Page 2179 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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As I have said and as this motion indicates, this Assembly should note that there is much work to be done and that the federal government has yet to offer the people of Timor-Leste an equitable solution which is just and fair. The federal government has an obligation to negotiate with the government of Timor-Leste in full accord with international law. Negotiations on maritime boundaries should be based on the joint aspirations of both countries. Australia should adopt an approach that, agreed between the parties and consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, would fully take into account Timor-Leste’s economic viability and financial independence.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to support the entire motion moved by Mr Gentleman. I ask other members to do likewise.

MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (4.24): I would like to say a few words on the motion and to support the amendment moved by Mr Smyth. I notice that Dr Foskey has left the chamber. I think the matter of concern in the motion is the use of the word “paramount”. While Dr Foskey spoke at great length about the concept of sovereignty, she failed, in my view, to adequately deal with the fact that this motion expects Australia to give paramount concern—that is, primary concern—to the interests of another nation, albeit a small country that has gone through a terrible period for some 30 years.

The role of the Australian government has been a commendable one in terms of the people of this struggling new nation. I well recall the events of 1975. In fact, I had to give up my office to Mr Peacock, who I think was caretaker foreign minister at the time when all this happened, in the midst of other distractions we had in Australia. The Indonesian annexation of Timor certainly caught this country on the back foot. It was a difficult time politically in Australia and it led to a situation occurring swiftly that may not have happened at another time.

There is always a risk when you put a motion on the notice paper in this place and then cling with enthusiasm to the sentiment in that motion without regard to the ongoing passage of events. I am troubled about the underlying sentiment in the motion. I am very proud of what our country has done for the people of East Timor in terms of the military contribution to protect those people in a very difficult and unstable period, the aid that has gone in and, indeed, the commercial help that has been extended. Even the national president of my party has been involved in helping to develop micro business in this new nation.

But there is an underlying theme in this motion that we are doing the wrong thing. I think it was influenced by those television ads. They were powerful and, one might say, obviously quite persuasive in the case of some members here. They were if you did not make further inquiry. I do not know whether it is just my inbuilt scepticism, but I always believe that you need to look a bit further. I am glad that Mr Smyth has drawn to the attention of the Assembly that, in fact, the two countries are about to reach agreement on the matters that were subject to misleading advocacy, the matters that were under dispute, that there were sound negotiations dealt with in the middle of last month and that we should have some confidence that the ministers of both our country and East Timor will be able to promptly and shortly settle these issues.

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