454 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 28 May 1976

O.CH360998 SECRET AUSTEO PRIORITY

Timor: Dili Meeting

Ref O.JA68791

After long consideration the Minister has decided that we should not be represented at the meeting in Dili. Please advise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the decision, letting them know that we have informed no other governments.

  1. The decision has been taken essentially because we know that the procedures being followed in Dili do not match up to the standards which would be generally acceptable in Australia. It would not be possible for an Australian representative at the Dili meeting to report favourably on it, certainly not on the critical question as to the manner in which the 'representatives' were chosen. It can be argued that it would be better to attend and to report frankly on both the good and the bad aspects of the meeting, but the decision is, on balance, that it would be best not to associate the Government with it directly. The 'bad' aspects will undoubtedly be the most eye-catching in Australia, and, if we had observed the meeting, the Government would be under substantial pressure to comment on what it thought of it. Apart from the immediate problems with the Indonesians which this could cause, it could also reduce our freedom of action for the future. The absence of UN observers and the unsatisfactorily short program (three hours on the ground) are additional reasons against attendance.
  2. The Minister has therefore concluded that the advantages lie in avoiding attendance and 'eye witness' commentary at this time.
  3. We should like you to explain to the Indonesians that the Minister has considered the invitation, and Mr Malik's appeal, very carefully. It has not been an easy decision. You should say that, in deciding against attendance, we have had to take into account the absence of UN involvement and the shortness of the proposed program. We do not believe that a participant would be able to gain sufficient information or clear enough impression to allow the Minister to present a report that would satisfy Australian public opinion.2
  4. For the future, you should say that we continue to be interested in the process of self determination and in this connection see the 31 May meeting as one step in the process. Ideally we should hope that UN involvement might prove possible in the later stages. We know that this may not be easy but believe that it is most important in terms of international opinion that this avenue be pursued. As you know, our very strong preference here would be to encourage a return visit by Winspeare rather than engaging, say, the Committee of 24. Do the Indonesians see any possibility of persuading him to be present during the DPR fact-finding visit at the end of June? This could be justified in terms of his mandate to pursue consultations with the parties—the PGET clearly being one of the parties.
  5. We realize that the Indonesians will not be happy with our decision, but participation of an Australian representative may well have led-through commentaries on his report and through the need for the Government itself to define its position in regard to the report-to an increase in pressures on Indonesia/Australia relations. Public opinion in Australia is likely to be sceptical about any process which appears not to involve direct elections (except, perhaps, Dili).
  6. You may also wish to point out to the Indonesians that we do not wish by our negative response to influence the decision of others and that this is the reason why we have delayed replying to the invitation until the last moment and we will not be informing other governments of our decision until you have advised the Indonesians/PGET and in any event not before evening of 30 May.

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xxiii]