Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

East Timor is mad as hell, and it’s our fault

*Pic: Jose Belo (left) and Commander David Alex (right) (Photo: John Martinkus)

The East Timorese may be poor, but they are not stupid. And we need to stop exploiting them, writes freelance journalist John Martinkus.

In 1995, as I squatted for days in a hole in the jungle of East Timor with 12 men hiding from Indonesian troops patrolling nearby, the whispered conversations between the Falintil Guerrillas and myself turned to oil. We had plenty of time to talk, admittedly very quietly to not alert the Indonesians of our presence  — they sometimes came so close we could hear their boots in the undergrowth. The issue of the Timor Gap treaty came up. They were having a bit of a go at the foreigner in their midst, whom they were then protecting with their lives so I could get a story. A story at the time I wasn’t even sure I could sell.

Australia had signed the Timor Gap treaty with the Indonesians way back in December 1989, dividing up the resources that lay between East Timor and its nearest international neighbor, Australia, and those resources were mostly a giant oil reserve. Australia got a great deal, with the line dividing what oil would belong to Indonesia and what oil would belong to Australia significantly favouring Australia.

Indonesia went along with it mainly to guarantee Australia’s ongoing support for its occupation of East Timor, which it had maintained internationally since the 1975 invasion. Australia was the only country in the world to recognise Indonesian sovereignty, and the Timor Gap treaty that gave us the majority of the oil was our pay-off for ignoring the atrocities carried out on our doorstep by the Indonesian military against the East Timorese. The 12 guys sitting in that hole in the jungle, armed with a few captured M16s and old Portuguese weapons left over from the colonial army and a tarpaulin and some bushes the only protection against the hundreds of Indonesian troops searching for us, knew that. They knew Australia, on both sides of politics, had screwed East Timor.

We all know the story from there. The UN got involved after Suharto was ousted in 1998. The independence ballot was held, and the Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour. The Indonesians burnt, looted, killed and displaced at least a third of the population. Outrage in Australia, but more importantly, pressure from then-US president Bill Clinton to clean up the mess he had helped create forced the hapless John Howard to send in a peacekeeping force led by Peter Cosgrove, now Australian Governor-General. We, Australians, were greeted as liberators and cheered in the streets still littered with the corpses of the victims of the Indonesian rampage in a city still burning with fires lit in revenge by the retreating occupiers. I was there, and suddenly, after years of working in that country, I felt proud to be an Australian.

Fast forward to 2016. Last month, 10,000 East Timorese protested against the unfair maritime boundary, which gives Australia the lion’s share of the oil in the Timor Sea, outside the Australian Embassy. Dili is a small town. Protesters blocked the road to the airport and all the regions to the west of the country for hours. They were peaceful. They know how to demonstrate; they have a lot of experience. They were protesting about the oil deal and Australia’s refusal to revisit what we know has always been an unfair agreement.

This week, Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek finally addressed years of Australian hypocrisy. Australia has always lectured other countries on human rights issues, on following international law, on being responsible global citizens. But, on Timor, we never practised what we preached. In a refreshing gust of common sense and decency the ALP finally changed its policy on Timor, the oil and the agreement.

As Plibersek put it in her statement:

“Timor-Leste suffered decades of war and starvation before gaining independence. Australia played a key role in securing that independence  — a proud moment for our nation. But the maritime boundary dispute has strained relations with our newest neighbour. Australia’s unwillingness to commit to maritime border negotiations with Timor-Leste has raised valid questions about our commitment to a rules-based international system and to being a good global citizen. This must change. Labor in government will immediately commence discussions on a voluntary, binding international resolution for a permanent maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste. It is in the national interest of both countries that we do so. And importantly, by committing to freely participating in it, Labor’s proposal is in the interests of the international system itself. We are seeking to end more than 40 years of uncertainty over a maritime border, and committing to international norms that we expect others to follow”.

Finally, a mainstream Australian politician has come out and said what has been painfully obvious for so long. Australia has bullied, lied, spied on and used our own military as leverage to secure an inequitable deal over the resources that lie between Australia and East Timor. First we did it by coalescing and turning a blind eye to the Indonesian invasion and subsequent atrocities, right up until 1999, and some would argue, after. Both Labor and Liberal governments did that for 24 years.

Then when East Timor got independence we basically wrestled them into a deal that massively favoured Australian companies and the Australian government in terms of revenues. We stole the oil. It is well documented, the spying on negotiations, the pressure applied to Timorese politicians to sign a deal they knew was unjust. The relentless pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers involved in the negotiations by federal authorities. We bullied one of the poorest countries in the world into accepting an unfair deal. They took it because, at that time, they were broke, and we knew that and used that against them. It is no wonder 10,000 of them turned up to the Australian Embassy in Dili to protest against this. They may be poor, but they are not stupid.

