2000 Maurice Blackburn Oration on The Importance of Community Alliances in the Rebuilding of East Timor by Xanana Gusmao

The Importance of Community Alliances in the Rebuilding of East Timor
Xanana Gusmão

Mr Xanana Gusmão
President of the National Council of Timorese Resistance

4 May 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen

Friends of East Timor

When I was asked to provide a working title for this year´s oration, it occurred to me that an appropriate one would be a slight modification of the title of last year´s paper, delivered by Ms Mary Crooks, i.e. Victoria 2000 - Repairing the Social Democratic Fabric. My choice would have been East Timor 2000 - Building a Social Democratic Fabric.

Whilst the people of this state have struggled in recent years to halt the erosion of the values, principles, public functions and services which underpin a democratic society, in the year 2000 our people find themselves attempting to construct and foster these things from the ground up. I instead opted for a title which has a special relevance to the current audience and to the efforts of the organisers, the Moreland City Council, to build bridges of friendship and understanding with the people of war-ravaged East Timor.

But allow me to first provide you with some context against which to look at the question of support from within the Australian community for East Timor´s reconstruction efforts.

The people of East Timor are emerging from a long and difficult liberation struggle marked by the indifference of the international community. On 30 August 1999, in a final act of determination to win, that small and defenceless people turned out at the polling booths in a magnificent display of democratic consciousness, and in spite of the climate of violence and intimidation which had been created deliberately to punish our people´s audacity for desiring independence.

Here we see reflected two aspects of the struggle: independence and democracy or liberation and freedom. The people of East Timor never desired just independence, nor did they struggle as they did just to earn a national flag and anthem, a president and a government of their own. The people of East Timor nurtured other dreams which they knew well could only be realised through independence.

Only independence would make of us a People, active participants in the process of our own development, as a nation and as human beings. Only independence could guarantee us, as a people, our rights as citizens and our collective rights as a society.

The Timorese people destroyed the perception that was created around their struggle - that they were satisfied with the 'physical development' which the Indonesian annexation was imposing as part of a concerted campaign to 'win hearts and minds'.

When I returned to Timor and in my first contacts with the people, the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness .... at so much systematic violence and destruction, all orchestrated by the Indonesian military which was unable to accept that such a small and defenceless people could defeat them in such a humiliating way. And ironically, in this world full of ironies, Zacky Anwar, one of the Indonesian Kopassus generals who made his career through the genocidal war in East Timor, exclaimed to me during my time under house arrest in Salemba, Jakarta, 'we are facing an international conspiracy against Indonesia... but the veterans of the war in East Timor will never accept a solution that obliges us to renounce our sovereignty over the territory'.

The violence and destruction were designed to punish the people of East Timor and to dissuade them from opting for independence. In the event that this tactic was unsuccessful, the people would at least be made to start from scratch, rebuilding their lives from the ground up.

However, the people did not dwell long on the pain caused by recalling the lives of loved ones lost and the irrationality of the Indonesian generals who had deprived them of everything they had managed to acquire throughout those 24 years of resistance to bitter repression. Instead, the people joined forces once again to celebrate that hard-won victory, a victory which proved to all the 'high price of freedom'.

And it is this high price which obliges us to be mindful of our commitment to the people, of our duty to ensure that their participation did not end on 30 August 1999. We must ensure their active participation and that the processes employed are such that they confer upon our people real capacity to contribute to the building of a truly free and democratic country.

Today we witness an almost universal repugnance to the violence and destruction which swept East Timor. In this era of globalisation, the media plays an extremely vital role in the forming of world public opinion.

Thanks to this fact, we have been compensated for our losses by an extraordinary flood of external assistance amounting to 322 million dollars over a three year period. This is over and above a large sum already expended on humanitarian assistance since the time of the entry of international organisations at the end of September last year.

