Paul Keating argued Australia can ‘be directly threatened with military force only through Indonesia and Papua New Guinea’
part of his vision of a grown-up Australia, the prime minister, Paul Keating, wanted the nation to find its own voice on trade, diplomacy and security. In particular, he wanted a much deeper engagement with Asia.
On 18 December 1995 Australia signed a landmark security agreement with Indonesia, ending decades of antagonistic relations. It had been approved by cabinet just four days earlier, cabinet documents for 1994 and 1995 released by the Australian National Archives on Monday reveal.
The submission argues that the defence white paper had identified Australia’s relationship with Indonesia as its most important and that a treaty would put a “formal umbrella” over existing understandings.
Cabinet records for 1994 and 1995 held by the National Archives of Australia are accessible from 1 January 2018. Copies of 245 cabinet records from 1994 and 1995 have been made available to the media under embargo. The Guardian’s reports are based on these. Some were redacted due to national security concerns.
Information about the cabinet records, copies of key cabinet documents, including selected submissions and decisions, are available on the national archives website.
Requests for access to records not already released may be made via RecordSearch on the website.
“There is no country more important to Australia than Indonesia,” Keating argued in his submission. “Australian territory can in effect be directly threatened with military force only through Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.”
But the agreement was very controversial. In Australia, as in Portugal, there was growing support for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia following the Dili massacre in 1991 and a series of brutal crackdowns on the resistance movement Fretilin by the Suharto regime.
Keating acknowledged there would be “criticism from opponents of Indonesia, groups which are concerned by Indonesian policy in East Timor and from those who have simply been taken by surprise”.
But he argued it was a matter of being clear about what the treaty didn’t do. It did not commit Australia in any way it did not wish on East Timor or require Australia to compromise its position on human rights, he argued.
At a briefing on the cabinet paper, Kim Beazley, the former defence minister, said: “Paul knew I was pretty hardline when it came to the defence of Australia ... on the 707 he told me what he was up to. Suharto hadn’t told his people either, I believe.”
Beazley remembered the thousand-yard stares of the generals who flanked Suharto.