Gough Whitlams eftermäle

Gough Whitlam var premiärminister i Australien under upptakten till Indonesiens invasion 1975. Han dog den 21 oktober 2014 98 år gammal. Hans roll under upptakten har efter hans död diskuterats bland dem som intresserar sig för Östtimor.

Ett av dessa diskussionsbidrag kommer från Richard Gun,, med unik insikt i Australiens roll under upptakten till invasionen 1975. Vi återger det nedan på originalspråket, engelska.

I agree with Rob Wesley Smith that Timor was a definite blot on Gough
Whitlam's record.  I am one of the diminishing number of survivors of
the Whitlam government, and was a member of the delegation to
Portuguese East Timor in mid-1975.  I have attached my account of the
events leading up to the Indonesian invasion.

Richie Gun

In 2007 I met Rufino Alves Correira, one of the last surviving
Timorese who helped the Australian commandos who had landed in what
was then Portuguese Timor ahead of Japanese occupation.  By the end of
1942 the Australian Commando force in East Timor was the only
Australian force in south-east Asia that had not been captured by the
Japanese.  This was in no small part due to the East Timorese, whose
courageous support enabled the Commando force to survive until it was
withdrawn in early 1943.  I met Rufino, who died in 2010, through Paul
Cleary, whose book The Men Who Came Out of the Ground, describes how
the Australian soldiers maintained a rearguard guerrilla action
against a much larger Japanese force with the aid of East Timorese,
many of whom lost their lives in their efforts.
It would be reasonable to expect that Australia would remember the
heroic sacrifice of so many Timorese in the years following the war
against Japan.  On the contrary, when a newly independent East Timor
faced an unprovoked invasion from Indonesia in 1975, Australia chose
appeasement of Indonesia over support for our World War II allies in
Timor, and their descendants.  More recently, now that an independent
Timor Leste has emerged, successive Australian governments have held
to a treaty which appropriates a significant share of gas royalties
which rightly belongs to Timor Leste – a treaty which the Timorese
government at the time signed under duress.
# # # # # #
Through all the years since 1975 spent supporting the cause of East
Timorese independence from Indonesian rule, I was never really
convinced that independence would actually happen.  For most of the 24
years between the Indonesian invasion and the referendum on
independence I chaired the Campaign for an Independent East Timor
(CIET (SA)), a small group of activists who maintained a campaign to
change Australian government policy on the Indonesian occupation.
Although we never gave up hope of changing Australian government
policy (after all, most Australians probably agreed with us) my
personal view was that the Indonesian policy wasn't ever going to
change.  The events following the fall of Suharto didn't just take the
Indonesians by surprise: the eventual Indonesian withdrawal wasn't
really anticipated by anyone in Australia either.
My interest in what was then Portuguese East Timor was kindled through
James Dunn.  A former Australian consul in East Timor, Jim was a
research officer in the Foreign Affairs research division of the
Federal Parliamentary Library.  When the longstanding Portuguese
fascist dictatorship fell in April 1974, the new administration
decided to shed its colonies in Africa.  The emergence of
pro-independence movements in Angola and Mozambique was soon emulated
in Portuguese East Timor, the oldest European colonial administration
in Southeast Asia, and the pro-independence Fretilin quickly
established itself as the dominant political movement in the colony.
With other members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party Foreign
Affairs and Defence Committee, I was provided with a briefing paper by
Jim Dunn on political developments in East Timor.  To all of us on the
committee it was a no-brainer that if the people of East Timor wanted
decolonisation and full independence, they should be entitled to it,
as had been the case with other ex-colonial societies throughout the
decades following the end of World War II.  However this didn't appear
to be the opinion of Whitlam.  In 1974 we first encountered the now
familiar representative of East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta, who arrived
in Canberra to plead his country's case to determine their own future.
To our dismay he received little encouragement from Whitlam.  To add
to our discomfort, Horta received a relatively friendly hearing from
the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Andrew Peacock, although
subsequently it transpired that his support had been cynical and
From when the Portuguese determined that it would quit its colonial
possessions, there was a clear divergence between Whitlam’s approach
to the issue and that of the Caucus Foreign Affairs Committee, of
which I was a member, The Caucus minutes of 4/3/75 state:
J Kerin (Secretary of Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee) advised
that the committee has resolved:
That we believe the principle of self-determination is fundamental to
Labor policy and that it is essential that this principle be applied
with respect to future Australian Government policy towards Portuguese
Timor.  Further the committee expresses its concern with the situation
in Portuguese Timor and believes that the Australian Government should
establish a mission in Dili.
With talk of a threatened Indonesian takeover if Portugal were to cut
its ties with East Timor, a delegation from the caucus foreign affairs
committee visited the territory for one week in March 1975.  The
delegation consisted of Arthur Gietzelt, Gordon McIntosh, Ken Fry,
Gareth Clayton, John Kerin (later to become a cabinet minister in the
