202 Submission to Whitlam

Canberra, 30 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

[matter omitted] 1

Australian Attitudes

  1. Despite these uncertainties it would be impossible, in my view, for Australia not to agree to participate, at Portuguese and Indonesian invitation, in the joint authority, mentioned in the joint memorandum. There are a number of considerations to be borne in mind:-


    1. The agreement provides the possibility that the fighting and bloodshed in Timor will stop quickly and if so, the humanitarian problems can be solved.
    2. The agreement also recognises the principle that the people of Portuguese Timor should decide their own future.
    3. The memorandum of understanding outlines a regional solution to the problem of Portuguese Timor agreed between two of the principal parties, Indonesia and Portugal; and it has always been a cardinal point of our policy that a solution to the territory's problems must emerge from such a bilateral agreement.
    4. So far as international opinion and Australian public opinion is concerned, the arrangements for the introduction of an Indonesian presence in Portuguese Timor envisaged in the memorandum of understanding could scarcely be better. It seems important that we should seize the opportunity which the memorandum offers: Indonesian intervention might otherwise come about in circumstances in which the principle that the people of Portuguese Timor should decide their own political future might not be recognised. Indonesia's intervention in such circumstances would be less favourable to our interests and would harm bilateral relations between Australia and Indonesia.
    5. Public opinion in Australia would certainly favour our participating in the joint authority, although we should recognise that some of the Timorese parties, especially FRETILIN, will oppose the Portuguese-Indonesian agreement and that FRETILIN's supporters in Australia might prove active in opposition to the agreement because it provides for Indonesian forces to go into Portuguese Timor. The Government would not entirely escape domestic criticism on this score. But it seems likely to be much less than if Indonesian intervention took place in different circumstances.


    6. Australian participation in the joint authority will engage us more deeply in the affairs of Portuguese Timor. On the other hand, we are already being gradually involved in the territory because of pressure for humanitarian help there, logistic assistance to the Portuguese in their planned talks with the Timorese part[ies] and so forth, a process which it is difficult to control and which arouses Indonesian suspicions that we are colluding with the Portuguese against Indonesian interests. As mentioned above--even in the absence of any Indonesian-Portuguese agreement on Timor-it is clear that, because of the depths of their suspicions of the Indonesians, the Portuguese are trying to involve us in the territory as far as they can and it is difficult for us to avoid their pressure.
    7. Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding we should be assuming a role which implies a degree of supervision of the Indonesian task force and in that sense we should be a guarantor of Indonesian good behaviour in Timor, before both international and Australian public opinion. In this role we can help to see that the people of Portuguese Timor are allowed to decide their own future. But we should be prudent not to assume that the commitments the Indonesians are now making regarding respect for self determination and for the processes agreed at Macao will necessarily be honoured. The behaviour of the Indonesian task force may also raise problems for us. This aspect constitutes a real difficulty for us. By agreeing to participate in the joint authority we might help towards a solution of the immediate problem in Portuguese Timor, but only at the cost of creating a much larger problem for our bilateral relations with Indonesia in the months and perhaps years to come. Clearly we must try to minimise this difficulty in what is now proposed.

    Negotiation with Dr Santos

  2. In discussions with Santos when he is here you will clearly not be able to say simply yes or no to the draft memorandum as it stands. There will have to be a negotiation with him. In conducting that negotiation we need to take into account the conversation between the Australian Ambassador in Lisbon and a senior official of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry, Cruz, in which Cruz remarks that, if agreement is not reached along the lines of the memorandum of understanding, the Portuguese might simply give in to the Indonesian pressure and invite Indonesian intervention without conditions.2 On the whole, we think that, despite political uncertainties in Lisbon, the Portuguese are unlikely to take this latter course at least very quickly; and there is always a possibility that, if the agreement with the Indonesians breaks down, the Portuguese might decide, perhaps in the course of Santos's discussions with the Timorese, simply to declare Portuguese Timor independent-or throw the whole problem in the lap of the United Nations-which would make any subsequent Indonesian intervention much less acceptable to international and Australian public opinion. Nonetheless, the attitude of mind revealed by Cruz suggests that we should be able to negotiate changes in the memorandum of understanding or interpretations of it which would suit our interests.
  3. In negotiating with Santos it will be important for us to know more of Indonesian attitudes towards the memorandum of understanding. As indicated in paragraph 3 above, our reading of the telegrams from Jakarta suggests that the Indonesians genuinely want an agreement along the lines of the memorandum of understanding and that they are not hoping that the agreement outlined in the memorandum will collapse, leading the Portuguese simply to invite Indonesian intervention without conditions.

