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Keating's eulogy for Suharto

Tom Burns, former National President of the ALP, died in 2007. In an obituary, Andrew Fraser and Tony Koch wrote:

As national president of the Australian Labor Party he … played a key role, with Gough Whitlam, in reforming and modernising the party in the early 70s, to the extent that it took office federally in 1972.

Part of this effort was the skilful crafting of a report into alleged branch-stacking when Paul Keating was seeking pre-selection for the Sydney seat of Blaxland in 1968. Burns claimed that some of the so-called voters rested beneath tombstones in Bankstown Cemetery and that "it should never happen again", but allowed Keating to keep his pre-selection and launch his political career. [1]

If any continuous theme runs through that career, it is power: the acquisition of it, the exercise of it, the company of it, being on the side of it, loss of it, and now reminiscence of it. I cannot put it more appropriately, even though my grandmother once told me never to use language: power has been to Keating as shit to a blowfly.

On Saturday February 2, 2008, the Fairfax papers in Sydney and Melbourne (SMH and The Age) ran a remarkable article by Keating in praise of his avowed friend, the late former Indonesian dictator Soeharto, who came to power in one of the bloodiest military coups of the Twentieth Century. Keating achieved his own goal somewhat differently, but fawned on Soeharto as a man of middling mediaeval rank might have upon a high lord and patron. He enjoyed Soeharto’s company, and Soeharto clearly found some benefit in Keating’s.

So the eulogy is well worth a bit of critical reading, as much for what it tries to say about Soeharto as for what it actually does say about Keating, and for those reasons, it is of historic significance. I also recommend Eye of the Beholder, [2] Michael Baume’s appraisal of the same eulogy in The Australian.

Keating’s essential propositions are listed numerically below. Quotations (in italics) are from the original [3]. I add also some critical comments.

1. Soeharto gave Indonesia and the region stability.

Keating said: In 1965, countries such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe were in the same position as Indonesia… Today, those countries are economic and social wrecks. By contrast, Indonesia is a model of harmony, cohesion and progress. And the principal reason for that is Soeharto.

We can only imagine what Australia's strategic position would be like if Indonesia's 230 million people degenerated into a fractured, lawless state reminiscent of Nigeria or Zimbabwe. 

Perhaps rather than make that comparison between widely different societies on different continents, Keating should have compared Indonesia with those other Malay nations, Malaysia and the Philippines. All three have had authoritarian governments arising from a colonial past. Only Indonesia has a record of foreign and imperial aggression (against Malaysia, East Timor, West Papua) and state terror. Only Indonesia has ever qualified as a police state.

Today it is more like Pakistan than like Malaysia or the Philippines. Liberal democracy is weak, its judiciary is a law unto itself, and the military is untouchable, independent of government funding, and ever ready to sieze power again should it perceive the occasion as warranting it. A breakup or ‘balkanisation’ of Indonesia would not occur without separatist forces achieving powerful local support, and a number of independent small states would each probably be no more a threat to each other and the region than is the Sultanate of Brunei today. History shows that big does not mean benign.


2. Soeharto saved Australia from having to spend 10 times as much as it presently does on defence.

Keating said: Had Soeharto's New Order government not displaced the Soekarno government and the massive PKI communist party, the postwar history of Australia would have been completely different. A communist-dominated Indonesia would have destabilised Australia and all of South-East Asia. 

‘Displaced’ is a sanitising euphemism here. 

In 1965, a (Soekarnoist) Colonel Untung staged an ill-planned and botched coup to forestall (he claimed) an anti-Soekarno coup planned at the General Staff level of the armed forces. The Indonesian communist leadership made a hasty decision to support Untung. While Untung survived until 1967, the communists (the only real rivals to the military for power) were rapidly killed off by the military and in communal violence, along with untold numbers of non-communists. Thus Soeharto can be said to have come to power in a counter-coup against a counter-coup against a coup. A counter-counter-coup, if you wish. Estimates of total deaths range from 70,000 to one million. [4] 

Keating’s proposition “A communist-dominated Indonesia would have destabilised Australia and all of South-East Asia” is domino theory, has never been proven, and is inherently unprovable. Italy and France both had big communist parties at the time, whose only possible road to power was via the ballot box. For the Indonesian communists, like their Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts before them, the only possible non-electoral road to power was through foreign invasion followed by a massive division in the country’s defending armed forces. That was nowhere in sight. 

