Timor-Leste Document Disclosure

"That State Conference recommends to National Conference/Executive that the Federal government conduct a comprehensive declassification of official records relating to Australian policy towards Timor-Leste in the 1970s. This includes material from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and relevant Cabinet records, records of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Defence and Australian diplomatic posts overseas, and our Embassy in Jakarta."

This motion has been passed at the Kew branch of the Party moved by Lev Lafayette and Steven Hurd, the candidate for Kooyong at the last Federal election, seconding the motion.

The above Urgency Motion is, word for word, the recommendation made by Labor's spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, a press release on January 19, 1999 (cf., Laurie Brereton, Media Release 5/99, East Timor: Comprehensive Release of Historical Records Required, 19 January 1999 available at: http://etan.org/et/1999/january/15-21/18call.htm)).

It is imperative that the Australian Labor Party supports truthfulness, transparency and public scrutiny of Australia's policy towards Timor-Leste during this critical period of that country's history, which included independence from Portugal, elections, a civil war, and an invasion and occupation, which resulted in at least 102,800 deaths according to the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.

The overwhelming majority of the deaths in East Timor occurred due to starvation in a military-induced famine between 1977 and 1979. While former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is justifiably criticised for his diplomacy in the lead-up to the Indonesian invasion, it was his successor, Malcolm Fraser, who was Prime Minister during this genocidal period. Fraser and his Government made a concerted effort, including spying on Australian Labor federal parliamentarians, to reduce support for East Timor and increase support for Indonesia, which was committing war crimes of genocidal proportions. Fraser and his Foreign Minister, Andrew Peacock, ensured that Australia became the only Western country to officially recognise Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor.

Timor Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation has since provided ample evidence to demonstrate that the Indonesian military used napalm and targeted agricultural areas and livestock in flagrant disregard of the laws of war. Torture and rape were common during the interrogation process of Timorese civilians. Timorese identified as members of the resistance were either executed immediately or interrogated at greater length and then executed. Female relatives of resistance leaders were often made the sexual slaves of Indonesian military officers.

What did the Australia government know? To what extent could the Fraser government prevented these gross abuses of human rights? These are the topics that require disclosure.

According to the Archives Act 1983 (as amended approved by Parliament in 2010), the open access period for Commonwealth records as defined by the Act will begin after 20 years, and Cabinet notebooks after 30 years.

Given that these documents are older than 30 years, only two kinds of material in the documents should be exempt from automatic and immediate declassification:

(a) information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth;


(b) information that was communicated in confidence by, or on behalf of, a foreign government, an authority of a foreign government or an international organisation; and which the foreign entity advises the Commonwealth entity is still confidential; and the confidentiality of which it would be reasonable to maintain.

In these rare cases, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security must be requested to assess any exemption claims made by DFAT or the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The test is not whether such material might cause embarrassment or even that it might allow the identification of Australian intelligence personnel; rather, the test is whether ACTUAL DAMAGE would be caused to the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth TODAY. The onus is on the Department, and the Inspector General of Intelligence Services should assess these claims.

Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on July 18, 2012.


Senator Penny Wright, on behalf of Greens East Timor spokesperson Senator Richard Di Natale - Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee - Attorne-General Portfolio - Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you for that [answer to my previous question]. I have a final group of questions in relation to the declassification of documents relating to East Timor.

Mr Wilkins : Yes, Senator.

Senator WRIGHT: Associate Professor Clinton Fernandes requested the declassification of cables written by Australian diplomats in Indonesia for the period from 1974 onwards. DFAT requested the Attorney-General, Ms Roxon, to block the release, which was done. Under the Archives Act, government documents including diplomatic cables are available to be declassified after 30 years when someone such as a researcher or a journalist asks for copies, but of course a department can claim an exemption on grounds that the material might threaten security, defence or international relations, and it appears that that is what has occurred. So my first question is: what percentage of declassified documents requested under the Archives Act would be made available in the normal course of events?

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