The Australian Parliament has begun a broad-ranging inquiry into Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste. We present here a summary and full text of CHART’s submission to the inquiry.
CHART calls for a critical examination of current restrictions on access to Australian government archives about East Timor and calls for Australian support for emerging archival institutions in Timor-Leste.
On May 21, the Australian parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will commence public hearings on Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste. The inquiry will examine government and non-government relationships and has attracted over seventy submissions – largely from Australian NGOs and individuals.
This is the third Australian parliamentary inquiry specifically on Timor in the current era, following Senate Committee inquiries in 1982-83 and 1999-2000. Historically these reports have had little obvious influence on the direction of government policy (the 1983 report was virtually ignored by the then Hawke Labor Government). However, such inquiries can provide a comprehensive insight into the thinking and actions of key players and are an important compendium of current information. The reports and the large volume of submissions and evidential transcripts also serve as a rich archival record for future generations.
Our submission to the inquiry is based on an a view that the current many-faceted relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste arises directly out of the traumatic years of the Indonesian military occupation, 1975-1999. For this reason, Australians and East Timorese have a shared and abiding interest in access to historical archives about this period.
The Chart submission makes a series of recomendations in two areas: The right to the truth through access to archives, and the development of relationships between Australian and emerging East Timorese archival institutions.
Access to Australian archives on Timor
Drawing attention to the growing international interest in ‘the right to truth’, CHART makes a number of recommendations on access, including:
- Timor records in the custody of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) be subject to a special program to expedite their release for public access
- Processes for examining records for release be revised to speed up public access
- The Department of Foreign Affairs’ restrictions on access be critically examined to establish whether they are over-cautious or unnecessarily restrictive.
Timor-Australia Archival relationships
Australia, as comparatively rich neighbour, is better placed than any other to cooperate with Timor-Leste in the development of sustainable archival institutions in Timor. While arguing against unsustainable, quick-fix, high technology assistance, the CHART submission recommends:
- Exploratory relationship-building between National Archives of Australia and Timor-Leste’s Arquivo Nacional
- Australian government support for Australian institutions with Timor archival holdings and programs
- Australian archival institutions include in their Timor relationship programs, coordination with related Timor-engaged Australian non-government cultural initiatives
- Programs to copy Australian-held Timor archival materials for eventual access in Timor-Leste.
CHART believes all these practical recommendations can be achieved over time and done in ways which are of relatively low cost.
[Note: More links to be added as Inquiry proceeds]