When my delegation addressed itself to the question of the Portuguese-held territories last year, we found it possible to do so only in terms in which 'dismay' minimised the concern and indignation we felt. None of the pre-conditions for decolonisation was to be found in the attitude of the colonial power. The simple fact is that the political will to decolonise did not exist.
It is profoundly satisfying that the then confrontation with Portugal has given way to co-operation, and that defiance has given way to decolonisation. Many reasons have been given for this great and gratifying transformation. It will be for historians to evaluate these and to suggest to which should be given the greatest weight.
Mr Chairman, I would like to refer next to one of the smaller Portuguese territories which has hitherto received less attention here than others, and which is not in Africa. The Australian Government has been called upon to state its broad attitudes towards independence or other possible proposals for the future freedom of the people of Portuguese Timor. Its position is straight forward. Australia's attitude towards Portuguese Timor is based on the principles of the United Nations. Australia supports the right to self-determination for all colonial people. We do not seek any special position in Portuguese Timor and the wishes of the people of the territory concerning independence should be decisive. It has been suggested that the people of Portuguese Timor will wish to associate themselves with Indonesia. If this were so, Australia would welcome it, provided that the decision was based on an internationally acceptable act of self-determination. We believe that the Timorese people should be allowed to proceed deliberately towards a decision about their future.
We should perhaps place some emphasis on this question of proceeding with deliberate speed. The rate of progress will depend on what is possible and practical, and the remarkable progress which has permitted Mozambique to settle already on an independence date in the middle of next year cannot be taken as an automatic yardstick for each of the other territories. In particular cases, and Timor may be one of them, the real aspirations of the people may need time to crystallise, and they may need time in which merely to organise. To some extent, the same is of course true of the Portuguese side. With the best will in the world, and there seems no present reason to suspect that this does not exist, Portugal cannot be expected to decolonise one territory after another overnight. Our own experience suggests strongly that, if only for administrative reasons, the transfer of power takes time to accomplish.
... I would like to conclude with a reference to the colonial power in the terms used by the Australian Prime Minister to the General Assembly on 30 September. The Prime Minister referred then to the satisfying symmetry with which Portugal, the oldest and Australia, the newest of the colonial powers were acting to liquidate colonialism. 'Across the distance of 400 years', he said, 'the new world in Australia clasps hands with the old, in ending a false, demeaning, unworthy power over others'.
[NAA: A1838, 906/30/14/3, i]