    The Role of the Joint Authority

  4. The sorts of understandings or modifications which we need to negotiate with Santos-and subsequently with the Indonesians although they may not have difficulty with them-relate essentially to the role of the joint authority in which Australia is to take part. We need to know more clearly what the role of the joint authority will be and if necessary to seek to change that role to suit our purposes. Our interest remains to limit our involvement in Timor and hence to limit the role of the joint authority. In particular we should seek to ensure that the authority does not supplant the Portuguese Governor or Portugal as the authority responsible for the territory and for giving effect to the Macao program of decolonisation. In short, we must be certain that the joint authority does not assume some sort of quasi-sovereignty over Portuguese Timor from the Portuguese. Can we limit its role to liaison between the Portuguese Governor and the Indonesian Commander, perhaps providing advice to the former and conveying his views to the latter?
  5. Another aim of negotiation with Santos would be to increase the humanitarian content of the memorandum of understanding between the Indonesians and Portuguese and if possible the humanitarian role of the joint authority. From the Australian point of view the greater the role of the authority is humanitarian and the less it is directly political and military the better. The reason for our participation in the joint authority should clearly be seen as humanitarian rather than purely political or military. The presence of the authority itself, whatever its precise role, will help to make certain that the principles of the memorandum of understanding (including decolonisation and so forth) are observed.

    Involvement of Australian Forces

  6. The question arises also for discussion with Santos whether Australian armed forces in one way or another would be involved in Portuguese Timor as a result of an agreement between the Indonesians and the Portuguese. If some token Australian military involvement is required to bring about agreement on the memorandum of understanding we should see some advantages from the Foreign Affairs point of view in being prepared to use aircraft and, if need be, a naval vessel, in an essentially humanitarian role. We should need to be careful in how far we get involved in transporting evacuees who might wish to settle permanently in Australia. Our role would need to be concentrated on the transport and ferrying of relief supplies and also possibly doctors and medical teams into Timor. We should need to make it clear to all concerned that Australia is unprepared to involve itself to the extent of engaging in any act of force in Portuguese Timor. We should want some token Malaysian participation too. Our willingness to make a military contribution, albeit in the humanitarian area, might also serve as a bargaining counter to have our views about the joint authority accepted.
  7. We should want to have the agreement notified to the Secretary-General of the United Nations or to see the proposed arrangements accounted for to the United Nations in some other way.
  8. The financial arrangements which the agreement envisages are unclear. The memorandum refers to the Government of Portugal as bearing 'financial consequences'. The Portuguese reservations state that they would not accept full responsibility for payment for 'the operation'. The Indonesians say that they should not bear the cost of 'the operation' or at least that they should not bear it alone. Our initial negotiating position might be that Australia would pay for any token military forces we provided. We could perhaps also concede that we should pay the Australian share of the costs of the joint authority.


  9. It is unlikely that we shall be able to reach firm conclusions in discussions with Santos. The foregoing ideas serve only as guidelines for those discussions. As I have indicated there are many points of uncertainty in the draft memorandum of understanding which could be resolved in particular ways to suit Australian interests. But our feeling is that we must not press our views to the point of endangering the clauses of agreement between the Indonesians and the Portuguese. In other words, we must not impede the momentum towards the agreement which now exists. The situation in Portuguese Timor itself or other factors may intervene to make a climate less favourable than the present one to the conclusion of an agreement between the Indonesians and the Portuguese on Timor.


  10. You will obviously need to seek the views of the Minister of Defence on these questions.
  11. Subject to his views, I recommend that you endorse the approach described above to the discussions with Dr Santo. You may wish to consider the possibility of approaching the discussions with Dr Santos in two stages--one round of exploratory discussions, to be followed by further talks between Santos and Australian officials, and then a final session in which we should hope to hammer out any remaining points of difficulty.


[NAA: A11443, [14]]