Hawke Labor Government) and me.  The Portuguese military hosted our
visit.  We were cordially welcomed at the Governor's residence, and
they took us to centres outside Dili, including Baucau, and to
Lospalos on the eastern end of the territory, which we visited in a
Portuguese army helicopter (landing on the soccer field).
The Portuguese also facilitated meetings with the main political
parties, although not much encouragement was needed, since most local
political leaders were for their part keen to meet us.  This was
particularly so in the case of the Fretilin leadership, which
organised a couple of mass rallies for our benefit, to demonstrate
their undoubted mass support.  Fretilin and UDT were at that time in a
coalition, which was uneasy and ended a few months later when they
were at war with each other.  The most cordial meetings were with the
Fretilin leadership, led by the ex-seminarian Francisco Xavier do
Amaral, who became leader of the PSDT in the Timorese Parliament after
independence.  We were also met one Roque Rodriguez, who later became
a minister in the Fretilin Government following independence.
Rodriguez subjected us to a prolonged monologue.  I personally found
him an obnoxious individual, an ideologue who seemed to model himself
on Fidel Castro. He spent the years of Indonesian rule in exile, and I
again met him when he visited Adelaide in the late 1970s.  Again he
thought it his role to deliver an uninterrupted address, to a small
meeting of about five people, which after half an hour I reduced to
four. (Subsequently he became Defence Minister in the Fretilin
government after the first post-independence elections in the early
We also met UDT representatives, led by Lopes da Cruz.  The leadership
of Apodeti, which favoured integration with Indonesia, seemed more
reticent about meeting us, but we did have a short meeting with them.
We all formed the impression that the East Timorese generally favoured
independence, and that Fretilin enjoyed majority support.  In
retrospect it could be said that we were unduly influenced by the
large and vocal pro-Fretilin rallies put on to impress us; it is
possible that there was a silent majority, especially outside the
capital Dili, with concerns about Fretilin policies.  Nevertheless the
57% support Fretilin received at the first parliamentary election
after independence would seem to have vindicated our judgement.
The Indonesian government had a consular representative in Dili, EM
Tomodok.  At a meeting with the delegation he denied any territorial
ambitions on the part of Indonesia.  The meeting prompted me to
declare on returning to Australia that an Indonesian invasion was
unlikely.  This was no doubt a naïve judgement on my part, but at that
time that Suharto had not conclusively decided to invade. Many other
factors in the mix were to contribute to the subsequent outcome.
One such factor was the attitude of the Portuguese, whose abrupt
withdrawal (to the island of Atauro) was probably a decisive factor in
the eventual Indonesian decision to invade.  Portugal itself was at
the time in a relatively unstable situation.  Following the fall of
the Caetano fascist administration in April 1974, the country was
being governed by a cabal of military officers, strongly influenced by
a left-wing group known as the Armed Forces Movement.  It even
appeared at that time that a communist government could emerge in
Portugal.  (This would have been an interesting challenge to NATO,
since, in that era of Eurocommunism, the Portuguese communist leader,
Alvaro Cunhal, remained staunchly pro-Soviet.)
Another factor was that open conflict had broken out between the
Fretilin and UDT.  This was probably initiated by UDT soon after it
had sent a delegation to Indonesia.  It was not long before the
Fretilin forces emerged victorious and assumed effective control of
the territory.
What is sometimes forgotten is that in August 1975 the Portuguese
Governor of East Timor appealed for international forces to be sent to
control the situation.  However Prime Minister Whitlam expressed
opposition to any military involvement by Australia, saying that
Australia was not a ‘party principal” to the conflict.
On 2 September 1975 a federal Labor caucus meeting took place, which
may have had a decisive factor in the disaster that overtook the
Timorese the following December. The Caucus convened for the first
session of the Federal Parliament after the winter recess. Gough
Whitlam spoke to the first caucus meeting on two international matters
– the Baltic States, and Portuguese East Timor.  During the
parliamentary recess the Government had decided to award de jure
recognition of the annexation by the Soviet Union that had occurred
decades previously of the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and
Lithuania.  This peremptory decision was as unexpected as it was
unpopular.  There had been no political pressure in Australia, and as
far as I am aware there was no diplomatic pressure from the Soviet
government for this to occur; there was no quid pro quo offered to
Australia, and the decision was politically damaging, probably
welcomed only by the handful of caucus members who slavishly supported
the USSR on all matters.
After reporting on this decision to the caucus, Whitlam moved to the
East Timor question.  He was shortly to have a meeting on the matter
in Townsville with President Suharto.
To my dismay Whitlam declared that East Timor was too small to exist
as an autonomous economic entity.  Unfortunately the official Caucus
minutes do not accurately reflect what was said.  Reading the minutes
(which are held in the National Library) more than thirty years later
it is clear that the Caucus Secretary missed this crucial point. The
transcript, which was clearly never edited, states:
“G Duthie asked PM what is happening in ET.

