By Wendy Robertson
"Suharto is a Butcher; free East Timor Now", "Free Xanana Gusmao, Indonesia Out Now" and "No Blood For Oil" were some of the chants that echoed through city streets across Australia on Saturday, May 13. Around 1500 people across Australia took part in the National Day of Action to Free East Timor.
The National Day of Action was organised by the socialist youth organisation Resistance and supported by East Timorese organisations, as well as many East Timor solidarity committees, student unions and trade unions.
In its message of solidarity, the Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET) highlighted the role of young East Timorese in the struggle: "Today we recall the heroism of the youth of East Timor, pay homage to those who have fallen in the struggle and express our utmost solidarity to those who continue to suffer and to labour".
The importance of the rallies' demand for an end to military ties between the Australian government and the Indonesian government was conveyed in a message received from the National Council of Maubere Resistance: "By providing military support in the form of training to the Indonesian armed forces, Australia has become an accomplice in the crimes of the Indonesian dictatorial regime".
In Adelaide, Philippa Stanford reports, 200 demonstrators attended the action at Victoria Square. Participants at the rally listened to several speakers call on the Labor federal government to end its military and diplomatic support for the Indonesian regime.
Speakers included Andy Alcock from the Campaign for an Independent East Timor, the longest-running Australian East Timor solidarity group. David Barreto gave greetings to the rally from the East Timorese community in Adelaide.
Davey Thomason from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union spoke of the history of the trade union movement providing international solidarity and urged any members of the Labor Party at the rally to leave the party because of its complicity in the atrocities in East Timor.
Eleanor Lawson from Resistance said, "The best thing we can do here in Australia to show our solidarity with the East Timorese people is to build a movement which includes high school students, university students and young people from all walks of life."
The rally then marched to the Australian Defence Recruiting Office, where Bruce Steer from the Bougainville Action Group spoke of the similarities between the situations in Bougainville and East Timor. David Barreto presented a postcard to defence minister Robert Ray with messages of protest from demonstrators. Participants then marched to Santos, where they placed crosses at the doors of the oil multinational in memory of those who have died in East Timor.
In Brisbane, 150 people marched to the army recruitment office and then to Garuda Airlines, reports Zanny Begg. An East Timor "freedom now" banner was placed on top of the army recruitment centre. Speakers included Maria Cortereal from the East Timorese community, Sam Watson Junior from the Aboriginal community, Tayna McDonnell from Resistance, Zanny Begg from the Democratic Socialist Party, Clare Moore, secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, and Nick Everett from Aksi — Indonesia Solidarity Action.
Watson explained the link between the struggles of the indigenous East Timorese and Australian Aborigines. "If people don't believe what's happening in East Timor, all they need to do is look at the Australian government's treatment of Aboriginal people", he said. "Like the East Timorese, Aboriginal people are forcibly sterilised, they face germ warfare and are massacred." He called for ongoing solidarity between Australia and East Timor.
Moore called on workers to struggle together to stop repression all around the world. Workers are the majority of society and therefore society should represent their interests.
Everett said, "The recent arrests of student and worker militants in Indonesia show the brutality of the Suharto regime". He called for support for the democracy movement in Indonesia as vital to the liberation of East Timor.
In Canberra, despite pouring rain, 100 people attended a speak-out in Garema Place. Maree Roberts from the Democratic Socialist Party, Alex Morton from Resistance, Graham Mathews from Green Left Weekly and Bill Kelly from the Campaign for an Independent East Timor spoke.
Katrina Dean in Hobart reports that street theatre at the Salamanca Markets highlighted why the Australian government supports the illegal occupation of East Timor: "It makes for very good business". This was followed by a public forum addressed by Jenny Harrera from the Hobart East Timorese community, who spoke about the independence movement and Natalie Woodlock from Resistance, who described Australia's role in the Asia-Pacific.
From Melbourne, Sean Healy writes that a lively rally of 500 people gathered and marched from the GPO to Treasury Place to the ministerial suits of Gareth Evans, Paul Keating and Robert Ray. Speakers included Joaquin Santos from Fretilin, Chantal Wynter from Resistance, Ben Reid from Aksi, and representatives of Australian Humanitarian Aid for Bougainville, the Community Aid Abroad East Timor solidarity group and the Democratic Socialist Party.
Wynter said: "Australian people have responsibility to campaign for East Timor's independence given the Australian government's support for the occupation. We need a mass movement which involves university and high school students, workers and trade unionists and people in the communities. For our part, Resistance is totally committed to the fight for the liberation of East Timor."
All of the speakers condemned the role of the ALP, in particular Gareth Evans for Australia's military aid to Indonesia. Several of the speakers pointed out the similarity to Australian foreign policy on Bougainville.
In Newcastle, Alex Bainbridge reports, 70 people gathered for a lively speak-out in the Hunter Street Mall and marched to the Tax Office to highlight the fact that Australian tax dollars are spent on military cooperation. One hundred and sixty people signed a petition against military ties, and many others stopped to listen. The day of action was endorsed by Australia Asia Solidarity Network and the Newcastle Trades Hall Council. Speakers included John dos Santos from the East Timorese community and Geoff Payne, a rank and file trade unionist working at BHP's Newcastle steelworks.
Resistance activist Kamala Emanuel stated that the government's policy on East Timor reflected the ALP's concern for profits before the interests and needs of ordinary people. "To this extent", she said, "their policy on East Timor is in complete harmony with their economic rationalist agenda at home".
Vaarunika Dharmapala reports from Perth that 80 people rallied. Speakers included Jaqui Clee from Resistance, who spoke about military ties between Australia and Indonesia. Clee called for building a political alternative to the ALP, which puts profits before the needs of people.
Francisco Soares of Fretilin talked about the East Timorese struggle for independence. Bill Game from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union condemned the ALP's role in Indonesia and East Timor.
In Sydney, Andrew Hall reports, a vibrant march through the centre of the city by 300 people demanded and chanted for a Free East Timor and for the Australian government to end military ties with the Suharto regime.
Support for an independent East Timor was shown by the broad range of speakers, including Resistance, Fretilin, UDT, Aksi, Free West Papua, the Greens, Filipina unionist Terasita Carpio, Amnesty International and the Democratic Socialist Party.
Highlights of the rally included the large number of East Timorese and young people who participated.
The rally finished with a call to continue the actions exposing the lies of the Labor government on East Timor and to keep building the movement until independence for East Timor is won.