Transcript of Question and Answer Session at the Australian Chamber of Commerce Luncheon1
Q: What is Australia's present stance concerning the future of Timor and how is this affecting our foreign relations with Indonesia?
A: First, it isn't our business. We have always said that in South East Asia we want to be helpful and we want proper relationships where they exist. We have some very special relationships-the obvious one is where we are now, Japan-there is a very special relationship; there is a very special relationship with Papua New Guinea; there is also a special relationship with Indonesia, our nearest neighbour with 110 million people.
So the future of Portuguese Timor is a matter for the Portuguese and the Timorese. We have made this very clear. But what we have said is that because we are a close neighbour we ought not to be silent on it; we ought to give an opinion on it. And I have said many many times, that we don't intend to interfere by telling them what to do. Their future should be decided by an act of self-determination recognised by the world. Now I know that every country that has been handed over from a colonial situation to freedom hasn't gone through an act of self-determination. It didn't happen in Mozambique. But the situation in Mozambique was vastly different. Frelimo was fighting there for a long long time. They controlled a lot of the country and were almost an opposition-they must have been in opposition almost as long as we were. A body existed to which you could hand over government. It was the same in Guinea-Bissau. The Portuguese are trying to do the same in Angola. But you have got difficulties there because the independence movement is so split between three parties that you cannot get a body to hand over power to.
It is vastly different in Portuguese Timor. They have never thought of freedom for 400 years. They have never thought of being independent. They have never thought of these things. Suddenly there are three bodies emerging. One says, we want to link up with Indonesia. Another says, we want freedom now and another says, independence later. The two pro-independence bodies joined but they are on the point of splitting again. The Indonesians say they agree with all of us. But I don't think there are any doubts-they cannot conceal it very much-that they believe that the neatest solution would be for Portuguese Timor to be incorporated into Indonesia. I think the Portuguese have taken the most sensible attitude of all by saying, well look, there is just no hurry about this thing; we have been here for 400 years, another 5 or 6 isn't going to matter.
I agree completely with that and the proposal to set up a situation where they can form some sort of a body-and they are meeting I think now in Macau-in a week's time or a week back-to talk about this sort of thing. They might bring those three bodies in together and then go into what would be a constituent assembly-a sort of minor parliament. Then they can say, all right you work out what you want in the future.
Now the arguments they put in favour of Indonesia taking it over are that it certainly would be the neatest, simplest solution. But, you know, you cannot always do the neat and simple thing in life and come out with the best. I say it is a matter for the Timorese. The reasons that those advocates of Indonesia give is that if we have a very weak and small country on our doorstep then you might have big power rivalries; you might have the communist movement versus the Western movement and the thing would blow up. I just don't believe this. Look, we live in Australia beside very weak countries-Nauru, which has a lot of money and is 8 miles long with 11 ,000 people; the Cook Islands with about 185,000; Tonga with, I think, about 90,000. These are all weak countries. They are never going to be great economic forces but they haven't been the scenes of rivalries. I mean, Australia should be the most nervous country in the world if you follow these arguments and after all if that does happen, Indonesia is right on the border.
But maybe that is what will come about. However as far as Australia is concerned we would accept any choice of the people. If they want to go with Portugal, it is fine with us. If they want independence, that is fine with us. If they want to go on to Indonesia, that is fine with us. What we have said is that we would help. There is talk about aid. If Portugal were to discontinue the 18 million dollars (I think) it puts in there the question of Australia picking up that bill is just not on. You just don't go in and do this. But we would extend our aid to the things which we do pretty well, for example having foreign students come down and study both in the technical and the tertiary fields.
But that is where the thing stands. On this question I have talked to both Soares and Santos-the two main Portuguese Ministers then concerned. I have just told them to keep in touch with us and keep in touch with Indonesia. Not that we want to interfere, but I think it is for everybody's benefit if we all know what one another is doing in this field and we have given a figure of aid now to Portugal to encourage them to stay in for this extra time.
This story goes on and on, but you have got to come back to Portugal where suddenly there has been a swing to the left in their Government. If they suddenly said, well blast it, why should we spend $18 million over there; we've got no interest in it. That would create a situation and then we would be involved in aid and that type of thing. So what we have tried to do, what I have tried to do in talking to them is to tell the Indonesians to play it very cool-not to let these stories get around that they are thinking of invading-that was running pretty rampant in about January of this year-and to urge the Portuguese to keep talking to the Indonesians and explain what they are doing; that they are not going to walk out; and that they are going to try and have an orderly handover. So it comes back to the fact that we want to help but we certainly are not going to be involved in other people's troubles and wars.2
[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1, xxiv]