PM: basic principle for us is self determination for Timorese people:
not easy for a former colony.  Process of decolonisation is never
easy.  Portugal would be happy for Australia to accept her imperial
activities – we should not be in it.  However we will provide
transport and communications to assist Portugal in contacting the
people at first hands (sic). They have not taken this up.  We have
also rejected quadro portete (sic) proposals, whereas we would
contribute personnel to any United Nations proposal for peacekeeping –
similar to Cyprus.”
Obviously the Caucus secretary had no shorthand experience, the
meeting was not recorded on tape, and it seems doubtful that he was
aware of the crucial importance of what Whitlam actually said.  Thus
the minutes do not report verbatim everything that Whitlam said.
Memory of course is not a good basis for reconstructing past events,
especially events that occurred several decades previously.  However I
can say that I clearly recall Whitlam saying that East Timor was too
small to be economically autonomous (or words to that effect), that in
discussion with others that was their impression also, and that it was
consistent with his general approach to the East Timor question.
Furthermore in writing this memoir I have discussed the matter with
John Kerin, who was Secretary of the Foreign Affairs and Defence
Committee, and he agrees with that reconstruction of what Whitlam said
to the Caucus.
When Whitlam finished his remarks it would have been open to any
caucus member at the meeting to ask questions on the matters
raised. John Button rose and asked a question querying the decision on
the Baltic States but not a single caucus member rose to comment on
Whitlam’s statement on the East Timor issue.  The failure to even
question Whitlam's views was a disastrous omission.  Since Whitlam had
openly stated his provocative opinion at the potentially hostile
meeting, it is inconceivable that he would have said anything less at
his subsequent meeting with Suharto in Townsville.  Moreover, as a
consequence of the caucus meeting he could have justifiably defended
his actions on the grounds that the entire parliamentary Labor Party
had been given the opportunity to rebut him but none had done so, so
that his policy enjoyed total party support.
I do not excuse myself for being one of the ninety-odd MPs present who
all sat on their hands while a critical matter affecting the future of
the East Timorese passed without proper consideration.
Why did nobody say anything at the caucus meeting?  An important
factor was probably the extreme pressure on the Labor Government at
the time. Events relating to the actions of various ministers such as
the Loans Affair were overtaking the government, leading up to the
eventual dismissal of the government a few months later.  Although the
caucus meetings were closed to the press and the public, all relevant
details were always quickly leaked to the media – even details
unfavourable to the government.  Any criticism of Whitlam's leadership
at the caucus meeting would have been immediately leaked and
interpreted as a further sign of government instability.  This was my
feeling at the time, which is why I hesitated, while the meeting
quickly moved on to other matters.
Thus there would have been no doubt in Suharto's mind after the
Townsville meeting that Australia would not seek to influence or
interfere with any action Indonesia might take.  Thereafter the
Government line was that of Whitlam.  Although it no doubt represented
the prevailing view in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and
certainly that of the Ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, this
view was certainly not shared by the caucus foreign affairs committee.
The Foreign Minister, Don Willesee, professed sympathy with the
committee view, but this didn't matter as Whitlam had taken over the
running of the policy himself.  And given the perilous position of the
government, it was impossible for any public displays of disunity. So
when Whitlam told the parliament on 26 August 1975 that Australia was
not “a party principal” in resolving the East Timor situation while
conceding that Indonesia occupied an important place because of its
“predominant interest”, the backbenchers who thought otherwise had to
bite their tongues.
An important instance of this concerned the Indonesian incursions
across the border with West Timor, which preceded the main invasion.
