236 Submission to Whitlam

Canberra, 19 September 1975

Humanitarian Assistance to Portuguese Timor

On 8 September you agreed to a submission from ADAA and the Department that the Government should provide a cash contribution of $100,000 to the ICRC Appeal for its relief work in Portuguese Timor. Following exchanges of correspondence between yourself and the Treasurer the $100,000 contribution was announced on 18 September.

  1. Meanwhile a refugee problem of considerable proportions appears to be building up in Indonesian Timor. The refugees, whose numbers according to Indonesian estimates, run to the order of 30,000, are mostly UDT and Apodeti supporters who have fled across the border into Indonesian Timor.
  2. In view of the refugee problem in Indonesian Timor we have been working on the basis that a portion of the $100,000 contribution to the ICRC should be channelled by the ICRC through the Indonesian Red Cross as relief for the refugees. We have already informed the ICRC in Geneva that an amount of the order of $20,000 might be provisionally set aside for this purpose, but that we should wish to be guided by the ICRC's assessment of relevant needs before coming to a final decision on an appropriate allocation.
  3. The ICRC still has no precise details of the position on the Indonesian side of Timor but is to send a representative to Kupang over the weekend to look into the situation. The ICRC's initial disposition has been to regard some of the estimates of the numbers of refugees on the Indonesian side of the border as exaggerated.
  4. Our wish that some of the Australian contribution should be allocated to the refugees has been dictated in part by our concern that Australia should not be seen in Indonesian eyes as being concerned only with the people in Fretilin-controlled territory. We should in principle be no less concerned about the welfare of those who have fled from Fretilin into Indonesian Timor.
  5. The Department's preference would have been to allocate an amount greater than $20,000 or one-fifth of the Australian contribution, for the refugees. But as against this consideration the ICRC Appeal was addressed to the situation in Portuguese Timor itself and indeed related very much to the need to re-imburse expenditures already being undertaken by national Red Cross associations which in practical terms in this case are the expenditures undertaken by The Australian Red Cross. Ear-marking a larger amount than $A20,000 for the refugees would therefore have been difficult. We have also had in mind that the Government is corning under pressure from press and other quarters to undertake a food relief program in Portuguese Timor. There are substantial political problems in proceeding with such a program (it would be difficult to avoid the impression that we were giving direct underpinning to the de facto Fretilin administration in Timor) and we have seen in the cash offer to the ICRC a means of possibly forestalling pressure for Australia to do more.
  6. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta has, however, reacted adversely to the proposal that only one-fifth of our $100,000 contribution should be made available for the refugees. A copy of Jakarta telegram JA19361 is attached. It will be seen that Jakarta is recommending either (a) a specific Australian bilateral offer to Indonesia for the upkeep of the refugees; or, (b) that a greater proportion of the $100,000 contribution to the ICRC be set aside for Timorese refugees in Indonesian Timor.2
  7. The problem with the first suggestion is that with the commitment of the $100,000 to the ICRC there are no further funds within existing budgetary allocations which could be made available for the refugees. In other words, were we to make a bilateral offer to Indonesia we should need to seek additional funds. The Treasury, with whom we have discussed the matter, is quite insistent that the Treasurer would be reluctant to agree to this course particularly at such an early stage in the financial year.
  8. There is no practical restraint on us setting aside a greater amount than $20,000 of the $100,000 for the refugees. We should of course wish to await the outcome of the survey being conducted by the ICRC of the extent of the problem on the Indonesian side of the border. But assuming that a clear need for relief is established, there would seem no reason why we could not simply inform that ICRC that, for example, we should wish them to divide the expenditure from our $100,000 equally between the refugees in Indonesian Timor and those persons in need of relief still in Portuguese Timor. The expenditure in both cases would fall within the terms of the announcement of the contribution, that is for assistance for 'the victims of the recent fighting in Timor'. But we must expect that the fact of the ear-marking would become known. This could mean that there would be additional pressure on the Government to make further contributions, possibly food aid, solely for Portuguese Timor.3
  9. On balance we recommend that you agree to our informing the ICRC that provided need is established, we should wish the Australian contribution of $100,000 to be allocated evenly between the refugees in Indonesian Timor and the ICRC relief operation inside Portuguese Timor itself.4

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1/2, ii]