We are experiencing a tidal wave of sympathy and willingness to contribute to the reconstruction of East Timor. As proof of this good will, East Timor has recently played host to a number of international dignitaries such as Prime Minister John Howard, US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister, Azuma, the Portuguese and Indonesian Presidents, the President of the World Bank, the parliamentarians, ministers and ambassadors of a number of countries and, most recently, the Portuguese Prime Minister. In addition, as part of efforts by the international community to keep the issue of East Timor alive in the world´s consciousness, a number of countries are establishing diplomatic missions in our country.

We are however concerned that, six months after the establishment of the UNTAET in East Timor, the transitional administration continues to be afflicted by problems of financing for its activities. Such finance is vital to kick start the transitional administration which will be the vehicle through which the East Timorese people prepare themselves to take over management of the new independent state.

Quite understandably, all attention is focussed on the urgent need to commence reconstruction of basic infrastructure as a first step in the process of transition to independence. The two year period mandated to UNTAET by the UN Security Council may well turn out to be too short given that all depends on the UN´s ability to carry out its responsibilities, without delay or impediment, of methodically and efficiently preparing the East Timorese people for self-government.

We are highly conscious of the fact that East Timor is not the only focus of the world´s attention and that natural or man-made disasters in other parts of the world may well come to take East Timor´s place in terms of the urgency to respond.

Nevertheless, the physical reconstruction of East Timor is bound to be as lengthy and drawn out a process as that of gaining independence. Development, if thought of as the need to physically rebuild all of East Timor´s infrastructure as a precondition for declaring independence, is not, therefore, UNTAET´s responsibility.

And, once again, we are conscious of the fact that the well of sympathy of the international community or, more precisely, of the donor nations, is bound to dry up sooner or later thanks to that well-known phenomenon referred to as 'donor fatigue'. Thus, whilst the winds are currently blowing in our favour, and aid presently comes with no strings attached, we are acutely aware that our future depends largely on whether or not we are capable of avoiding the trap of a huge foreign debt.

The challenges we face today are numerous. One of these is the need to put an end as soon as possible to our dependence on external food aid. We are attempting to achieve this by soliciting bilateral assistance (provided directly to CNRT) to purchase tractors and motorised ploughs aimed at boosting agricultural production throughout the year 2000. Our goal is self-sufficiency by March 2001.

The international community and governments need to show greater faith in the CNRT. After all, in two to three years´ time, Timor will be fully independent and it will be with the Timorese people that agreements and contracts are signed. In order to illustrate the fact that the CNRT has begun to receive this trust and is capable of independently administering large sums of international aid, allow me to list the international assistance we have been in receipt of to date.

From the former government of Macau we have received one million US dollars with which we have purchased five large tractors, 20 medium-sized tractors and 200 motorized ploughs. We received from the same source an additional sum with which to purchase fuel and to pay the salaries of the agronomists, tractor operators and agricultural extension workers to be deployed in six mobile production brigades.

For the same objective, we have received from the Norwegian government the sum of five hundred thousand dollars and a further one hundred thousand from the Government of Sweden. The People´s Republic of China has granted us aid to the value of three million dollars for the purchase of agricultural equipment and a further amount for development of the fisheries sector, both of which are vital to our eventual self-sufficiency in terms of food production.

In the meantime, we are developing our national plan for diversification of agricultural production, to commence in the year 2001.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the national reconstruction needs of a new nation.

Health is a sector requiring much attention, from the rehabilitation of hospitals and clinics throughout the territory including their equipment, the creation and management of a national health system and the training of health workers, to research into the production of medicines originating from local medicinal plants.

Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, goiter and diarrhoea, along with the high rate of infant mortality, are all high on our list of concerns and priorities. Education campaigns focussing on preventive health, hygiene, and urban and rural sanitation are also counted amongst our medium and long-term priorities.

Education as a pillar of the development of Timorese society also requires extensive planning, from design of a system of education at all levels including creation of a new curriculum, to the scheduling of intensive courses of strategic professional training and apprenticeship schemes aimed at responding to a new nation´s demands for qualified labour.

Only by boosting the educational standards of the Timorese people will East Timor be guaranteed a promising future given the connection between the quality of available human resources and the long-term sustainability of development which requires that the Timorese people become the decision makers.