The government was of course aware of the incursions, and of the
murder of the five Australian journalists who inconveniently placed
themselves in Balibo to observe the territorial violation.  The
Defence Minister, Bill Morrison, told me himself of the Government's
knowledge of the situation gained from its eavesdropping on the
Indonesians by the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). In fact the
Australian Government was not solely reliant on DSD intercepts.
Previously secret cables from the Australian embassy in Jakarta make
it clear that the Indonesians were keeping the government briefed on
their plans for incursion across the West Timor border.  These cables
are set out in the appendix that follows this piece. But officially
the government said nothing.
Meanwhile Whitlam was not subjected to any discouragement from the
Liberal-National opposition.  If anything he was being provoked for
not doing more to suppress East Timorese independence.  On 28 August
1975 the Nationals' leader, JD Anthony, demanded to know what the
government was doing to stop the installation of a “communist
government” in East Timor, and strongly implied that Australia should
intervene to forestall installation of a Fretilin government. Although
the Liberal spokesman Andrew Peacock had posed as the champion of the
East Timorese, he retreated when it became convenient to do so,
allowing the hawkish sentiments such as Anthony's to prevail.  Still,
in putting an appearance of party unity ahead of principle on this
matter he was no more culpable than those of us on the Labor side who
gave primacy to the domestic political struggle in Australia over the
future of the East Timorese.
The caucus foreign affairs committee tried its best to convince
Willesee to say something publicly about what was happening, but he
felt powerless to override the coalition of Whitlam and the Department
of Foreign Affairs.  Finally in November the committee delivered an
ultimatum to Willesee – either the government would state publicly
that Indonesian troops were entering East Timor, or we would raise the
matter in the caucus room, which would be tantamount to going public
with a declaration of dissent from government policy.  Willesee came
back to the committee with a draft speech expressing concern with
Indonesian incursions across the West Timor border.  However before
the speech was delivered the Department engineered an alteration in
the speech, so that Willessee denied any knowledge of information
which would confirm the presence of Indonesian troops in East Timor.
In answer to a question on 6 November, he merely told the Senate that
he must approach the reports (of the presence of Indonesian troops in
East Timor) with the “utmost scepticism”.  In other words he
deliberately refrained from confirming what he knew to be true.
 Committee members had no opportunity to respond to this, as on 11
 November the Whitlam Government was dismissed by the Governor-General
 and Parliament dissolved.  For me personally it had been my last day
 in parliament.  The full-scale invasion occurred the following month,
 six days before my seat passed to the Liberals in a large swing that
 ended the Labor tenure.
Of course we don't know how much, if at all, a different Australian
policy could have affected the outcome.  However it is conceivable
that Australia could have successfully argued for a more moderate
policy.  After all, a letter from John Howard to Suharto's successor,
President Habibie, 24 years later did lead to the calling of a
referendum, even though the resulting outcome was not what neither
Howard nor Habibie anticipated.
What could Australia have done?  Certainly nothing like a pre-emptive
landing by Australian troops or a naval blockade would have been
realistic options.  But a statement of support for East Timorese
independence, similar to Australian recognition of Indonesian
independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1948, could hardly have been
provocative, especially since there were, even late in 1975, elements
in the Indonesian government opposed to an invasion.  However nothing
could have been more harmful to the East Timorese than what Australia
actually did, which was to declare ourselves a disinterested party,
and implicitly that Indonesia did have a legitimate interest.
James Dunn clearly thinks Australian opinion did matter to Jakarta.
In his book Timor – a People Betrayed he says:

