Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shirley Shackelton, John Pilger and the ugly truth of Australia's imperial exploitation of East Timor

"Shirley Shackleton is one of a remarkable group of people who never gave up in the struggle for East Timor's freedom. She is quite simply a hero."
John Pilger
Shirley Shackleton's life has largely been defined by the shocking record of Australian complicity in the tragic history of East Timor.

On October 16th 1975 in the East Timor town of Balibo her journalist husband Greg Shackleton was murdered by Indonesian forces along with 4 other Australia journalists- Tony Stewart, Brian Peters, Gary Cunningham and Malcolm Rennie.

The Australian journalists were murdered because they  stumbled upon and filmed the illegal and covert Indonesian invasion of East Timor.  Seven weeks later on December 7th 1975 Indonesian forces invaded and occupied Dili and instigated a bloody campaign of occupation, murder and genocide against the East Timorese people that lasted until 1999. All of this occurred with the support and collusion of the the then Whitlam Government and its diplomatic mandarins in Indonesia and Canberra.

It was those events and the subsequent cover up by successive Australian and Indonesian Governments of the circumstances of the journalists' death  and that of another Australian journalist Roger East that launched Shirley Shackleton on a 40 year struggle to find out and expose the truth of what happened in Balibo that day.

Her  2010 Walkley award winning memoir The Circle of Silence tells of her activism and campaign for justice for all those who died in East Timor. The book describes the impact of the murder of the Balibo Five on her and her family and documents the denial and cover ups perpetrated by all levels of the Australia Government. The book goes into great detail about the appalling treatment she (and other families) received from the Australian Government and the television station who employed her husband.

Shackleton also documents successive Australian government complicity in the Indonesian genocide in East Timor from 1975 to 1999.

It was largely the efforts of Shirley Shackleton and the families of the other murdered journalists that led to the 2007 NSW Coroners Court judicial inquiry into the Balibo murders.

The Inquiry found that the five journalists had been murdered by Indonesian special forces while trying to surrender. Evidence of war crimes was referred to the Australian Federal Police to see if charges could be laid against former  Indonesian soldiers. The AFP are still conducting inquiries.

The 2010 film Balibo by Director Robert Connolly recreates the circumstances surrounding the death of the Balibo Five and Roger East.

The Australian journalist John Pilger has spent over 25 years  exposing the Indonesian Government's illegal occupation and its genocide and brutality in East Timor as well as the collusion of Australia Governments. In her book Shirley Shackleton acknowledges the pioneering journalism of John Pilger.

As John Pilger points out in a recent article Australia's colonial exploitation of East Timor did not end with East Timorese independence. Pilger writes that with elections underway on the tenth anniversary of independence, Australia's exploitation of East Timor continues,  albeit under a different guise:
"Celebrating the tenth anniversary of an independence Evans once denied, East Timor is in the throes of electing a new president; the second round of voting is on 21 April, followed by parliamentary elections.

For many Timorese, their children malnourished and stunted, the democracy is notional. Years of bloody occupation, backed by Australia, Britain and the US, were followed by a relentless campaign of bullying by the Australian government to manoeuvre the tiny new nation out of its proper share of the seabed's oil and gas revenue. Having refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the Law of the Sea, Australia unilaterally changed the maritime boundary.

In 2006, a deal was finally signed, largely on Australia's terms. Soon afterwards, Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri, a nationalist who had stood up to Canberra and opposed foreign interference and indebtedness to the World Bank, was effectively deposed in what he called an "attempted coup" by "outsiders". Australia has "peace-keeping" troops based in East Timor and had trained his opponents. According to a leaked Australian Defence Department document, Australia's "first objective" in East Timor is for its military to "seek access" so that it can exercise "influence over East Timor's decision-making". Of the two current presidential candidates is Taur Matan Rauk, a general and Canberra's man who helped see off the troublesome Alkitiri.

One independent little country astride lucrative natural resources and strategic sea lanes is of serious concern to the United States and its  "deputy sheriff" in Canberra. (President George W. Bush actually promoted Australia to full sheriff). That largely explains why the Suharto regime required such devotion from its western sponsors. Washington's enduring obsession in Asia is China, which today offers developing countries investment, skills and infrastructure in return for resources.

Visiting Australia last November, President Barack Obama issued another of his veiled threats to China and announced the establishment of a US Marines' base in Darwin, just across the water from East Timor. He understands that small, impoverished countries can often present the greatest threat to predatory power, because if they cannot be intimidated and controlled, who can?"


Kerry Sattler said...

I have just finished reading Shirley's book and am totally ashamed. Ashamed of me and ashamed of Australia. Resources put ahead of human lives.

Colin Penter said...

Thanks Kerry for your interest and comments. Like you I found reading reading Shirley's book a profoundly troubling experience for what is says about Australian politicians and the Australian Government, as well as our foreign affairs establishment and the the Australian media which with a few honorable exceptions was complicit as well. Yes the resource industry exploitation continues to play out trough Woodside's ongoing attempt to extract huge profits from East Timor's resources.