When Indonesia invaded East Timor on the 7th of December 1975, the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council passed resolutions that condemned the actions of Indonesia and called for their immediate withdrawal.
Following the invasion and subsequent 24 year occupation, Australia and Indonesia were the only two nations worldwide that recognised East Timor as a province of Indonesia, although the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States also provided their explicit support for the occupation. Soon after the invasion, Australia and Indonesia began negotiating the divide of the oil and gas resources located in the Timor Gap.
In September of the year 2000, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released previously top-secret files that showed that Australia’s Whitlam Government may have indeed encouraged Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor. Successive governments, including those led by Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are believed to have cooperated with Indonesia’s President Suharto and the Indonesian military to conceal the details about the brutal conditions in East Timor, and acted to maintain Indonesia’s control over East Timor.
The United Nations estimates that the invasion and subsequent 24 year occupation led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 Timorese people. Countless others were subjected to systemic rapes, beatings and torture.
Decades of vicious Indonesian rule, supported by the Australian government, has left the now-independent nation of Timor-Leste mired in poverty. Infrastructure is lacking, maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world, malnutrition affects over half of the population, many people are unable to access health care, and gender equality rates are low.
Australian’s went to the polls and voted in a Federal Liberal government just a few weeks ago. Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is now at the helm of the country that is the fifth-richest per capita in the world and ranks second in the UN’s Human Development Index. Timor-Leste, located just an hour’s flight from Australia, is ranked 134th.
In the lead up to the election, it was announced that if elected, the Liberal Party would reduce planned foreign aid spending by $4.5 billion, with the funds being redirected to build roads in Sydney and Melbourne. At the time of the announcement, then-Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said: “Australia can only be a more generous donor if it grows its own economy first”.
The economy that puts us in the fifth-richest country per capita in the world, you mean, Joe? The economy that has us ranked second on the Human Development Index? That economy?!
Timor-Leste, my current home, will inevitably feel the cruel pinch of Australian aid cuts.
A country that so desperately needs and wants help, will lose some of it.
A country, that successive Australian governments helped to destroy, will lose some of the assistance we once provided – the assistance that might, one day, make up for the way we allowed the Timorese to be treated.
There’s no details yet as to where the cuts will come from. Timor might lose some of the funding it receives for education, capacity-building in public service areas that will eventually lead to self-sufficiency, life-saving vaccination programs, or programs that are finally allowing people to go to the toilet in a safe and hygienic way.
And they will lose these things so that the polluted concrete jungles of Melbourne and Sydney can have new roads. Roads that will inevitably be identical to the thousands of roads that they already have. Roads that will allow for a few minutes to be cut from the daily commute to and from work.
Our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, will make these cuts. He will redirect funds away from those who so desperately need it; away from those that we helped to hurt; away from those that we should repay for the things we allowed to happen.
Yes, a few thousand Australians will get home a little quicker at night, thanks to these funds being “redirected”.
A few thousand Timorese may lose much, much more.