The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 24/05/2006

Acting Prime Minister

Press Conference
Parliament House, Canberra

Wednesday, 24 May 2006
9.50 pm

SUBJECTS: East Timor

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

This evening the Australian Government received a letter signed by the President of East Timor Xanana Gusmao, the President of the National Parliament Francisco Guterres and Prime Minister Alkatiri.

The letter requested that Australia send defence forces to East Timor to help in maintaining and re-establishing public order.

In response to that request I have written back to the President, the President of the National Parliament and the Prime Minister indicating that the Australian Government is disposed to respond positively, that subject to appropriate conditions being agreed between our two Governments we will provide military assistance to re-establish and maintain public order and notifying the East Timor Government that an advance team led by the Vice-Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, will travel to Dili tomorrow morning.

The purpose of that visit is to agree on matters such as force composition and tasks. Our forces are in an advanced state of readiness. Once conditions have been agreed with the Vice-Chief of the Australian Defence Force tomorrow the Australian Government will confirm the deployment.

The East Timor Government has informed us that it will be seeking support from the United Nations for this intervention and has also informed us that it will be seeking assistance from other countries.

Australia stands ready to assist East Timor to re-establish and maintain public order. Our force has been in a high state of readiness now for some time and once an agreement is reached we will be able to move quite quickly.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet met to decide these matters this evening. The National Security Committee of Cabinet will meet again tomorrow morning to review the situation.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned that Australians may be in danger tomorrow when news of this seeps out in East Timor?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

The Australian Government has already begun to facilitate non-essential staff to leave Dili and that will continue. The Australian Government will also be requesting additional flight capacity if there are more people that wish to leave Dili. We have issued a Travel Warning in respect of people going to Dili or those that are already there to consider their situation and arrangements will be made for those that want to leave to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be asking for the Rules of Engagement to be decided before the Manoora, Kanimbla and Tobruk leave?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Tobruk and the Manoora have left Townsville already. They are still in Australian waters. The Rules of Engagement will be set by the Australian Defences Forces but we want an agreement with the authorities in East Timor as to force composition, the role, co-operation with the East Timorese Defence Forces and they are matters that Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie will be negotiating tomorrow – will be putting and will be seeking to settle agreement tomorrow in relation to.

JOURNALIST:

How many people will be taken in this advance party?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

It is just a group of Defence, Foreign Affairs and other officials.

JOURNALIST:

And how soon can the troops be in Dili?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

Well they are at an advanced state of readiness, subject to this agreement they will be there very shortly. The only thing that is holding us back at the moment is settling the details with Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie and the sooner that is agreed the sooner they will be there.

JOURNALIST:

Are they actually on their way to Timor tonight?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Tobruk and the Manoora have left Townsville and they are still in Australian waters.

JOURNALIST:

Could the troops be on the ground in Dili tomorrow?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

The thing that has to be settled is the force composition and the role and the co-operation with the East Timor Defence Forces. That has to be settled with Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie. If that is agreed then the deployment will be confirmed and the troops will start moving. But nothing will happen until that is agreed.

JOURNALIST:

Could it happen as early as tomorrow?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

Well if it happens tomorrow I think the Australian Defence Forces would be in a position to be in East Timor very, very quickly.

JOURNALIST:

Will they fly in or will they be only on ships?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to go into how the force will be deployed. We have to get the agreement settled and the sooner that is done the sooner the forces will arrive in East Timor. But they will arrive in East Timor in a way which will ensure their safety and will have maximum effect and these are operational matters which will be handled by the Chief of the Defence Force.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Downer mentioned a capacity of up to 1,300 troops. Is that looking like a likely force (inaudible)?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is the matter that will be settled tomorrow with the East Timor authorities. But I want to make this clear – the Australian deployment will be sufficient to ensure that Australians are safe, will be sufficient to ensure that we have the capacity and will be sufficient to ensure that they are able to discharge their duties and we will not be doing this by half measures. We will be doing what is required to ensure that they can discharge their obligations.

JOURNALIST:

Who will be in overall command of a multi-national force?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

The Australian deployment will be under an Australian command.

JOURNALIST:

East Timor wants some police officers as well. Will Australia send any?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

The offer that we are making to East Timor is in respect of the Australian Defence Force. That is what is required to secure the situation. Once the situation has been secured if policing is needed we will look at that then. But at this stage the contribution will be the Australian Defence Force.

JOURNALIST:

Just to clarify is Kanimbla in Darwin? Has that moved?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

No I didn’t say anything about the Kanimbla. The Tobruk and the Manoora have left Townsville.

JOURNALIST:

Right. Can I just ask if the Kanimbla has, is still in Darwin?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will leave those matters for Force Command to talk about. Good. Thank you very much.