Jun 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:50 AM, Jun 24, 2024

Timor's betrayal

Published: Sep 30, 2007

James Dunn, East Timor: a people betrayed, Sydney: ABC Books, new edition 1996, 365 pp, RRP: AU$34.95.

Reviewed by JAMES ROSE

This is the comprehensive history of the East Timorese tragedy. Beginning from the time Portuguese sailors first arrived early in the 16th century, up to 1995, the author describes and analyses the grubby details of a very dirty period in our region's past, which has still not ended.

It will not make comfortable reading for many politicians. Five Commonwealth administrations are implicated. Their policies reveal 'aspects of Australian politics and values that many would rather not know, contradictions in our performance as a responsible world citizen'. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, with whom the author worked closely, bears the brunt of some scathing criticism.

The Whitlam government's ultimate submission to Indonesian aggression set the mold for future governments. It leaves one concluding that East Timor is one of the more shameful chapters in the history of Australian foreign affairs.

Schizophrenia

Dunn also offers a fascinating insight into the machinations of Indonesian power. The schizophrenia inherent in the 'dwifungsi' system is clearly revealed.

According to Dunn, the 'political' wing of Indonesia's parliament was less informed about East Timor than might be expected. President Suharto too was uninterested in, and ill- informed about, East Timor. Under the spell of a number of high- ranking officers such as Ali Murtopo and Benny Murdani, he was eventually convinced to annex East Timor.

Dunn notes the poorly staffed Indonesian consulate in Dili, and quotes foreign minister Adam Malik's far more conciliatory tones. These things, he argues, indicate that such high ranking ministers were out of touch with what the military was planning, and with the influence the military had over the President. Either this was one of the great con-jobs, or a huge victory for the military over the executive.

Former Australian ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott wrote in one of many pre-occupation suggestions: 'I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stance, but that is what national interest and foreign policy is all about'.

The extent to which Australians, and Australian governments, accept that doctrine will inform our East Timor policy in the future. James Dunn's book ought to be required reading for anyone wishing to partake in such a debate.

James Rose is a Master's graduate in international studies and an executive member of The Australian Institute of International Affairs. He lives in Melbourne.


Inside Indonesia 50: Apr-Jun 1997


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