The ghosts of Gareth Evans

Murdoch columnist Piers Akerman can usually be relied upon to defend the most powerful in society and belittle the least able to respond. He’s a corporate commentator, after all.

But a piece this week, writing about Gareth Evans, the new chancellor of the Australian National University and former Australian attorney-general and foreign minister, surprisingly reminds readers of his bloody past over East Timor:

Students might also like to quiz Evans on the subject of Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor, which Labor in Opposition had strongly condemned “in the strongest terms” including calling for the suspension of all defence aid to Indonesia.

That position was dumped when Labor came to power, however, and sent a parliamentary delegation on a “fact-finding tour” of East Timor. During the tour, Fretilin representatives tried to make contact with delegates but were rebuffed.

They were later captured and killed by the Indonesian military. The report of the delegation concluded that the Indonesian government was acting in good faith.

Evans, as foreign minister, signed the Timor Gap Treaty with Indonesia’s foreign minister Ali Alatas in December 1989, ensuring that Australia and Indonesia would share East Timor’s oil, while the Indonesian army continued to occupy East Timor.

The following year he dismissed concerns about Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of East Timor, saying: “What I can say is simply that the world is a pretty unfair place, that it’s littered over the course of the decades and the centuries with examples of acquisitions by force which have proved to be, for whatever reason, irreversible.”

Nine months before the infamous 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, Evans had stated that East Timor’s “human rights situation has, in our judgment, greatly improved under the present military arrangements”.

When news of the massacre broke, it was, Evans said: “An aberration, not an act of state policy.”

The Indonesian government said the dead civilians had been responsible for provoking the military into firing on them.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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