Had the government chosen to put to positive use the information
available to it from intelligence and diplomatic sources, a clear
consensus would probably have been achieved, making it impossible for
the Indonesian generals concerned to deduce that the use of force to
achieve integration would readily be accepted by Australian political
leaders as a necessary, if not desirable, solution to the Timor
More recently, evidence has emerged that forthright opposition to the
Balibo events could possibly have averted the subsequent full-scale
invasion that occurred on 7 December 1975.  For this information we
can thank Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of NSW, who
has compiled a history of the political, military and diplomatic
events of the time through relentless pursuit of archived documents
though Freedom of Information Legislation (against equally relentless
opposition by the government to the release of the
documents). Fernandes reveals some information which is critical but
previously unknown:
Indonesian special forces captured and killed the journalists on the
morning of 16 October. The killing caused alarm in the Indonesian high
command. Worried about the international diplomatic consequences, they
called a halt to the military operation. Indonesia’s concern about a
negative international reaction combined with its own logistical
problems and the onset of the wet season led to nearly five weeks of
inactivity as it waited to see what the reaction would be. But there
was no adverse reaction from Australia, Britain or New Zealand. This
was the real ‘green light’; the lack of international condemnation at
the killing of five foreign journalists meant that the Indonesian
military could treat the East Timorese as they wished.
In summary then, the Australian government had full knowledge that the
Indonesian military had murdered the Australian troops yet publicly
denied such knowledge.  Moreover, the Indonesian governments construed
the lack of any protest by Australia or any other nation as a signal
that they could proceed with the planned invasion, which took place on
7 December 1975.
Why did Whitlam take such a strong stand against East Timorese
independence?  It is possible, I suppose, to take him at his word that
it was a matter of economic viability; in other words, that East Timor
was too small to go it alone.  However this is totally at odds with
his approach to Papua-New Guinea, which he single-handedly pushed into
an independence which in hindsight was premature. Nor as far as I am
aware did he ever say that other small nations in the area such as
Nauru or the Solomons should be annexed by any other power. Graham
Freudenberg, Whitlam's speechwriter, gives us a partial insight into
Whitlam's thinking in A Certain Grandeur, his book of the Whitlam
years, and in his aptly-named autobiographical, Figure of Speech.
Before joining Whitlam's staff, Freudenberg was speechwriter for
Whitlam’s predecessor as labor leader, Arthur Calwell.  He relates
Calwell’s response in 1963 to the proposed Indonesian annexation of
West Irian, which was at that time the last territory of the former
Dutch East Indies still under Dutch colonial administration.  While
the Menzies Liberal Government determined to recognise formally the
incorporation of what became Irian Jaya into Indonesia, Calwell -
without consulting Whitlam, then his deputy – isolated himself
politically by stating that such a “potential threat” to Australian
security “must be faced”.  Menzies chose to interpret this as warlike
intent, and Calwell's policy became untenable. In 1962 under
international pressure the Netherlands government relinquished its
last colony in Asia. Meanwhile Menzies re-established his political
supremacy over Calwell, which had been eroded by the narrow Liberal
election victory in 1961.  Freudenberg says that Whitlam learned a
lesson from this experience:
Thirteen years later, in 1975, there was to be an echo of this strange
affair. The Calwell catastrophe would deeply affect the attitude of
Whitlam, as Prime Minister, to the problem posed by Indonesia’s desire
to incorporate East Timor. Whitlam, as Prime Minister, was determined
never again to have a bar of the humbug and humiliation which had
occurred over West Irian.
My view is that Whitlam's attitude was one of realpolitik, that it is
unrealistic to oppose the wishes of the powerful.  Hence his
recognition of China and the severing of diplomatic relations with
Taiwan, recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states, and
the Indonesian annexation of East Timor.  It had nothing to do with
the economic viability of an independent East Timor, nothing to do
with the perceived communist influence on Fretilin, and everything to
do with the wishes of the Indonesian Government.
We won't ever know whether the caucus meeting of August 1975 was a
critical event in the history of East Timor.  What if I or any other
caucus member had got to his feet and objected to what Whitlam was
telling us?  Could it have led to a debate?  If so could it have
forced Whitlam to present a different view to Suharto in Townsville?
If so, could this have led to a rethink in Jakarta?
Transcripts obtained by Clinton Fernandes through Freedom of
Information requests.
"We have received today, 13 October, more details of the Indonesian
assistance to anti-Fretilin forces... The main thrust of the operation
would begin on 15 October. It would be through Balibo and
Maliana/Atsabe. The objective is to complete the main operation by the
middle of next month (including the occupation of Dili). It is
possible, however, that because of the problem of Indonesia's
providing logistical support without being observed and the setting in
of the wet season that the task won't be completed until sometime in
December. The President in approving the budget had made it clear that
'no Indonesian flag' could ever be used in the operation." [1]

