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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (16 May) . . Page.. 1758 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

meeting in July, is in contact with the Chief Minister's Department and is looking forward to providing some framework for establishing these community contacts.

The goodwill is there right now, and I am looking forward to seeing how we develop these connections. As others are, I am looking forward very much to seeing the nation of East Timor grow in confidence and looking forward to seeing how the world community can assist this new small nation-the first new nation of the 21st century-in building an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable society.

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that there are other societies in this region that are struggling for self-determination, in West Papua and Aceh, for example. Australia appears to be treating these people in the same way it originally treated the people of East Timor. How long will it be, I wonder, before we in this place can debate a similar motion about these people, who are suffering violent oppression as we speak?

MR PRATT (5.33): I rise to add my voice to those speaking in support of East Timor and its independence celebrations. I remind the house and residents of the ACT that Australia's history is deeply interwoven with that of East Timor. We have played a major part in bringing East Timorese to independence. But it has not been a smooth history. There have been moments when we could not have been too proud of our relationship with East Timor.

During World War II the 2/4 Commando Company and other Australian forces fought valiantly to defend the East Timorese. For many years there was an ongoing commando presence fighting a guerrilla war against the occupying Japanese. Indeed, one of our home-grown Canberrans, Major General Cape, now a spritely man in his 80s, played a significant role in that campaign.

Australia's role in the 1970s when East Timor was taken over by Indonesia was not one of our brightest or more positive performances. Successive governments would not look back positively at the role we played through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. However, through 1999 the Australian government did play a major role in bringing to a head an untenable situation, and the people of East Timor are to be applauded for bravely pushing themselves through the referendum that occurred.

In addition to the members of unions who have played a very important role over the last 30-odd years in maintaining spiritual and political connections with struggling parties in the East Timorese dynamic, we must not forget the role played by Australian troops in 1999 in helping to bring matters to a close.

The ADF were able to deploy 1,500 men and women in short order and, in defence of the East Timorese people and to make peace, were quite prepared to take the fight up to the occupying forces and the anti-independence groups. Eventually a 5,000 man and woman force was in place, along with our South East Asian allies. With the efforts of the quite competent Major General Cosgrove, they were able to settle things down.

This country is playing a leading role in the civil society building process which is now under way. At least $50 million is being spent by Australian international NGOs in that place. Add that to the half a billion dollars spent by this government in its peace-making efforts, and this country can be quite proud.

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