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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 15:53 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 15:53 | SYDNEY


14 Sep 2009 09:58

One view is that morality demands that the Australian Government do everything possible to seek justice for the journalists killed in Timor in 1975. To give the other side of the argument puts one in the position of the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men: defending the indefensible.

But, just as Jack had some important points to make and dilemmas to expound, there are some arguments that should be heard before the moral grandstanding takes over:


17 Sep 2009 09:38

The pragmatic realists have spent several decades trying to bury the Australian journalists murdered by Indonesian troops in East Timor. The most brutal and explicit example of this was offered nearly three decades ago by one of the great Australian diplomats of his generation, Sir Keith Shann. The Australian journalists who died in Timor, he said, had 'asked for it and they got it.'

This is the less than glorious company Stephen Grenville has joined with his perspective on the new police investigation into the Balibo Five. Stephen's milder version of the Shann thesis is that the Balibo Five were 'foolhardy in the extreme' to be trying to film a covert Indonesian invasion. The journalists, he says, 'intentionally put themselves into mortal danger' and their editors were even 'more culpable'.

The pragmatic realist argument has always been that the need for good relations with Indonesia trumps moral or legal concerns such as the murder of Australian journalists. To buttress this argument, the Balibo Five have to be traduced as fools who went looking for the fate that befell them. This is to misrepresent or misunderstand what journalists do in the midst of conflict.


22 Sep 2009 10:35

Graeme Dobell’s post on the Balibo Five makes the perfectly valid point that journalists covering wars must take risks, and they are justified in doing so because they perform an important function. For that reason he rejects the idea that the Balibo Five were wrong to be where they were and that they therefore in some sense deserve what happened to them. I completely agree. 

But that does not quite exhaust the question of what approach we should now take to these deaths. One can regard them as a tragedy and a crime, and still have doubts about how far we should sacrifice wider national interests in bringing those responsible to justice.

The main debate over the AFP's decision to investigate and presumably prosecute those responsible for killing the Balibo Five has pitted those who think it will damage Australia's relations with Indonesia against those who argue that securing justice takes precedence over maintaining good relations with Indonesia. 


24 Sep 2009 15:26

James Dunn is a former UN specialist on Crimes against Humanity in East Timor and author of East Timor: A Rough Passage to Independence.

The latest move in the Balibo affair has taken Australia to a kind of watershed in a sensitive aspect of our relationship with Indonesia. Are we going to continue to help Jakarta cover up a brutal chapter in its history, or should we now encourage the Yudhoyono Government to open up the past to much-needed public scrutiny?

Indonesia's hostile reaction to the AFP Balibo investigation was predictable enough, because it came just as Jakarta was facing renewed criticism in East Timor, at the tenth anniversary of the Suai massacre, which was much more brutal than Balibo. 


13 Oct 2009 12:14

Australia is again proving its friendship with Indonesia in a time of tragedy, underlining why Australia has some rights to speak directly to Indonesia about an old tragedy.

Debate has rumbled through this blog about the interests and morality involved in the Australian Federal Police investigation into the murder of the Balibo Five journalists in East Timor in 1975. Hugh and Stephen offer the realist view that Australia should concentrate on the future of its relations with Indonesia, not the bloody past. The admirable Jim Dunn — unwavering in his energy and his argument for more than three decades — replies that Australia should not 'continue to help Jakarta cover up a brutal chapter in its history.'