Whatever their internal politics and policy failures, Red China and communist Vietnam did not ‘destabilise’ their region. The US played the greatest destabilising role in Southeast Asia, over the years 1946-1975, by supporting and fighting for the wrong side in each of the two Vietnamese wars of national independence, by bombing neutral Cambodia, and supporting Soeharto’s invasion of East Timor, using domino theory as its justification. The US has a long tradition of military intervention to remove whichever governments whose stability did not suit its current administration, and has arguably been the world’s greatest ‘destabiliser’.

3. Australians’ ‘suspicion’ of Indonesia is all down to the ABC and the Fairfax media. 

Keating said: So why have Australians regarded Indonesia so suspiciously, especially over the past quarter-century, when it is evident that Indonesia has been at the fulcrum of our strategic stability?

Unfortunately, I think the answer is East Timor and the wilful reporting of Indonesian affairs in Australia by the Australian media.

That media have, in the main, been the Fairfax press and the ABC. Most particularly The Sydney Morning Herald and to a lesser extent The Age.

The ‘wilful reporting of Indonesian affairs’ is in reference to numerous articles and exposes of Indonesian atrocities and brutality in East Timor. (The papers ironically cited are the very papers that ‘wilfully’ ran Keating’s article.) The implication is that they should have run nothing on East Timor, or perhaps only Indonesian government handouts during the occupation, which Keating’s government chose to recognise as legitimate, (de jure rather than de facto). This was what made East Timor part of Indonesia in the view of his government, and thus the whole ongoing atrocity an internal affair of Indonesia. His government thereby took its place in a pathetic diplomatic minority. But diplomatic isolation on the matter was seen as a small price to pay when what was to become the Timor Gap Treaty with Indonesia held huge prospects in terms of access to East Timor’s natural gas.

4. That in turn was payback for the Balibo Five

Keating said: [The Fairfax] rancour, and the misrepresentation of the true state of Indonesian social and economic life, can be attributed to the "get square" policy of the media in Australia for the deaths of the Balibo Five - the five Australian-based journalists who were encouraged to report from a war zone by their irresponsible proprietors and who were shot and killed by the Indonesian military in East Timor.

This event was sheeted back to Soeharto by journalists of the broadsheet press. From that moment, in their eyes, Soeharto became a cruel and intolerant repressor whose life's work in saving Indonesia from destruction was to be viewed only through the prism of East Timor.

More accurately, the Balibo Five “were shot and killed by the Indonesian military” as it invaded East Timor in 1975. More accurately still, they and a freelance journalist, Roger East, were summarily executed after having been taken prisoner by the Indonesians, but the Indonesian cover-up account of them having been caught in the crossfire between the Indonesians and the East Timorese defenders was endorsed with silence by the Fraser, and then the Hawke and Keating governments. This understandably raised the ire of other journalists, who seem to have gravitated exclusively to the Fairfax papers and the ABC in Keating’s view. The suggestion that the human rights issues of East Timor were inconsequential beside the fate of the Balibo Five is an attack on the integrity of all the journalists involved, and above all the right of the public to know the truth. Keating is merely asserting a general slander here and arguing for Soehartoesque information control. 

5. Soeharto reluctantly authorised the invasion of East Timor in order to avoid a ‘Cuba on his doorstep’. This was justifiable.

Keating said: But in mid-1975, communist-allied military officers took control in Portugal and its colonies abroad were taken over by avowedly Marxist regimes. In East Timor, a leftist group calling itself the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor, or Fretilin, staged a coup igniting a civil war.

