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Tainted Jakarta lobby left stranded by history

By Scott Burchill - posted Saturday, 15 June 2002

As the East Timorese celebrated their hard-won independence overnight, spare a thought for the Jakarta lobby in Australia, including luminaries such as Dick Woolcott, Gough Whitlam, Gareth Evans and Paul Keating, to name only a few. How must they feel?

These men have dedicated much of their professional lives to opposing just such an event.

Some of them schemed with the Indonesians prior to the 1975 invasion, receiving a detailed forewarning of the attack without passing it on to the East Timorese. The result was the greatest mass killing, as a proportion of the total population, since the Holocaust.


A number sought to regularly protect and exculpate the Suharto regime from international criticism by understating, or even denying, Jakarta's crimes in the territory, while branding critics of the regime's brutality "anti-Indonesian" and "racist" (Woolcott).

Others used space in Australian newspapers to urge the East Timorese to accept that their occupation by Indonesia was "irreversible" (Evans) and to give up their independence struggle as a "lost cause" (Woolcott).

A range of strategies was employed in the effort to thwart East Timor's independence. Australians were told that Indonesia's boundaries would "Balkanise" if East Timor was "allowed" to become independent. In one instance history was rewritten so that the 1990 Dili massacre, just one in a long sequence of Indonesian atrocities, could be presented as an "aberrant act" (Evans).

Canberra was convinced to train Kopassus officers, the most brutal human rights violators in Indonesia's armed forces, and then sign a resource agreement to share with Jakarta the spoils of their occupation. Even the right to self-determination was attacked as "not a sacred cow," at least when it came to East Timor (Woolcott).

Perhaps most shameful of all was Canberra's decision to extend diplomatic recognition of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, in defiance of the UN and the overwhelming wishes of the international community.

Throughout the dark years from 1975-1999, the Jakarta lobby showed greater understanding to the perpetrators of crimes committed in East Timor than for their victims. None has apologised for their behaviour or admitted their mistakes.


Last night's festivities were not just a remarkable tribute to a people who fought against enormous odds to win their freedom. It also marks the moment of ultimate failure for a group of Australians who worked so assiduously to prevent them from ever taking place.

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About the Author

Scott Burchill is a lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Victoria.

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