That is the lesson I learnt all those years ago back in the jungle. They may have had no shoes and had not eaten for a week and lived hiding in ditches from Indonesian troops (US and Australian supplied and trained at the time) trying to hunt them, but they could quote the agreements made internationally to deny them of their natural birthright with more accuracy than diplomats, journalists and academics.

The right to the resources of their country is in their blood, and at last Plibersek has acknowledged that.

First published, Crikey HERE

• Dr Vacy Vlazna in Comments: Every word of Martinkus is loaded with fact and truth. He was often the only journalist in East Timor and literally risked his life to inform the Australian public about how our government put trade pragmatism over the lives of the people of East Timor ( it goes a long way to explain the blithe cruelty of government asylum seeker policies). Today, that greed persists as our government, the representatives that we vote for, our political servants, unconscionably rip off our poorest neighbour. Just as we pressured Howard to send Interfet to Timor, we have the power to demand that the government does the right thing by international law and by our next door neighbours, the impoverished Timorese.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Leonard Colquhoun

    April 17, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Even more shameful would be a “blinkered approach [of] the powers that be in” nations, societies and cultures which failed their first duty: salus populi suprema lex – as in secured borders preventing alien invasions.

    This has happened five times in our Anglo-Celtic past: c. 450-550 in post-Roman Britannia; in the 800s to 1000s in Anglo-Saxon England; and there also in 1066; from 1170 repeatedly in Gaelic Ireland (does Easter 1916 ring any bells?); and – most ironically for white Anglo-Celtics here bleating about January 26 as ‘Invasion Day’ – post-1788 in our Big North Island and Smaller South Island.

  2. Leonard Colquhoun

    April 17, 2016 at 12:34 am

    “You didn’t even get the year of the Portuguese withdrawal right. It was 75…not 76.”

    Point taken – I knew that, as you would have expected. My focus was on the general picture.

  3. Alison Bleaney

    April 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    It’s the same blinkered approach that the powers that be in Australia have to asylum seekers. Out of sight and out of mind…and it brings shame on us all and it will/does have consequences.

  4. John Martinkus

    April 16, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    Leonard,

    You didn’t even get the year of the Portuguese withdrawal right. It was 75…not 76.

    How can you keep justifying genocide, against all the well documented evidence.

    What are you talking about? Get your facts in order …

    How long do we have to suffer these Cold War warriors and, to me, their misguided, factually wrong mindset?

  5. Leonard Colquhoun

    April 16, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    The ‘fault’ about Portuguese East Timor’s fate in 1976 is widely shared:

    ~ Portugal’s non-existent plans for the eventual decolonisation of PET, and the Portuguese administration’s chicken run from their territory – the Portuguese at home and abroad just could not have cared less;

    ~ the typically fractured, factionalised and mutually hostile freedom movements in PET (the sort so accurately lampooned in Life Of Brian);

    ~ the delusion among the East Timorese Left that their very big neighbour would tolerate an East Indies Cuba, open to Soviet or Chinese naval and other military bases – did they learn nothing from Gestapu ten years before?

    ~ much the same for the US, other SE Asian and Australian attitudes, which all saw an East Indies Cuba as hostile to their security and interests.

    Besides some cheering from ‘useful idiots’ in academia, who else in Australia would have felt comfy with Sovremennyy-class destroyers, Kirov-class battle-cruisers and Tupolev Tu-142 long range bombers just over Darwin’s horizon?

    Remember mid-1970s China was still wallowing in its doctrinaire Maoist nadir, and the Soviet Union’s inherent weaknesses were yet to be revealed under the strain of the pressure exerted by the 1980s Reagan administration – anything but paper dragons or bears.

    People may not like some aspects of realpolitik – but it is a permanent feature of relations between nations, and has t be managed by them as best they can in line with their own interests and within their means of influence.

    Post Vietnam and post Whitlam Australia by itself was an impotent player in this tragedy, and megaphone whining and (what we now see as) photo-op moralista grandstanding would have just been futile and silly – particularly with no guns or guts to back it up.

  6. John Martinkus

    April 16, 2016 at 4:22 am

    Leonard,
    Then whose fault is it. Australia,
    Indonesia. The US? Who armed them, trained them and turned away as they killed all those people for 24 years. Think about it.
    Best
    John

  7. Leonard Colquhoun

    April 15, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    “East Timor is mad as hell, and it’s our fault”, but (for a change) it’s not “all” our fault.

  8. Dr Vacy Vlazna

    April 15, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Every word of Martinkus is loaded with fact and truth. He was often the only journalist in East Timor and literally risked his life to inform the Australian public about how our government put trade pragmatism over the lives of the people of East Timor ( it goes a long way to explain the blithe cruelty of government asylum seeker policies).

    Today, that greed persists as our government, the representatives that we vote for, our political servants, unconscionably rip off our poorest neighbour.

    Just as we pressured Howard to send Interfet to Timor, we have the power to demand that the government does the right thing by international law and by our next door neighbours, the impoverished Timorese.

  9. Chris

    April 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Well who was it that didem in the eye?

    Was it….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGBSbCBh6GM

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