When Fretilin overran the colony by force, Soeharto's government became alarmed. This happened at the height of the Cold War. Saigon had fallen in April of that year. Fretilin appealed to China and Vietnam for help. Fearing a "Cuba on his doorstep", Soeharto reluctantly decided on military intervention. In his 33 years as leader, he embarked upon no other "foreign" exploit. And he would not have bothered with Timor, had Fretilin not made the going too rough. Indeed, Jose Ramos-Horta told the Herald in 1996 that "the immaturity, irresponsibility and bad judgment of the East Timorese provoked Indonesia into doing what it did". Xanana Gusmao also told anyone who would listen that it had been a "bad mistake" for Fretilin to present itself as a "Marxist" outfit in 1975. 

Following the death of the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in 1975, Portugal was left without a government, with a power vacuum and no successor named, and the country divided over what to do. That meant that Portugal’s colony of East Timor had no government either, and all the Portuguese officials there packed up, boarded a ship and sailed unceremoniously away, leaving another power vacuum and the East Timorese population to its fate. That was the basis of the Fretilin ‘coup’. If Keating knows that, he chooses to ignore it. If he did not know that, he is ignorant about a key fact in his story. The way Keating tells it, Ramos-Horta and Gusmao endorsed and excused the Indonesian invasion of their definitely foreign (to Indonesia) country, with all its massacre, torture, looting, rape and atrocity piled on atrocity. Pretty incredible stuff. 

Keating said: But none of this stopped a phalanx of Australian journalists, mostly from the Fairfax stable and the ABC's Four Corners, from reporting Indonesian affairs from that time such that Australians could only view the great economic transformation of Indonesia and the alleviation of its poverty and its tolerance primarily through the warped and shattered prism of East Timor. 

Precisely: Australia’s old World War 2 ally East Timor, ‘warped and shattered’ by Soeharto’s army.

6. The Fairfax media performed most irresponsibly thereafter.

Keating said: The Herald even editorialised in favour of an Australian invasion of East Timor, then Indonesian territory. That is, right up front about it, the Herald urged the Australian government to invade Indonesia. So rabid has Fairfax been about Indonesia and so recreant of Australia's national interest has it been.

East Timor was Indonesian occupied territory. Only in the view of Keating’s government and a six or seven minor members of the UN was it legitimately so. One must ask also how actually pragmatic Keating’s coterie of realpolitik ‘pragmatists’ were in the light of subsequent events. During the crisis of 1999 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was on TV announcing that Australia was not about to go to war with Indonesia, a situation which arose directly out of the ‘pragmatism’ on East Timor of all Australian governments since (and including) Gough Whitlam’s. East Timor was the greatest Australian foreign policy failure ever. 

7. If Soeharto had not made Indonesia a secular state, it could today be an Islamist one like Iran.

Keating said: Look what happened to us in Bali at the hands of a handful, literally a handful, of Islamic fundamentalists. Imagine the turmoil for Australia if the whole 230 million of Indonesia had a fundamentalist objection to us. But this jaded bunch of Australian journalists could only report how Soeharto was corrupt because his son Tommy, might have elbowed his way into some carried equity with an American telephone company or his daughter something with a road builder. True as those generalisations might have been, in terms of the weight of Australia's interests, the deeds of Soeharto's public life massively outweigh anything in his private affairs.

I got to know Soeharto quite well. He was clever and utterly decisive and had a kind view of Australia. The peace and order of his country, its religious and ethnic tolerance and the peace and the order of South-East Asia came from his goodwill towards neighbouring states and from his wisdom. He was self-effacing and shy to a fault. One had to tease him out of himself to get him going, but once got going, his intellectualism took over.

Soeharto lived in what we would call in Australia a rather old and shabby McMansion in Jakarta. I have been there on a number of occasions. He lived as simply as anyone of his high standing could live.

