The more noise we make, the more we rally, the more we refuse to vote for parties which support dictators at the expense of human rights, the closer to independence East Timor will be."