301 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 28 October 1975


Portuguese Timor

In a discussion with Mr Feakes on 23 October you expressed the view that the time was approaching when you might feel obliged to express in the Senate the Government's 'extreme disappointment' about Indonesian military action in Portuguese Timor. In the face of mounting public evidence of Indonesian involvement, you felt that Australian silence, if it were maintained, could be construed as complicity in what Indonesia is doing.

  1. As you know, the Department itself has been preparing the ground for a possible Government statement critical of Indonesian actions. However, in my submission to you on this subject on 17 October,1 I noted that there were still some acute difficulties. To the extent, for example, that Indonesia continued to deny the involvement of its troops it would be the Australian Government that would be publicly disputing Indonesia's claims. Even so, we agreed that it would not be possible to remain silent beyond a certain point.
  2. The question is whether that point has yet arrived. You will want to decide the answer mainly in terms of developments in Australian domestic opinion. It is also relevant, however, that the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Adam Malik, answering questions from Indonesian reporters in Jakarta on 23 October, is reported in Australian newspapers to have confirmed that Indonesia is giving military training to UDT and APODETI forces. The admission could both increase the pressure for an Australian statement of opposition to Indonesian military involvement and ease the difficulties in making such a statement since it would not now take place in the context oflndonesian denials of all involvement. Nevertheless, I feel that Malik's reported remarks provide very uncertain grounds on which to base a statement of our own. His confirmation of military training is reported to have been a 'nodding of the head' in answer to questioning 'on the run'; he also went on to deny that Indonesian troops or military advisers had been sent into Portuguese Timor or that Indonesian arms had been supplied to UDT­-APODETI forces. The Embassy in Jakarta states: 'We do not think that it can be said that Malik has now "admitted a degree of Indonesian military involvement in Portuguese Timor"... the Indonesians would deny any such claim and it would in any case be unfair to attribute the status of an "admission" to the situation which occurred.'2
  3. My more general concern is that it may not be the most propitious timing to be criticising Indonesia when publicly Indonesia has reverted to its earlier policy of supporting talks between the Portuguese and the three Timorese political parties and when Mr Malik has announced his agreement to meet for talks with his Portuguese counterpart probably in Rome next week. I also have in mind that our relations with Indonesia are under enough strain as it is from the actions of non-government bodies in Australia, the latest example of which is the 'black ban' organized by the Seamen's Union on Indonesian shipping. Thus far, at least, the Indonesian Government has sought to prevent the problems which have arisen spilling over into governmental relations. But it is also clear that some influential Indonesians are unconvinced of the distinction to be drawn between the actions and policies of the Australian Government and those of groups which are agitating against Indonesia. We do not know quite what the Indonesian reaction will be but there might be an intense one if and when the Australian Government adopts a public stand openly critical of Indonesia. We do not know what further damage to our relations with Indonesia would ensue. Our feeling is that it would be rather more serious than we would have thought a few months ago.
  4. There are several other considerations to be borne in mind:
    1. Australia would be the first among Indonesia's neighbours to criticize her over Timor; and none of the ASEAN countries shares our views.
    2. The regional environment is rather an unhappy one for us at the moment. Apart from stresses and strains in our relationship with Indonesia over Portuguese Timor, we are having difficulties with Malaysia over students and with the Philippines (and Singapore) over textiles. Relations with the Singapore Government are not very good at the best of times.We should need to hope that the Chinese and the Vietnamese do not pick up and elaborate upon any statement we make critical of Indonesia over Timor.
    3. The Portuguese may not welcome a critical statement from us just before they enter into talks with the Indonesians. The Portuguese Government is under some pressure over Timor from its extreme left-wing opponents. They have so far avoided any critical reference to Indonesian military involvement in Portuguese Timor.
  5. The foregoing is not meant to reverse previous advice that we might be approaching a point where some statement critical of Indonesia will be necessary. Indonesian military intervention in Portuguese Timor, however, has proceeded at a slower pace than had been foreshadowed when drafting our earlier submission. As a result, domestic criticism (and not withstanding the resolution adopted at the weekend by the ALP State Conference) is still relatively mild. We need to take care that a critical statement from the Government now may not increase anti-Indonesian feeling and reactions among interested groups in Australia, giving rise to pressure for further critical statements. In other words, we may now be at the top of a slippery slope. Our aim must still be to contain damage to our relations with Indonesia.
  6. Another point is that if and when a statement is made I should hope that it would not be confined to criticism of Indonesian actions. At least as much blame for the present situation rests with Portugal, which has throughout, failed to accept its responsibilities in Portuguese Timor. Even more responsibility can be attached to the Timorese political parties whose immaturity and self-serving actions brought about a collapse of the decolonization process in the first place. I should think that any balanced statement on developments in Portuguese Timor should include a review of how that collapse came about.
  7. The attached notes3 indicate what I would have in mind if you decide to express a view critical of Indonesian military involvement in Portuguese Timor. In view of the importance to our relations with Indonesia of what is proposed, I suggest that we should give Mr Woolcott the opportunity to comment. There may also be advantage in his letting the Indonesians know in advance of what you have in mind to say.


[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1/2, ii]