Mussolini drained the swamps and Hitler got the trains running on time. What is a bit of family corruption, a few billion here or there, beside all the good things that happened? Ultimately, this sort of apologetics can excuse anything. Again, the assertion that without Suharto’s brutal rule Indonesia would have become a hornet’s nest of Islamists assumes that there is no liberal democratic current in Indonesian political life. Actually, Soeharto’s repression was directed more at liberalism than at Islamism.

Keating said: But Time magazine claimed that Soeharto had stashed away $30 billion-odd, as if those ning-nongs would know, presumably so he could race off to live it up in Miami or the Bahamas. Errant nonsense. Soeharto was an Indonesian who was always going to remain an Indonesian. He lived a simple life and could never have changed that.

If the ‘ning-nongs’ of Time say it was $30 billion, and Keating says it was a bit, but not worth worrying about, who would one believe? One must be careful in dismissing the ‘ning-nongs’ of Time, even though their investigations into Soeharto’s wealth induced an Indonesian court to award Soeharto $129 million damages over “a 1999 article which alleged that Suharto and his family stashed a massive amount of money abroad during his time in power.” [5] That was more like a point in their favour.

But how anyone could know what was stashed away by the Soeharto family and cronies is of course, a valid question. After all, the family has been understandably coy about it. In Soeharto’s time in office there was a news blackout on discussion of it, just as there was over what was going on in East Timor under the Indonesian occupation. (The 1991 Dili massacre would not have got the publicity it did had it not been smuggled out of East Timor on a single cassette of videotape.)  Soeharto’s men were meticulous about information control. But at the present time there is little doubt about it in Indonesia, with the family admitting guilt and asking ‘forgiveness’ without offering to return any of the loot. Meanwhile, for a former Australian prime minister, Keating is remarkably cavalier on the issue of grand-scale corruption.

Keating said: The descriptions of Soeharto as a brutal dictator living a corrupt high life at the expense of his people and running an expansionist military regime are untrue. Even Soeharto's annexation of East Timor was not expansionist. It had everything to do with national security and nothing to do with territory.  

Now, leaving aside the matter of whether the invasion of East Timor can be defined as ‘expansionist’, we are compelled to ask: why should that be? Why should the government of a nation with so much larger a population fear one so much smaller? Indonesia today has a population of 231,627,000. East Timor has 1,155,000. (Both figures by the way, are UN estimates [6], and bear in mind that the Indonesian military killed about 200,000 of the 650,000 [then] East Timorese population during the occupation.)

The ‘Cuba on the doorstep’ argument offered at the time by the Indonesians and their supporters in Australia, including the newly installed Fraser government, was quite a powerful card to play in the wake of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis 13 years before, which brought the world closer than it had ever been to nuclear war.

‘Cuba’ is a word that conjures up images of nuclear missile bases, a population armed to the teeth and largely dressed in combat fatigues, and general bearded Marxist subversion. The  other side of the story: the Cuban government and population understandably feared another invasion along the lines of the Bay of Pigs attempt (18 months before the October 1962 missile crisis) which sought to return power to supporters of the deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista [6] who had mostly fled to Miami following the 1959 Castro revolution.

But what could Soeharto’s government have feared from East Timor, even if it had become a ‘Cuba’? Soviet nuclear missile bases? Chinese ones, perhaps? In the unlikely event that the Soviets believed they could gain something from a repeat of their disastrous Cuban mistake or an even more unlikely Chinese emulation of it, invasion and removal of provocative bases would have been easy, as Indonesia has a land border with East Timor; much easier than it would have been for the Americans in relation to Cuba. Moreover, East Timor’s position would in those circumstances have been morally weak, rather than as strong as it was in the years of occupation. The US would hardly have refused an Indonesian request for assistance in the cold war environment of the time, had such bases even been contemplated.

