62 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 6 December 1974


Portuguese Timor

In your absence there have been some developments of importance relating to Portuguese Timor.1 You will be aware that following on discussions with Ramos Horta a proposal has emerged from the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of Caucus for a joint Government-Opposition party to visit Portuguese Timor in January. I shall be sending you a note later today outlining the dangers the Department sees in this proposal. In addition, there has been Michael Richardson's report in The Age that your comments on Mr Malik's recent remarks are the first public sign of a rift between Australia and Indonesia over the future of Portuguese Timor.1 If the Department is asked to comment on this report we shall say that we believe that whatever preferences they may have for the future of the territory all parties interested in Portuguese Timor are committed to respect the outcome of an internationally acceptable act of self-determination there. You will have seen Furlonger's report of his talk to Malik on this point.

  1. Woolcott and other Departmental officers saw Horta over lunch yesterday. A record is being prepared but little new emerged except news of the proposal for a Parliamentary delegation to visit Portuguese Timor, news which Briot has subsequently confirmed to us. Horta is clearly intent on getting from us an unqualified commitment to self-determination in Portuguese Timor and is as vague as ever about his own intentions and future prospects in the territory.
  2. There are several aspects of the Portuguese Timor situation which require Ministerial guidance: the question of future Australian representation in Dili; what we should do about aid to Portuguese Timor; and how we should reconcile our stated preference for the association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia and our commitment to self-determination. We are finalising a paper which analyses these matters in detail. In view of the importance of the subject matter we have sought to provide a comprehensive review of possible options.
  3. In view of the developments described above, you may like to know now that we have concluded that Australia's interests would be best served by a policy of studied detachment from Portuguese Timor. We do not propose that the Government should ignore or tum its back on the Timorese. But we have suggested that so far as possible Australia should resist being drawn, in a policy sense, into its problems. The risk of entanglement there is in fact very substantial and we think that Australia should do well to make a conscious effort to avoid it.
  4. We also come down in favour of avoiding an identification of Australian and Indonesian public stances on the Portuguese Timor issue. You are aware in this regard of reports suggesting that the Indonesians have been considering pre-emptive military action in Timor. While our latest reports provide a more reassuring picture of Indonesia's immediate intentions, we believe we must try to avoid any public impression of 'collusion' with Indonesia over Timor. Privately we should be trying to bring the Indonesians to accept that an independent Timor, if that is what it is to be, need not necessarily damage Indonesia's (or Australia's) interests, although we cannot absolutely exclude the possibility that it may do so.
  5. Our paper considers the possible disadvantages of a policy of detachment. These relate primarily to the situation in Portuguese Timor itself. A number of the emerging Timorese leaders are looking to Australia to provide some kind of balance to Indonesia. Our reticence can only disappoint them. It could also deny us the opportunity of influencing the Timorese leaders away from harmful courses. Clearly we shall have to keep developments affecting Timor continuously under review. But for the present, at least, we feel that Australian interests are best served by remaining politically detached from the problems of Timor so far as we are able while keeping our options open and our policy under continuous review.
  6. It is assumed throughout the paper that the Australian Government's preference for association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia remains strictly qualified by the concern that the choice must be for the Timorese themselves to make in a convincingly democratic manner. This implies that we should equally accept and support independence or continuing association with Portugal, if that is what the Timorese were to decide.
  7. Our paper examines the merits and demerits of re-establishing the Australian Consulate in Dili. We conclude that for the time being at least, it would be better not to seek renewed representation. This is in line with the suggested policy of detachment. Our requirements for information on developments in Portuguese Timor can best be met at present by regular visits to Timor.
  8. During Dr Almeida Santos's recent visit to Canberra it was proposed that Australia and Indonesia might join Portugal in a trilateral program of economic and technical assistance for Portuguese Timor. We see merit in this idea, although we would prefer that the initiative for pursuing it were to come from Portugal or Indonesia. Our recommendations are tailored accordingly and are subject to comment from OADAA.


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division

[NAA: A10463, 801113/11/1, iv]