It was always only going to be a matter of time before Howard attempted to rewrite his role in the making of history. Paul Kelly, who opposed Australian intervention on behalf of East Timorese independence, has written a book, “The March of Patriots – the Struggle for Modern Australia”, colluding with Howard and Downer to place themselves not only in a better light but as key players in bringing about the independence of East Timor.
Selective passages in The Australian, 5-6 September, claim Howard and Downer were convinced by January 1999 that independence for East Timor was inevitable and from that point on they quietly, if not secretly, worked to achieve it. Favourably reviewing his own book Kelly says that Howard and Downer kept this belief to themselves, “The Defence Department was not privy to such views and acted on the official policy: that East Timor should remain within Indonesia.”
This is an extraordinary claim; a Prime Minister and a Foreign Minister keeping policy from a key department which had a vital interest in the issue. By not passing their views to Defence they allowed the official harassment of Colonel Merv Jenkins, Australian Military Attaché in Washington, that led to his suicide. Jenkins was accused of passing to the Americans the fact that Australia was aware that the Indonesian military was arming and controlling the militia in East Timor. A fact that Howard and Downer were denying in an attempt to avoid Australian military intervention in East Timor of which there was overwhelming public support expressed in rallies, meetings and media interviews. The strength of public opinion forced a reluctant Howard to eventually act.
Laurie Brereton, the Shadow Foreign Minister, took the Labor Party from April 1998 to a position far in advance of the Coalition. In September 1998 proposed the release of Xanana Gusmao and the appointment to East Timor of a UN Special Envoy. In October he called for “a permanent international presence to monitor military activity and ensure respect for human rights in East Timor.”
Howard, Downer and Kelly’s rewriting of history leaves hanging why they vindictively pursued decorated AFP officer Wayne Sievers and aid worker Lansell Taudevin for publicly stating they had firsthand knowledge of Indonesian military backing of the East Timorese militia.
Until the middle of 1999 Howard and Downer ran a policy actively appeasing Indonesia until it collapsed in the face of public pressure.
Are we to surmise that Howard and Downer ran a similar secret policy with respect to the AWB and if so, isn’t it about time they fessed up?