East Timor grows excellent coffee, and has large reserves of natural gas. I suggest that the real reason for the invasion was Soeharto’s understandable concern about the influence and example (set by its very existence) of an independent and prospering East Timor on the rest of the population of the shambolic Javanese Empire; on Soeharto’s effort to encourage that population to believe that ‘Indonesia’ despite its internal divisions and differences, was one nation, and that it was not being ruled in the interests of its corruption-prone Javanese elite.

It is for the continuing atrocity that was the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, involving on a pro rata basis 1.9 times greater total casualties than those suffered by Poland in WW2, [7] that Soeharto should be remembered. That will be Soeharto’s real story, no matter how many layers of cosmetics are plastered onto his corpse by fawning acolytes like Paul Keating; who incredibly, was Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996.


[1] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21850496-2702,00.html

[2] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,23153232-7583,00.html?from=public_rss

[3] http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/the-nation-builder/2008/02/01/1201801034281.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/30_September_Movement

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/12/2030469.htm

[6] http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/batista.htm  

[7] http://www.projectinposterum.org/docs/poland_WWII_casualties.htm


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A failure of comprehension.

Ian MacDougall, if you look back at my previous post you will see that the header is "Methodology". Then refer back to the original questions I asked - one of which you failed to understand but which I have since indicated went to the matter of context. The other was on the selection of material to cite, you having chosen a highly partisan source. Do you understand my point yet?

A Postscript

Keating's eulogy for Soeharto is a truly remarkable inclusion into Australia's body of primary sources for future historians. In this one piece published in two major dailies, we have a former prime minister expressing support for (and so approval of) a military coup, massacre of political opponents, control and manipulation of public information, colonial expansionism, nepotism, corruption, and of course, political dictatorship. Underlying all of this is the assumption that expediency justifies anything, and that a country can benefit from the wise but firm rule of a leader possessed of the belief that he is able to see further than the rest of its population, even if in the process he lets rip a tsunami of blood. Such reasoning can be used to justify anything, and of course need not be always after the fact.

Tom Uren is the former Federal MP for Reid (Sydney) and a remarkable man in his own right. Before entering Federal Parliament he was a boxer (and one of his better known opponents in the ring at the old Sydney Stadium was Kerry Packer's pugilistic father, Frank). He was also a POW of the Japanese (Changi and other WW2 prisons). Uren wrote in his autobiography, published while Keating was Prime Minister:

He is the Jack Dempsey of Australian politics. You can put him on the canvas, but he will get off that canvas and achieve victory. This is what happened when he was defeated on the consumption tax debate within our party; he was defeated, but the tax package that he came up with was his victory. It was a Keating victory. It was not ours, it was not mine. He knows that I do not agree with his tax priorities but he is tough and he knows what he wants to do. I think Keating is one of a handful in the Parliment - I am talking about both sides of the House - who are visionaries. There are very few visionaries, but Keating is one.

Keating can even be sensitive on some issues, but what worries me is that he is not a democrat and he is not a collectivist; he is an elitist and he is arrogant, but is a remarkable character...

(Tom Uren, Straight Left, Vintage, 1995, p 417)

There is an old saying arising from the commonly uninhibited behaviour of drunks: in vino veritas, ('in wine we have the truth'). In Keating's case this could be amended to read in eulogium veritas. Amongst the barrels of verbiage in his eulogy for Soeharto we glimpse a truth that is arguably far more about Keating than about the ruthless and blood-drenched dictator he counted as his personal friend.

Response to Bob

Bob Wall: Noted.


Ian MacDougall, were you unaware of just how partisan Michael Baume is? If so, it indicates a lack of knowledge that bodes ill for the credibility of the views you are expressing. Or you were aware of his highly partisan position and perhaps were trying to make evidence fit your conclusion. If it was the former, my advice is to research more fully before you write.

As to the other question, you will note I mentioned 1965 and the government of the time I was referring to was that in office in 1965. It was an attempt to establish the context in which to place Keating's approach.

What do you expect, Bob?

