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John Moore - East Timor and Australia's Security

The Hon. John Moore, MP
Minister for Defence

Tuesday, 21 September 1999 MIN 284/99

East Timor and Australia's Security

Speech by Minister for Defence

House of Representatives, 21 September 1999

Mr Speaker

Yesterday morning Australia began its largest deployment of military personnel overseas in a generation.

The resolution before the House today is therefore a timely expression of the support and concern which our forces deserve to take with them.

Australia's strategic interests

Mr Speaker

In the last two months Australia has faced its most significant strategic challenge for thirty years. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Australia has met that challenge.

Since becoming Minister for Defenc9e a year ago, one of my consistent concerns has been the increased uncertainty surrounding our strategic environment.

The events in East Timor this year have clearly demonstrated just how fluid that strategic environment has become.

Once the Government of Indonesia determined a course leading to the act of consultation on East Timor on 30 August, the Australian Government decided, in our national interest, to support it.

It is a matter of concern shared by all Australians that the clear results of the act of consultation by the people of East Timor were not able to be given effect peacefully in accordance with the agreement reached between the United Nations, Indonesia and Portugal on 5 May 1999.

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As a consequence, and at the request of the United Nations, the Government of Australia has decided to commit troops to East Timor.

As the Prime Minister stated, the deployment of Australian troops to East Timor meets the test of Australia's national interests.

We have a vital strategic interest in promoting peace and stability in East Timor. Without that peace and stability we cannot be confident of our own security.

So, although there is an urgent humanitarian task in East Timor, our leadership of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) is not only about being a good international citizen, it is equally about promoting regional peace, security and Australia's national interests.


Mr Speaker

Our objective is to ensure the UN process in East Timor moves 'back on track' so that the will of the East Timorese people – as reflected in the vote of 30th August – is implemented as quickly as possible.

Our work in East Timor also serve to fulfil the humanitarian expectations of both the international community and the Australian people.

The Australian Government's intention is for the multinational force to carry out its mandate and hand over to the UN transitional authority as soon as is practicable.

Our focus in the coming days and weeks will be on the specific mission the United Nations has given us.

INTERFET's role in that process as determined by the United Nations Security Council will be:

•to prevent the recurrence of violence on the scale we saw over the past two weeks

•to protect and support UNAMET and any other UN entities in their work of building political reconciliation

•to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid by protecting the agencies involved in that delivery.

Full restoration of peace and security in East Timor will depend on a comprehensive political settlement of the differences between various sections of East Timorese opinion on the future of the territory.

That process of reconciliation will need to take as its starting point the clear judgement of the majority of East Timorese in favour of independence as expressed in the recent ballot.

But it must also pay proper attention to the aspirations and views of the minority.

Progress towards reconciliation will depend on the efforts of the United Nations but, ultimately, on the people of East Timor themselves.

This process will be slow and difficult, and may well take many years. We are working with the United Nations to start that work immediately.

It is the Government's hope that INTERFET will be replaced by a full United Nations peacekeeping operation as soon as possible – possibly within two to three months.

We will do all we can in that time to provide a secure environment for the process of political reconciliation and humanitarian relief to go forward.


Mr Speaker

Operation STABILISE commenced on 20 September at 0700 local time, when the first forces landed at Komoro Airport in Dili, with follow on forces arriving in continuous C-130 sorties.

As of this afternoon, over 2300 INTERFET personnel are deployed in East Timor. Aircraft carrying the troops flew to Dili from Darwin, Townsville and Tindal, with troops also arriving by sea.

A further 500 troops will be arriving today by air using Australian, French, New Zealand and US aircraft.

I am pleased to say that all preliminary movements and initial objectives were completed without difficulty. The build-up of forces so far has gone smoothly without incident.

Further deployments of personnel, stores and equipment will continue throughout the week. Foreign contingents continue to arrive in Australia and will be deployed to Dili as part of that force build-up.

The ADF continues to work closely with aid agencies to provide emergency humanitarian relief. Last week the RAAF conducted 6 food drops delivering over 27 tonnes of food to displaced persons.

Three more humanitarian air drops by Australian and international aircraft are planned for tomorrow.

