Having abandoned the East Timorese people to invasion and genocide for a quarter of a century, a bewildered Australian Government was forced into military intervention in late 1999, just as that little nation began its final race towards independence. Though civil solidarity had grown over many years, state intervention in support of the East Timorese was a very last minute affair. Informed observers note that there were joint US-Indonesian military exercises just days before the August 1999 referendum. But the Indonesian Army (TNI)-instigated violence of September 1999 led to an international outcry that forced decisions at that year’s APEC meeting. By the end of 1999 Australia’s apparent turnaround was complete, with Australian troops leading an international force to take over from the TNI, and to subdue the TNI-backed militias; and with Australian participation in the UN peacekeeping and multilateral aide efforts, help construct an East Timorese nation. By 2003 the Australian Ambassador to East Timor felt able to claim that “East Timor has no better friend than Australia”. However, the postcolonial friendship has been undermined by Australian opportunism over East Timor’s oil and gas resources. Australia has betrayed the people of East Timor again, by wearing the clothes of an aid donor and benefactor, yet taking most of its little neighbour’s most valuable assets. This paper will explain the basic economic elements of the Australian-East Timorese relationship, since 1999.
Journal of Australian Political Economy, 52