Bob Wall: What do you expect? Michael Baume is a member of the Liberal Party.

But while you're here, precisely what paragraph of his piece in the Australian do you take issue with, and why? Be specific please.

Thanks to the commenters

My thanks to all commenters.

Jenny and I are spending every day from dawn till dark battling a very nasty, noxious weed known as the Bathurst Burr, populations of which have exploded all over our place due to the recent heavy rain.

I mean to add a postscript to the original piece, which I will do in a separate comment.

Bob Wall, if you have in mind some ‘less overtly partisan’ article than Michael Baume’s, please direct me to it, and I will read it. As for your suggestion that I include the views of “members of the Australian government of the time”, I have already done it, or at least 50% of it. The only other government voice of significance was that of Foreign Minister Gareth Evans who, when out of bed, took his orders from Keating. The only point of issue there was: which of the two was the greatest crawler to Jakarta? Take your pick.

Michael de Angelos: "I agree that including the little creep Michael Baume's piece adds little to this discussion. This pathetic attack dog on behalf of Howard, ravished Keating for years on end over the piggery nonsense that all came to nought but was rewarded with a well paid sinecure in New York (at our expense) where he ferried Howard's daughter around in taxpayer funded cars. Sometimes I wonder whether Bary Humphries is actually exaggerating when he trots out Sir Les Patterson as an Aussie politician abroad.That said, Keating's eulogy for Suharto lost him a fan in me - although I always knew of his regard for the man, I though it would have been prudent for him to stay silent now the vile old creature had finally gone to hell."

Keating achieved at least this distinction: he is reputedly the wealthiest retiring prime minister in Australia’s history. Quite something for a lad starting out from a fibro house in Bankstown. Michael Baume, I understand, was interested in where all the money was coming from for various Keating investments, and not just the piggery. That is a perfectly legitimate concern in my view. No answer to date, but then, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet either.

Jacob A Stam, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. My understanding of strategic thinking is this: armament and preparedness should be based on a potential enemy’s capabilities, not his statements of intent. One saw what happened to Keating’s treaty with Suharto. Move over, Neville Chamberlain. Australia has always had an uneasy relationship with Indonesia, and there will probably be future crises. A man with a source in the Australian Air Force told me that in 1999 they were set to clobber the Indonesian military in no uncertain terms if things went pear-shaped as the troops landed in East Timor. The ADF might have stood by and done nothing as the Indonesians massacred the East Timorese over the years 1975-99, but they weren’t going to do nothing if they started massacring Australian troops. My source did not say whether the planes were set to go with then PM John Howard’s knowledge, or if they had intended asking his permission before launching the first raid. I assume they kept the Americans informed, and perhaps it is no coincidence that the US Chief of the General Staff at the time rang Wiranto, his Indonesian counterpart, and read him the riot act over the phone.

Such are the realities of the world.

Ken Westmoreland, the point about the interim after Salazar is taken, but I don’t think it alters things all that much. If Lisbon had overseen the installation of a new, independent government in Dili before allowing its officials to depart, (ie followed the British and French models in decolonisation) things may have been very different for East Timor. Time was of the essence for the Indonesians, and they wanted to get in early before the new independent government was established and recognised by the UN and a significant number of member nations. Invading in early December 1975, they were also able to take advantage of the November 11, 1975 events in Canberra, and the subsequent election, which diverted attention in Australia.

By the way and re your point from the Time to Become Amigos thread, I spelt the dictator's name 'Soeharto' and not the more common 'Suharto' in order to save confusion. The first form had been adopted by Keating, so I used it too.

Gotta Love The Rational Types

Bob Wall

Also, you recommend Michael Baume's article, could you have recommended other from other, less overtly partisan sources?

