A HOWARD TRIUMPH ...
... in search of which we must go back nearly five years and have a good look. And then resume our search ...
In response to a comment Jack Strocchi has posted below Tim's latest classic spray
, I thought a timeline of the fabled liberation of East Timor would help highlight the Howard government's heroic role there-in (I've gleaned most of this from John Lyons's 'The Secret Timor Dossier' in *THE BULLETIN* of October 12 1999: pp 24 to 29). My own conclusion is that Washington and Lisbon - both of whom shared with Canberra decisive responsibility for the tragedy in the first place - and Australian intelligence all come out of this particular episode rather better than Howard, Downer et al ...
October 1998: Australia has evidence that a militia has been dedicated to intimidating pro-independence voters in the case of a vote. Oz doesn't pass this on to the Yanks, but US official Stanley Roth foresees 'internecine violence' anyway.
December 1998: Primeminister Howard writes the struggling President Habibie to congratulate him and encourage him to pursue his offer to the East Timorese of 'autonomy'. This strengthens the hand of those close to Habibie who want rid of a one-billion-dollar lemon.
January 27 1999: Habibie goes the extra yard, and a vote for self-determination is on offer. The US and Portugal want peacekeepers then and there. Downer strongly argues against it - it'd be undiplomatic to evince distrust of the Indonesians. Even ET leaders Xanana Gusmao and Bishop Belo think it's all going too quickly.
February 23 1999: Questioned about this, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas not only does not parry Downer's question about the arming of the militias, but calls this 'a legitimate arming of auxiliaries'. (see March 9)
February 25: Downer asks that, in the event of the vote for independence he expects, Indonesia's military behave itself. US official Roth foresees the possibility of a provocateur-led bloodbath and, ultimately, a Wiranto presidency. Downer recommends both of 'em be sweet to Wiranto and talks Roth out of challenging Wiranto and Prabowo. Roth recommends a peacekeeping force and Downer declines (Peter Vaughese of the Primeminister's Department chimes in on Downer's side - yet a few weeks later, Howard himself will insist he was always arguing FOR such a force). The prescient Roth avers
there'll ultimately have to be one, anyway.
February 27: Downer again argues against Portugese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama's stance that a fully fledged peace-keeping force should oversee the vote.
March 4: DIO tells Oz government that the Indonesian military are helping the militias and that Wiranto is turning a blind eye. Downer now suddenly avers that the militias might not be arming at all.
March 9: Downer tells journalist Laurie Oakes that Alatas has assured him the militias are not being armed.
March 29: The UN Secretariat warns of a 'precarious' transition and some pressing 'security issues'.
April 6: Liquica slaughter.
April 14: Oz Foreign Affairs official Neil Mules repeats Oz's anti-peace-keeping-force stance to the concerned Portuguese.
April 17: Slaughter in Dili. Roth says it's getting 'out of hand'.
April 19: ALL Oz's intelligence agencies have now told Howard that large scale violence is likely. Howard rings Habibie and expresses disappointment at ABRI performance in ET. Wants a meeting.
April 21: ABRI and some East Timorese people formalise peace between them. Oz Foreign Affairs internally calls this 'unnegotiated' and 'short on delivery', in short 'a substitute for real action by TNI'.
April 27: Bali summit. Habibie promises stability and Howard asks for an international police presence - the UN will fix the strength of this force, and Habibie agrees.
April 30: Downer tells Albright 2-300 cops should be about right.
April 28: Howard says on radio that 'there isn't any doubt that the Indonesians through this process are committed to the laying down of arms'. He said he was 'delighted' with 'em. Lyons writes that, in actual fact, Australia now considers it has 'overwhelming evidence' that Wiranto is directly linked to the East Timorese militias.
May 21: DSD presents the Oz government with persuasive evidence of the Wiranto/militia link.
June 14: Downer presents this evidence to the UN.
June 16/17: Downer tells Roth that the UN don't want the vote postponed. It'd only encourage the militias.
June 21: Oz Defence No. 2 Air Marshall Doug Riding confronts the Indonesian military chiefs with proof of their establishment, support and coordination of the militias (through their Kopassus regiment). Apparently makes Lt Gen. Bambang Yudhoyono rather cross.
June 29: First militia assault on UN bases at Maliana, Liquica and Viqueque.
July 10: Kofi Annan expresses increasing concern.
July 16: Fateful voter registration commences.
July 28-31: Downer visits Djakarta and Dili. Exerts diplomatic pressure - and then pops off to London to watch the cricket.
August 16-17: Oz and US officials meet and agree to not to do anything that might upset 'a sensitive period'.
August 19: Oz Foreign Affairs recommends police and military liaison be ready for early commitment.
August 30: 98.6% of registered voters turn out, and 78.5% of 'em vote for independence. Foreign Affairs calls this a threatening and unstable' situation - but it's too late, the militias are getting started in Dili by that afternoon..
September 13 (and gawd knows how many deaths later): John Howard proudly proclaims he has 'no regrets' over East Timor: "If I had my time over again, I would not have handled things any differently."
Late September 1999: Downer tells Indonesian ambassador Wiryono that Indonesia is '100 times more important than East Timor'.
JOINING THE WEIRD MOB
Like many wogs (or am I a clog?), I've long strived to be accepted in this wide brown land. Some of the job came easily enough. I've a deep suspicion of authority, a bit of a potty mouth, an irrational affection for football and cricket, a thin wallet at Spring Carnival's end, a shed out the back, and the beginnings of a verandah over the toyshop. A wife and two kids, a Falcon for Dad (along with the understanding this necessitates prepared pro-Ford, anti-Holden arguments every October) and a practical Japanese job for Ms Blogorrhoea, a mortgage, a dog, a cat, a Cold Chisel LP, an Akubra betwixt sun and bald-spot in the summer, a pair of never-cleaned Blundstones, a couch long enough to lie on for those gruelling cricket-all-day/news/movie/Pommie-soccer-at-midnight shifts (Ms Blogorrhoea draws the line at a chamberpot, alas), and an already-yellowed-but-yet-unopened Patrick White on the bookshelf. I'm at home in pubs, never miss my shout, and have mastered the etiquette of the urinal.
The things-to-do list is still daunting, of course. Australians are a complex bunch.
The accent is still not right, I remain too animated when I talk, I'm crap under a bonnet (hood), the toilet doesn't have an updated fringe-cinema schedule on the wall, and my shed has books in it rather than tools, bits of wood and a twelve-year-old Michelin calender on the wall. I persist in peeing in the bowl rather than on the rim, don't like barbecues much, like rain, don't like summer, and don't like lifestyle shows at all. And when stuff's wrong, I whinge.
So, yeah, I've a way to go.
Reckon I jumped six spaces today, though. Got myself my first new lawnmower ever.
And it was a Victa.
And I bought it on credit.