Submission to Mcmahon

Canberra, 1 December 1970


Australian Consulate: Dili

The Australian Consulate at Dili (Portuguese Timor) was opened in 1946. Since then it has operated with no more than two consular officers at any one time, and for long periods it has been staffed by only one Australia-based officer. Several appointments as Consul have been on a temporary basis. The annual cost of operating the post is now $38,000.

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4. Day to day political reporting from Dili is, and has been for several years, negligible in both volume and interest. We see no likelihood that internal developments in Timor will become significant from Australia's point of view. Australia's political interest in the colony will be limited to (a) its future disposal in the event (not now in prospect) that the Portuguese voluntarily withdraw their administration, and/or (b) an external 'takeover bid' for its control. There is no early prospect that Indonesia would seek to take over Portuguese Timor; there is no threat from any other sources, and in any event any such attempt from another source would be strongly resisted by Indonesia. In the long term the sensible disposal of the colony would be by incorporation in Indonesia. Our political interest in Portuguese Timor would be better served through our diplomatic representation in Indonesia, Portugal and other countries rather than through consular representation at Dili.

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7. In June, 1970 the Australian Ambassador to Portugal (Mr Renouf) commented that he thought that a decision to close the consulate would be received with distaste by the Portuguese authorities but he did not think that such a decision would do any great damage to Australia's relations with Portugal. He believed that it might be a good idea to conclude a migration agreement before informing Portugal of the decision. The Department of Immigration considers that the conclusion of a migration agreement with Portugal is a matter which is not likely to be resolved for some considerable time.

8. Since Mr Renouf reported his views, Australia's relations with Portugal have been strengthened by the appointment of a resident Ambassador at Lisbon, so that the closing of our small post at Dili may not now have as much significance for the Portuguese.

9. On balance, the reasons for continuing representation in Timor are not sufficiently strong to override the practical property and personnel difficulties which would need to be overcome quickly if the post is to continue. The benefits accruing from representation do not in the present circumstances justify a large capital outlay and the continuing expenditure of funds and personnel.

10. I therefore recommend that you agree to the closing of the post as soon as this can be arranged. As to the procedure to be followed, the decision and reasons for it could be conveyed to the Portuguese Ambassador in Canberra, who might also be told that the Department would still hope to be able to send Canberra-based officers to Portuguese Timor regularly to maintain Australia's interest.3

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1, iv]