These are particularly demanding tasks for the ADF crews due to the high terrain and poor visibility caused by cloud and severe smoke haze.

Australia's Contribution

Mr Speaker

Although no country anticipated the extent of the destruction after the consultation, Australia did make prudent preparations.

We decided in February this year to increase the training and operational readiness of a brigade size force in Darwin.

We put the catamaran HMAS Jervis Bay into service and made the Defence Force ready to meet regional contingencies.

As well as playing a lead role in building the coalition and providing the Commander of INTERFET, Major General Peter Cosgrove, we are now contributing by far the largest forces to INTERFET - initially about 2,000 rapidly increasing to around 4,500 as INTERFET consolidates in East Timor.

Australia's commitment includes the initial deployment of the following:

•Land force elements comprising a brigade group of 2 infantry battalions with associated support elements including engineers and armoured vehicles, logistic support elements and rotary wing support.

•Air elements including C-130's, Caribous and 707's to provide transport of personnel and cargo and maintain supplies for the mission.

•Naval components including the frigates HMAS ANZAC, HMAS ADELAIDE and HMAS DARWIN, the heavy lift ship HMAS TOBRUK, the fast catamaran HMAS JERVIS BAY, the replenishment ship HMAS SUCCESS and 2 Heavy Landing Craft.

Following this initial contribution, the Australian force component is likely to build up further over time, as the requirements of the operation and the contributions from other countries become more clearly defined.

Mr Speaker

No one should underestimate the enormous challenge this operation represents.

The Government has an obligation to tell the Australian people that the situation in East Timor is very dangerous.

We must be prepared for the possibility that some peacekeepers will be injured or killed.

Our forces are well-trained and well equipped, and the UN Security Council resolution gives INTERFET the power it needs to protect our people and to perform its mission.

But the dangers should not be underestimated.

That is why I announced last week that military service with INTERFET will be treated as warlike service for pay and compensation purposes.

The Government has also acted to significantly increase the package of allowances compared with other recent deployments.

Given the peace enforcement nature of this mission we could do nothing less for our military people.

International Coalition

Mr Speaker

The creation of INTERFET is the first time Australia has been given the task to build and lead a multinational force on behalf of the United Nations.

The speed with which the international coalition has been assembled and its widely representative nature is ample testament to the respect with which the international community now holds Australia.

At the present time Singapore, Italy, Thailand, the Philippines, France, Canada, the United States, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Brazil have all made firm commitments to support INTERFET.

We fully expect that a number of other countries will make formal commitments to INTERFET in the coming days.

A range of land, maritime and air force elements have been committed, including strategic airlift, helicopters and medical support.

I am particularly pleased that so many of our regional neighbours who share our strategic interests have been prepared to contribute to the Force.

The involvement of Thailand – which has assumed the deputy Commander position of INTERFET -- the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia are very important expressions of the region's commitment to assist in East Timor.

The value of our military alliance with the United States has also been confirmed. The alliance was a key ingredient helping us to bring INTERFET together so quickly.

Portugal has played an essential diplomatic role in the process and Japan's financial support is critical to ensuring the participation of a number of states unable to manage the cost of deploying their forces.

The Australian Government is grateful to the leaders, officials and military personnel of all these countries I have mentioned for the ready support they have given to the important work of the multinational force.

Wider Defence Issues

Mr Speaker

Australia's contribution to INTERFET will place a heavy demand on the ADF in the long term.

However the Government has ensured that the ADF retains the capability to respond to other contingencies as required.

Into the longer term I want to acknowledge that one result of the East Timor crisis is that we will need to review our strategic outlook and defence spending requirements.

As I have previously announced, a Defence White paper which will address our changing strategic environment, will be released next year.

Recent events in our region confirmed even more so, the need for a revised assessment of the strategic assessments underpinning our Defence policy.

Work is now beginning on this White Paper. It will need to take some important issues into account.

The first is that we have seen a significant deterioration in our strategic environment.

We do not see Australia coming under direct threat.

But it is clear that events in our region – just like the East Timor situation – can profoundly impact on our security interests.

We do not have an option of simply ignoring these developments by saying that our defence interests begin at the coastline.

Another issue the White Paper must deal with is that we face many competing claims in the defence budget for new military capabilities.