Education, too, has an important role to play in terms of strengthening the historical and cultural identity of the East Timorese people, an identity which has allowed them to stand apart from the thirteen thousand islands which make up the great Indonesian archipelago.

Without this distinct and unique culture and history, carved from the influence of two different colonial powers and which have determined the destinies of over two hundred and twenty million Indonesians and less than eight hundred thousand Timorese, it is simply inconceivable that a small half island of nineteen thousand square kilometres and with a small enclave lying on the other side of the island, could entertain ambitions of self-determination and national liberation.

Today, we regret the pressure being brought to bear upon us to adopt the English language which strikes no chords with us in terms of our history and culture and which will have the eventual effect of distancing us from our East Timorese identity, an identity developed over centuries. In a region which is so heterogeneous in terms of cultures, ethnic groups and histories, we feel the need to reaffirm our national personality and identity.

Even so, we are acutely aware of our small size and fragility and we know, too, that in this era of globalisation, independence may mean little more than keeping in check one´s political, economic and cultural dependence on other nations of the world.

That future of independence for which more than two hundred and fifty thousand lives were sacrificed at times threatens to overwhelm us with the sheer magnitude of the task it represents. A future of great challenges and of huge responsibilities.

Economically, East Timor was always viewed as a basket case, with next to no chance of economic survival. We were told that we should be grateful to Indonesia for its willingness to share with us the fruits of its success and for its efforts on our behalf to seek assistance from the great and powerful nations of the world.

Today, in some people´s eyes, we are still a nation without resources, whilst others now draw the conclusion that after all East Timor is not destined to become merely the bearer of unpayable debts.

The development of a market economy is an imperative in our relations with the world, knowing as we do that we must compete with some highly organised and sophisticated national economies, all of which only serves to reinforce the initial weakness with which we make our entry onto the world economic stage.

Maximum exploitation of our natural resources, keeping in mind the needs and survival of future generations, must be balanced with serious commitment to environmental protection. Unchecked exploration of resources in the name of overly ambitious development projects, disconnected from the environmental reality and the needs of the people, is not only counter-productive, but also runs counter to the notion of economic sustainability, an underlying principle of harmonious social development.

Harmonious social development is, in my humble layman´s opinion, the appropriate matching of the primordial needs of a population with means which are capable of progressively and effectively improving the conditions of life of each and every East Timorese.

Given that over 45 per cent of the East Timorese population is below the age of 18, any educational policy we may come to adopt must accommodate from the outset the prospect of drastic changes in the next 10 to 15 years in the means of production, from quite primitive to predominantly mechanised systems. In the meantime, however, the overwhelming majority of the East Timorese population are farmers, with over half practising subsistence agriculture.

A very small number of our people are qualified and skilled as builders, mechanics, electricians, drivers, stevedores etc. Retail trade and hawking are attracting many would-be business people as an obvious and relatively easy answer to the unemployment problem.

East Timor lacks an indigenous entrepreneurial class capable of absorbing labour. What we do have is a group of contractors and wholesalers who do not as yet possess the professional and managerial capacity required of a true entrepreneur.

Over the years, the East Timorese people have acquired the belief that the only vocation capable of conferring real social status upon a person is the civil service. In addition, all of the evils of Indonesian society such as corruption, collusion and nepotism have become intertwined with the notion that the civil service guarantees benefits to the privileged in society.

For this reason and because it served Golkar´s interests, Timorese employed by the inefficient Indonesian public administration totalled around thirty thousand. With the adoption of what has been felt to be a more correct policy on the civil service, we foresee the recruitment of only seven thousand public servants in the first year, reaching twelve and a half thousand by the third year. In other words, roughly twenty thousand of those employed as public servants under the Indonesian administration will be without employment. Add to this the approximately two thousand Timorese educated in various fields and a significant number of cadres of the resistance who sacrificed their careers and studies for the ideal of national liberation.

If we define employment as 'all activities for which remuneration is obtained', employment for the people of East Timor is presently limited to work as drivers, interpreters, security personnel and garbage collectors.

