Timor Time: Letter to G. Whitlam

Dear Gough,

Events at Balibo in Timor in 1975, involving the killing of five Australian journalists by Indonesian military, and another in Dili, are resolutely not disappearing from our collective memory. Release of the film ‘Balibo’ will bring this tragedy and sorry chapter of Australia’s foreign policy to the attention of new generations, as only the power of film can do.

As Geraldine Willesee reminded us (SMH August 8-9), opinions were strongly divided between her father Don, Foreign Minister, and you, about acquiescing in Indonesia’s incorporation of East Timor following Portugal’s withdrawal. Arguments about realpolitik, intelligence conspiracy and your government’s failure to act or speak out about the Indonesian invasion, have been well canvassed elsewhere.

A NSW coroner’s report in 2007 found that Indonesian forces had indeed deliberately killed the journalists to prevent news coverage of the invasion and that prosecution of two Indonesians involved would be justified. The families of those murdered had some satisfaction from that finding.

However despite the passage of time their pain remains, as does the stain on our collective Australian conscience of allowing a government cover-up of those events. You are uniquely placed and unassailable as elder statesman, to finally dispel any doubts by speaking out frankly of those difficult days.

By giving your moral imprimatur to Kevin Rudd to deal with this period honourably, another Whitlam legacy will be made. As a national service conscriptee released by your election, I have always had a soft spot for you. Your stature will only be enhanced by such an action.

“It’s Time”, to talk about Timor.

Yours sincerely,

Peter O’Hara


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