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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (16 May) . . Page.. 1715 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

One could go on about the windfalls that come to the ACT from this budget. We get solid growth, low unemployment and conditions that will allow a surplus budget to continue in the ACT if it is managed wisely. I wonder what comments we will be making on 25 June when we finally get to see the first Stanhope budget.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

East Timor-independence

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (12.29): I move:

That we, the Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory, offer our warm congratulations to the national parliament and people of East Timor on the achievement of independence at midnight on 19 May 2002 and extend our best wishes to East Timor's future progress.

Mr Speaker, the government would like to send a message of support and best wishes to the people and new government administration of East Timor as they prepare to welcome their country's independence at midnight on 19 May. The East Timorese people overwhelmingly voted for independence in 1999 and will embrace this historic occasion with a renewed sense of hope for the future. The vote for independence represents a new era for East Timor. The East Timorese people now possess a new vision and an opportunity to build the independence they so overwhelmingly voted for in 1999.

That said, East Timor faces enormous challenges. The country is still undertaking the massive task of reconstruction. During the turbulent years of 1999, lives, numerous families and entire communities were destroyed. About 70 per cent of the country's infrastructure was substantially or partially destroyed. Reconstruction must entail not only the restoration of East Timor's physical infrastructure but also the restoration of its culture. In May 2001 it was estimated that around 10 per cent of East Timor's 1999 population was still living abroad, mostly in squalid refugee camps across the border in West Timor. This is their opportunity to return home.

But while independence brings freedom, it will not immediately bring prosperity. As academic Peter Timmer said recently, the elimination of poverty is a task which even the most effective government can only hope to accomplish over decades or generations. Today East Timor also faces this challenge, but it is a challenge that can be addressed within the framework of liberty. The task ahead is immense and involves the establishment of appropriate infrastructure, institutions and economic policies that will help rebuild what is now a small and devastated land into a viable, self-sufficient, democratic state of the 21st century.

No emerging country should be left to shoulder this challenge alone. My government intends to support a community relationship between Canberra and Dili. Canberrans are committed to democracy. The East Timorese people have also made this commitment, and as such they are deserving of the support of Canberrans and this Assembly.

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