Australia’s Relations With Indonesia At Stake Over Secret East Timor Papers

Canberra blocking release of 30-year-old documents on atrocities as it seeks to rebuild ties with Jakarta, AAT told Australian attorney-general George Brandis has issued a public interest certificate to prevent the papers going public Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP Concerns about Australia’s troubled relationship with Indonesia are behind the government’s refusal to release secret 30-year-old documents about the war in East Timor. The fallout from Guardian Australia’s revelations about Australia’s attempts to spy on the Indonesia leadership has cast a shadow over attempts by University of NSW academic Clinton  Fernandes to secure the release of government documents relating to Indonesia’s treatment of East Timorese people between 1981 and 1982.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal president Justice Kerr told a hearing in Canberra this week that one of the reasons for keeping the documents secret was their potential to affect the current exchange of intelligence with Indonesia.

The National Archives wants to keep the files secret on the advice of the foreign affairs department and gave evidence to the tribunal in closed session.

Justice Kerr told Fernandes that it had been argued “the material may affect foreign relationships between Australia and Indonesia against a background that all parties would accept as presently less settled than it has been in some recent time” – a reference to the diplomatic freeze between Canberra and Jakarta since the Guardian story was published.

Fernandes, a former military analyst, was told the documents could “reveal information about Australia’s intelligence sources, methods, operations and capabilities” according to Fairfax.

However, Justice Kerr, confirmed there was nothing in the documents related to defence signal intercepts (DSD) and, consequently, no argument was made that Australia’s intelligence methods would be compromised by releasing the documents.

The documents relate to the “fence of legs” – a military operation conducted by Indonesian forces in East Timor resulting in the deaths of thousands of East Timorese civilians.