"President Suharto has recently authorised a significant increase in
Indonesian involvement... The stepped-up operation begins today, as
you know. Tjan has now given the following additional details about
it. All Indonesian forces operating in Portuguese Timor will be
dressed as members of the anti-Fretilin force. They have been
assembling in Atapupu. Initially an Indonesian force of 800 will
advance Batugade-Balibo-Maliana-Atsabe... It is of course clear that
the presence of Indonesian forces of this order will become
public. The Indonesians acknowledge this. The President's policy will
be to deny any reports of the presence of Indonesian forces in
Portuguese Timor. We are not in a position to assess the likelihood of
success of the Indonesian operation. The Indonesians are
confident. They estimate the Fretilin armed force at 5,000 including
reservists. If difficulties arise Indonesia will, we assess, escalate
its involvement to overcome them. Meanwhile Indonesia will continue to
portray its policy in as favourable a light as possible on the
diplomatic and public presentational level. Foreign Minister Malik's
agreement to talk with his Portuguese counterpart is part of the
pattern. As seen from Jakarta, we need to address ourselves to the
attitude we should adopt as fighting again increases in Portuguese
Timor, which it should do from today. On the basis of the Townsville
talks, President Suharto will assume that the Australian Government
will make every effort to give Indonesia what support and
understanding it can. The Prime Minister's statement in the House of
Representatives on 26 August confirmed this assumption. An example of
the Indonesian Government's confidence ... is the extent to which it
keeps us informed of its secret plans. There is no doubt in my mind
that the Indonesian government's fundamental assessment is based on
the talks between Mr Whitlam and President Suharto in Townsville." [2]

"I had a long and very frank discussion with General Benny Murdani
last evening, 15 October. General Murdani had returned the previous
day from a visit to Timor, including Batugade. On the operations which
were launched yesterday, 15 October, General Murdani confirmed what
Tjan had already told us and which we reported previously. In these
circumstances I can only repeat my earlier comments that, in the next
few weeks, we are going to need steady nerves and to keep our
assessment of our longer term interests in this region in front of
us." [3]

1 Secret Australian Eyes Only Priority cable from Australian embassy
Jakarta to Canberra dated 13th October 1975.

2 Secret Australian Eyes Only Priority cable from Australian embassy
Jakarta to Canberra dated 15th October 1975.

3 Secret Australian Eyes Only Priority cable from Australian embassy
Jakarta to Canberra dated 16th October 1975.

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