Jacob A. Stam, should put your troubled mind at ease:

Another response to Keating's hagiography was Mike Carlton's, in which he swallowed Keating's squalid 'realpolitik' confection, hook, line and sinker:

Despite the blood-letting - the purge of the communists, the occupation of East Timor - and beyond the monstrous kleptocracy, the plain truth is that Keating was right. Soeharto's New Order government was indeed a huge plus for Australia. It delivered to our doorstep a security unimaginable 40 years ago, when the RAAF was acquiring the F-111 aircraft for the express purpose of bombing Jakarta if needs be.

This dude sounds positively Kissengeresqe. Wouldn't be out of place kicking around vina in the seventies and eighties.

Jenny, the tone of my post

Jenny,  the tone of my post may have come over harsher than I had intended.

That’s how I read that quote in relation to the whole of Pilger's article.

Your philosophical distinctions don’t win me over though, but maybe that can wait for some other time.

Wrong interpretation

Jenny, regarding your comments, about human and animal sufferings Pilger would not have had your philosophical distinctions in mind. He would have been referring to the corruption in human values by those in power, and the hypocrisy, behind the usage of imagery, by the corporate media to humanize those in power.

Wrong interpretation

Charles, I would not know, nor do I really care, what Pilger had in mind as I rarely read his stuff. I was just pointing out that because someone is a vegetarian and concerned about how animals are treated does not necessarily mean that person has the same concern about his fellow human beings. And vice versa, as inexplicable as that may be.

A Million Deaths

Never was a truer word (or words to this effect) spoken by Joseph Stalin:

"One death is a tragedy, a million a statistic." 

No surprises

A correction about Portugal - Salazar died in 1970, four years before the revolution that brought about the withdrawal from empire. Of course it was Western support for Salazar that held Portugal and its colonies back for thirty years, a lesson in why supporting dictators is a bad idea: they only give way when they've no other choice; and when change comes about, it's traumatic.  Portugal  in 1974, Indonesia in 1998.

It's not strictly true that there was a power vacuum in Lisbon in 1975, nor that it was completely detached from events in East Timor. During 1974-75, there were talks between the Portuguese and Indonesians over the territory's future. President Costa Gomes didn't want to keep it, and thought that independence would mean continued Portuguese involvement and money. Interestingly, Gomes was on the far left, which makes his pro-Indonesian stance even more surprising.  

Gomes later said that he thought that an Indonesian takeover would be as bloodless as India's takeover of Goa in 1961. The Portuguese only remained in Macau after 1974 because the Chinese told them that it wasn't the right time for handing it back. If Suharto had behaved like Nehru and Deng, and accepted special status for East Timor (as Apodeti, the only pro-Indonesian party had proposed)  history might have been different.     

Of course he didn't, which is why the death of such an inflexible and intolerant leader leaves me cold.

Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, Ken.

Thanks Ian!

Excellent discussion and analysis.

Another response to Keating's hagiography was Mike Carlton's, in which he swallowed Keating's squalid 'realpolitik' confection, hook, line and sinker:

Despite the blood-letting - the purge of the communists, the occupation of East Timor - and beyond the monstrous kleptocracy, the plain truth is that Keating was right. Soeharto's New Order government was indeed a huge plus for Australia. It delivered to our doorstep a security unimaginable 40 years ago, when the RAAF was acquiring the F-111 aircraft for the express purpose of bombing Jakarta if needs be.

Good grief.

A Far Better Assesment

I agree that including the little creep Michael Baume's piece adds little to this discussion. This pathetic attack dog on behalf of Howard, ravished Keating for years on end over the piggery nonsense that all came to nought but was rewarded with a well paid sinecure in New York ( at our expense) where he ferried Howard's daughter around in taxpayer funded cars. Sometimes I wonder whether  Bary Humphries is actually exaggerating when he trots out Sir Les Patterson as an Aussie politician abroad.

That said, Keating's eulogy for Suharto lost him a fan in me - although I always knew of his regard for the man, I though it would have been prudent for him to stay silent now the vile old creature had finally gone to hell.

