325 Briefing Note for Whitlam

Canberra, 6 November 1975


You have agreed to receive the Indonesian Ambassador at five o'clock this afternoon. He is about to return to Jakarta for consultations in preparation for the annual Australian-Indonesian officials talks, which are to take place in Canberra on 27 and 28 November. He has told us that, while he is in Jakarta he expects to see President Soeharto.


  1. The immediate background to his call is as follows:
    1. Domestic pressures on the Government to take its distance from Indonesia over Timor have been mounting (in the Caucus for instance-and there has been the recent resolution of the Victorian Branch of the ALP).1
    2. The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated in the Senate on 30 October that the Government viewed with concern widespread reports that Indonesia was involved in military intervention in Portuguese Timor. He went on to say that, were there substance in these reports, the Australian Government would be extremely disappointed and that we had so informed the Indonesian authorities. The Australian Government had urged that Indonesia pursue her interests through diplomatic means. This statement is the closest the Government has gone in criticizing Indonesian military involvement in Portuguese Timor. It amounted to a shot across the Indonesians' bows. There has so far been no Indonesian reaction to the statement.
    3. But there has been a deterioration in our relations with the Indonesians. The main elements in this deterioration are:
      • The widespread and circumstantial reports of Indonesian military intervention in Portuguese Timor.

[matter omitted]2

There was little in the Indonesians' comments to suggest that the Agreement reached in Rome would deter them from pursuit of the other main strand of their policy, namely the gradual expansion of the bridgehead they have established in the border areas until FRETILIN is brought to heel or collapses under the combined weight of UDT-APODETI and Indonesian military pressure. For all that, the Rome talks must be regarded as a step forward. They will presumably give new impetus to Portuguese efforts to get round-table discussions underway. Senator Willesee has publicly welcomed the outcome of the Rome talks in the Senate.

[matter omitted]3

Particular Points to Make

  1. Australia and Indonesia are approaching a situation where there may be some terseness in the relationship at the public level but where both countries should strive, at the policy level, to ensure that the relationship between the two remains intact. We suggest that you make the following points, the gist of which the Ambassador might pass on to Soeharto:
    1. Indonesia will understand the domestic pressures on the Australian Government. Just as the Australian Government takes careful account of the domestic, political and constitutional context in which the Indonesian Government has to work, so we hope and expect the Indonesian authorities to take account of corresponding circumstances here in assessing Australia's actions and policies.
    2. There has been something of a tendency on Indonesia's part to look around for a scapegoat over Portuguese Timor. We want to make sure that Australia is not cast in that role. If the present situation in Portuguese Timor drags on the risks of misunderstandings between the Indonesians and ourselves will persist. It is important that Indonesia has a clear understanding not only of Australia's policies but also of the political conventions (freedom of the press, independence of MPs and so forth) within which the Government in Australia always has to work. The Government has in fact gone to considerable lengths to resist domestic pressures that it should intervene politically in Portuguese Timor out of deference to our wish not to complicate any further Indonesia's problems. We had hoped for a greater degree of Indonesian recognition of the degree to which we had sought to help them in this regard. The public allegations about Australian arms shipments to Timor and about Australians fighting with FRETILIN seem aimed at envenoming relations.
    3. Australia has also sought to be helpful to Indonesia's position internationally. In response to approaches from Brazil, Mozambique and Tanzania (President Nyerere) we have sought to present a balanced picture of the situation in Portuguese Timor and to deflect Tanzania and Mozambique from an anti-Indonesian course.
    4. The Indonesians should recognize that, despite the pressures on it, the Government has been scrupulous in its attitudes towards FRETILIN, as is clear from the Minister's statement of 30 October.
    5. A more helpful Indonesian attitude on the question of the missing journalists is essential to us. While we cannot expect a full and satisfactory response from the Indonesians, we cannot close the episode until we have some decent and proper answer from them. We assume the journalists are dead but we need to establish the facts, obtain positive identification and to carry out the wishes of the next-of-kin for the disposal of the remains and the return of personal effects. While uncertainty drags on it will continue to contribute to the difficulties we are facing in our relations with Indonesia, and to inflame Australian public opinion against the Indonesians.4
    6. The Australian Government regrets the defacing of the Indonesian residences. We shall do our best to prevent a recurrence. There is a full-time guard now on the Indonesian Ambassador's house and on the Indonesian chancery.5
    7. The Government, together with the ACTU, will be doing its best to facilitate the normal handling of Indonesian ships. But the power of decision rests with the individual trades unions.

G.B.FEAKES - First Assistant Secretary - South-East Asia & PNG Division

[NAA: A11443, [14]]