These are the sorts of jobs currently on offer to the East Timorese from UNTAET and the NGOs.

It is thought that the reconstruction of infrastructure will require the employment of thousands of East Timorese. However, realistically public works will absorb only construction workers, carpenters, machine operators, electricians and the like. Reconstruction will fail to provide employment over the next ten or so years to the over twenty thousand East Timorese who could be referred to as the East Timorese 'middle class' or the embryo of the country´s political and economic elite.

The problem of unemployment concerns us greatly. Whether or not our attempts at promoting reconciliation are successful or not will depend to some extent on our ability to guarantee employment to this sector of the society, given that the majority of those returning to East Timor tend to be those who enjoyed particular privileges in the past. Thus, upon their return, they run the risk of provoking social jealousy and unrest.

For this reason it has become strategically necessary to think about foreign investment in East Timor which will absorb labour from the middle class and guarantee it an active and participatory role in the economic development of the country. After all, it will be the private sector which will drive this development, eroding the hegemony of an all-powerful but inefficient bureaucracy which had become nothing but a burden on society.

Carreful research and planning will allow us to be selective in terms of which foreign investment projects we accept. Preference will be given to those initiatives which emphasize transfer of technology, thus ensuring the continuity of the projects which will be initiated by East Timor´s emerging class of entrepreneurs.

Whilst there are still many areas such as the political sphere upon which I have not yet touched, let me bring the discussion now back to the local level.

To quote Klaus Rohland of the World Bank, the world now has the opportunity to help rebuild East Timor, 'after 25 years of neglect and compromise'.

That a number of cities across Australia, but in particular in the state of Victoria, have accepted this challenge is a source of immense satisfaction and hope to our people. As we await the disbursement of the funds pledged by donor nations in Tokyo last December, the assistance across a number of key sectors of individual councils has helped to keep our people´s hope in the future and faith in that nebulous beast, the international community, alive.

The City of Moreland has chosen to establish a friendship city relationship with Aileu, a hill town about 50 kilometres south of Dili and the current headquarters of the Falintil, East Timor´s national liberation army. As Commander of the Falintil, this link has special significance, and I look forward to discussing with you what form the relationship might take.

The City of Port Philip launched its Friends of Suai program on 19 March, and Frankston made the first steps towards establishing friendship city ties with Oecussi as early as late last year. Each of these initiatives, in addition to the many I have not named, has brought much needed equipment and resources such as bicycles, vehicles, foodstuffs, clothing and electrical goods to the people of East Timor who lost everything in the recent violence which swept our country. However, more important than the material aid which such links generate are the friendships and the bonds of mutual understanding and of true solidarity between individuals and the communities they represent which will persist and continue to bear fruit long after the last sack of rice is distributed and the last aid worker has headed home.

We have a good deal to learn from Australia. Whilst the thrust of our official bilateral relationship will no doubt be cooperation in the areas of higher education, health, water and sanitation, agriculture, rural development and governance, we are keen to forge links with local government in areas such as professional development and technical training through apprenticeship and internship schemes, programs of community art and culture etc.

It is at the small group level of church committees, school and university clubs, professional associations and local solidarity groups that much of the groundswell of popular support for our cause was initiated. Responding to a humanitarian emergency and to the longer term development needs of a new nation is as difficult and complex a task as was that of keeping the attention of the world focussed on the war in East Timor and our people´s right to self-determination over 24 long years. However, today´s challenges do require a more coordinated approach than that which was employed by the solidarity movement, and here local government has a vital role to play, whilst at the same time providing a vehicle for ongoing involvement to long-term supporters of the East Timorese struggle.

Australia´s rich cultural mix and its policy of Multiculturalism hold many important lessons for us also. Whilst East Timorese society has for centuries been a multi-ethnic one, the younger generation has known an extended period of isolation from the outside world as a result of Indonesia´s policy of shutting off the territory to the world and its scrutiny.

