159 Minute from Feakes to Rowland and Parkinson

Canberra, 31 July 1975

SECRET AUSTEO

Portuguese Timor

On several occasions lately, the Minister for Defence has expressed his displeasure about the terms of our telegram CH242446 to Jakarta.1 In discussion of the telegram, I suggest that it is important to bear the following considerations in mind:-

  1. If we had failed to react to Mr Tjan's account of Indonesian intention towards Portuguese Timor as set out in Jakarta telegram JA0533,2 the Indonesians may have formed the impression that we would acquiesce in their intentions. Moreover, the historical record would have looked bad.
  2. In some instances in the past, we have had the impression that in conversations with us, Mr Tjan has, in fact, been trailing his coat, that is to say, he has put forward rather provocative proposals precisely to see how we should react to them.
  3. The line of the reply to Tjan follows fairly closely the line of the Prime Minister's letter to President Soeharto of February 1975,3 although we were able in the telegram to be somewhat more direct in expression than the Prime Minister would have wished to be in writing to President Soeharto.
  4. The telegram was carefully considered by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and approved by him.
  1. We have [had] no expression of Defence views on Portuguese Timor for some time and none since the present Minister for Defence assumed office. The views conveyed to Senator Willesee by Mr Barnard when he was Minister for Defence dwelt on the damage to Indonesian­ Australian relations and the increase in regional tensions and instability which would result from an Indonesian move against Portuguese Timor.4 It would seem that these views are not shared by Mr Barnard's successor. But we do need to have this confirmed formally in some tactful way.
  2. One approach which you may care to consider is that we should send to the Department of Defence-and, for that matter, the Joint Intelligence Organisation-a copy of Mr Woolcott's recent despatch on Portuguese Timor,5 together with Senator Willesee's reply.6 We could ask for Defence views on the issues discussed in the despatch and in the reply. It is for consideration whether we should do this now while Mr Morrison and Sir Arthur Tange are away,7 or whether we should wait until they come back. On the whole, I should favour sending the despatch and the Minister's reply over to the Department of Defence now, while indicating that we should like their comments in reply to reflect their Minister's views. I have drafted the attached letter as from our Acting Secretary to the Acting Secretary of the Department of Defence.8

[NAA: A1838, 3006/4/3, vi]