House debates

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Questions without Notice

East Timor

3:05 pm

Photo of Dennis JensenDennis Jensen (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the outcome of East Timor’s elections?

Photo of Alexander DownerAlexander Downer (Mayo, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

First, can I thank the honourable member for Tangney for his question. We were, on balance, very pleased with the way the East Timor elections were conducted. I think they were conducted on the whole quite peacefully, and it was great to see that expression of democracy yet again by the people of East Timor. They elected a parliament and now the president has chosen Xanana Gusmao to be the Prime Minister of East Timor as part of a CNRT party led coalition, which will have 37 seats out of 65 in the East Timor parliament. So they will have a clear majority.

We look forward to working with Xanana Gusmao. He is well known to many members of the government. I first met him in 1999 when I visited him in a jail in Jakarta, so he is somebody I have known for a long time. I think we can look forward to a productive relationship with him. Having said that, of course, I know that some people in the Fretilin party—which is the largest single party in the parliament, with 21 seats—will be disappointed that they have not been asked to form the government. Nevertheless, we look forward to maintaining a constructive relationship with the Fretilin leadership and parliamentarians and working with them as they play a part in the new parliament.

Let me just make this point: there have been some outbreaks of violence over the past couple of days, seemingly in response to the appointment of Xanana Gusmao and his party and his coalition in East Timor to government. We would urge the East Timorese people to allow the parliament itself to make decisions as to where the majority should lie and, if they have constitutional issues that they wish to raise, then those constitutional issues should be raised where they are meant to be raised—in courts. But the political differences should not be played out on the streets through rock-throwing or, even worse, the use of guns, lawlessness and violence, because in the end not only will that sort of activity be counterproductive, not only is that sort of activity against the laws of East Timor, but it will do devastating damage to the overall state of East Timor and the welfare of the people of East Timor. I would hope that all East Timorese people would first and foremost put the interests of their country before all else.

We retain somewhere between 800 and 900 troops in East Timor. We have quite a number of police officers—about 50, I think—working in the United Nations police. That of course underlines the strength of our commitment to East Timor. Those people will stay there for as long as they are needed. We obviously hope that it will be possible to reduce those numbers before too long, but it is going to depend on the situation on the ground in East Timor. I repeat: I very much hope, at this time where we have seen a very successful expression of democracy in a neighbouring country that we have done so much to help, that the people of East Timor—and I mean by that all of the people of East Timor—will accept the democratic results of both the election and of the parliamentary vote, respect the constitution and respect the courts, the broader institutions of the country and not resort to violence.