We have never to date enjoyed the political or social conditions to fully explore the value and meaning of cultural diversity, nor have we been particularly conscious of the need to tailor public services to the needs of different groups in our society. Here again, Australia´s experience of provision of services to ethnic minorities and its celebration of its cultural wealth is hugely relevant and worthy of emulation. The importance of fostering a climate of ethnic tolerance and social pluralism in modern day East Timor cannot be stressed enough, particularly given the important work of national reconciliation which lies ahead of us.

Maurice and Doris Blackburn may have known little about East Timor, but their legacy of commitment to the common good lives on in the deeds of modern day Victorians. To all of those who contributed to the realisation of this evening´s program and to all Australians whose notion of community extends beyond national boundaries, I extend the greetings and heartfelt thanks of my people, the East Timorese people.

Maurice and Doris Blackburn

Maurice McCrae Blackburn (1880 - 1944) was born to a middle class family. However, in 1886 his father died of typhoid, leaving his widow and four children with very little means of support. Although Maurice matriculated in 1896, due to financial constraints he had to wait ten years before he graduated in Arts and a further three before he earned a Law degree.

Maurice Blackburn was a clever man who, despite his financial circumstances, was sufficiently well-connected to have succeeded in a comfortable, conventional legal career. Instead, he chose to throw in his lot with the exploited and the under- privileged. He took from his middle class background the notion of public service and transformed it into service to the labour movement.

Maurice Blackburn did not move to the centre stage of political activity until his studies were completed. In 1911, he joined the Victorian Socialist Party; however, when the Party decided not to stand candidates at elections, Maurice, along with a number of others, chose to join the Labor Party. In 1914, against the odds, Blackburn won the seat of Essendon and so began his time as a Labor member of the Victorian Parliament. His opposition to conscription placed him completely beyond the pale of a patriotic society. Conversely, it elevated him immediately to the status of labor hero. Maurice lost his seat in a campaign marked by vicious personal attacks.

In the following four years as the labour movement throughout Australia was struggling to clarify and re-define its aims and practices, Maurice played a major role in the Labor Party's development. After winning the seat of Fitzroy, he re-entered the Victorian Parliament in 1925 and remained there until 1933. In 1934, he served as the Federal Member for Burke, which then covered large parts of the Moreland area. In the Federal Parliament, Blackburn relished the opportunity to speak on war and peace, industrial and civil rights issues. He remained in Federal politics until 1943.

Throughout his political life, Maurice devoted his considerable intellectual abilities to the cause of social justice, civil liberties and international peace. In many ways he served as a conscience for the Australian Labor Party. Maurice Blackburn always stood firm in defence of democratic values both in society at large and within the party. Tolerant, cheerful and unambitious for high office, he was admired inside and outside the labour movement for his integrity and commitment.

Doris Amelia Blackburn (1889 - 1970) shared her husband's values and principles and led an active political career of her own, beginning with the early campaign for women's rights. She went on to promote pre-school education in conjunction with an enduring involvement in the peace movement. She was the Federal Member for Burke from 1946 to 1949. Doris played a central role in the establishment of organisations for the advancement of indigenous Australians.

Derived from Maurice Blackburn - the man and the legend by Carolyn Rasmussen Ph.D.

Blackburn Orations 1987-99

1987 Bob Hawke Speech by the Prime Minister Inaugural Maurice Blackburn Memorial Lecture

1988 John Bannon The Relevance of Labor in Today's Australia

1989 Jean McCaughey, ao Focus on Families

1990 Dr Jocelynne Scutt In Praise of Dissent - Power, Politics and the Democratic Ideal

1991 Dr Carolyn Rasmussen Maurice Blackburn - The Man and the Legend

1992 Jack Culpin, jp Political Changes

1993 Dr Eric Willmot, am A New Dreaming

1994 Hon Chief Justice Alastair The Australian Family - Nicholson, ao, rfd What is the Future?

1996 Right Reverend Michael Person, Place and Power Challen, am

1997 Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue, cbe, am Australians for Reconciliation

1998 Thomas Keneally The Perils of Commonwealths

1999 Mary Crooks Victoria 2000: Repairing the Social Democratic Fabric