These include finding the appropriate way to replace combat aircraft and surface ships.

And – as East Timor demonstrates – we also need a highly capable land force – one which is ready to operate at short notice and highly mobile. Getting the right mix of these military capabilities is no easy task.

The Government has, since 1996, protected the defence budget from cuts.

We now need to take a very serious look at our future needs for defence spending in the light of the difficult regional situation we currently face and of the impact this will have into the future.

Mr Speaker

I also note suggestions that the Government persuaded the intelligence agencies to adjust or vary their assessments on East Timor in recent months. Let me just say that these suggestions are totally without foundation.

It is in the nature of these things that there are a variety of views in any intelligence assessment and needless to say the situation remains very fluid, and assessments can change on a daily basis.

Australia-Indonesia Relations

Mr Speaker

A stable and peaceful Indonesia is vitally important to our interests.

We must be cognisant of the fact that no matter what happens in the next year in East Timor, Indonesia will be our neighbour forever.

Indonesia's size and population mean it will have a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region in future.

We need a relationship with Indonesia based on respect and realism.

Rhetoric is no substitute for a clear knowledge of each other's interests. Our role must be to cooperate and to promote our common wish for stability.

We recognise that the Indonesian government has done the right thing by conducting the act of consultation in East Timor, and in agreeing to the peacekeeping force.

The Australian Government believes it important to maintain a balanced relationship with Indonesia. The defence relationship is currently under review and several activities have already been cancelled.

But it should be understood that the defence relationship has already served Australia well through the current crisis.

For example, good contacts with the Indonesian Armed Forces have helped in enabling our C-130s to evacuate UNAMET personnel from Dili.

Secondly, as a matter of practicality, we need to keep good ties with the Indonesian military to help Australian and other peacekeepers with their difficult mission in East Timor.

Indeed I am grateful to the Indonesian Government and to TNI, their armed forces for the co-operative spirit they have brought to the initial stages of INTERFET deployment.

Major General Peter Cosgrove had a very constructive meeting with his counterpart in Dili on Sunday and the initial deployment has gone well.

There is still much good will between Australia and Indonesia and we must work to promote our common interests in promoting regional peace and security.

We will always be willing to talk to Indonesia and to cooperate where it is in our interests to do so.

Our Defence Personnel

Mr Speaker

The Australian Defence Force has not been at such a high point of military readiness since the end of the Vietnam War.

It is a tribute to the professionalism of our forces that they are ready for this task so quickly.

I say to the men9 and women of the Defence Forces, that you and your families have the thanks of a nation for what you are doing. The Government and the Australian community will support you and your families throughout this deployment and well after you return.

The rules of engagement we have developed, the increases in allowances and the family support measures we have introduced and the thousands of messages of best wishes from the public are but some clear examples of that support.

You are the pride of this nation, you take with you not only the appreciation and support of the Australian people, but also of the East Timorese people and those of the region more widely, for the role you have in promoting peace and stability in the region.


Mr Speaker

Many people also deserve the gratitude of this Parliament for the work they have done to bring this operation together.

I would like to thank my ministerial counterparts in all the nations who have contributed to INTERFET.

In particular I am grateful to the ASEAN countries who have contributed, particularly Thailand as well as the United Kingdom and the United States.

The New Zealand contribution has also been very generous and in the true spirit of the ANZAC tradition. I am personally very grateful for the outstanding cooperation I have received from the New Zealand Defence Minister Max Bradford.

The government appreciates the commitment these nations and all other members of INTERFET have shown to regional security.

I would also like to thank the Chief of Defence Force Admiral Barrie and Acting Secretary of Defence Hugh White and their team in the Defence Department.

Their tireless and continuing commitment has ensured that we have had the forces available to mount this operation as well as the success in establishing this truly multinational coalition.

Mr Speaker

I have no doubt that the coming months for INTERFET will bring periods of difficulty.

But the Government has complete confidence in the force commander, Major General Peter Cosgrove and the many highly capable military and civilian officials working on the task.

In closing, let me reinforce my opening words. We have a vital strategic interest in promoting peace and stability in East Timor. A stable and peaceful Indonesia is equally important to our interests.

Without that peace and stability we cannot be confident of our own security.

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