These needless justifications trotted out about some murderous dictator that has brought wealth to a country somehow wipes out their horrible crimes simply ignores the fact that the same advances may well have happened if that same murderous bastard hadn't come to power. I have pointed out before - Germany was well on the way to becoming a world economic miracle before Hitler illegally gained power but all he did was knock it backwards about 20 years ( and caused about 25 million deaths in the meantime).

For a good history of the dreaded Suharto and Australia and Keating's  entwined history with him, try John Pilger's piece. One fascinating bit is the last paragraph about the late Alan Clark which is very telling about the oddity of human nature :

"Shortly before he died, I interviewed Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was Britain’s minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons. I asked him, “Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering?”

“No, not in the slightest,” he replied. “It never entered my head.”

“I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed.”


“Doesn’t that concern extend to humans?”

“Curiously not.”

Of human and animal suffering. Also 7.30 Report tonight..

Michael de Angelos: I agree that human nature can be rather unpredictable. Just because someone is a vegetarian and concerned about how animals are killed does not necessarily mean that person has the same sense of outrage at how another human being might have suffered and died. People can be very selective with their compassion.

I have, during over thirty years in the animal welfare movement, had it said to me, (no, thrown at me is more apt) hundreds of times. Why don't you spend your energy and money on alleviating human suffering instead of that of animals? The assumption there of course is that those in the animal welfare movement limit their energy and their compassion to animals. In fact I have found that the reverse is true. Most people in the animal welfare movement that I know also give generously to other causes.

But what I have found is that the reverse is not necessarily true. Many people I know who pride themselves on their charitable works for other human beings are often totally unmoved when the issue of animal suffering is brought up, and would not donate a cent for such cause to save themselves. I find that odd.

BTW: I think the 7.30 Report tonight is covering the latest investigation in the Middle East by Animals Australia and a UK organization on the treatment of our animals exported live to the ME.

And possibly also the outcome of the case Animals Australia instigated against a live exporter in WA over a routine shipment of sheep to the ME. The trial has recently concluded with a verdict of guilty but acquittal on the grounds of a technicality. I will follow up on this when I get a chance to read the Magistrate's full findings, but on the face of it, the ball on live exports would appear to now fall right into Rudd's lap. Will he be prepared to take on the wealthy interests that run this trade? Howard would not even answer a letter on the subject.

Should Australians only be concerned about how whales are killed and not what our sheep and cattle suffer on those dreadful ships, and on arrival in the ME where there are no animal protection laws whatsoever?

I have found in my travels overseas that where there are human rights issues, there also you will generally find poor treatment of animals. So I have seen such things as a lout publicly belting a dog half to death, and in the same city a crippled person trying to crawl across the street with the traffic not bothering to give way.

As for Suharto, he had the blood of untold thousands on his hands. I remember when I was studying Indonesian literature during his rule, one writer wrote that the river ran red with blood and was littered with the floating bodies of the dead.

How are Ya Jenny?

Couldn't agree with you more, Jen!

And following on from what you have said, my Mum has always said that she never trusts anyone who doesn't like animals, or who treats them unkindly, because they are usually not very nice people. I have generally found that people who care about animal welfare are basically compassionate and caring toward other human beings too.

How are things with you old girl? Is the frog still keeping you company in the loo?

Philosophy is not much use out here

Charles, I was not actually making philosophical distinctions. I was merely stating a fact as I know it. I actually find philosophical discussions rather boring. I'm a practical person. I deal in facts. Philsophers unnecessarily complicate the world.

Kath, I'm getting on OK. Up to our eyes in Bathurst burrs that the rains brought on - seven years' germination in one year. It has nearly gotten us beaten. So I spend my day on the quad bike and spray rig going round and round getting more burr blind by the hour. When I go back over where I have been I can find that I sprayed one big burr on the left, one on the right and did not see the one in between, albeit only a foot away. So you can imagine the problem trying to cover over 2000 acres properly, when the grass is long and they are scattered in ones and twos and clumps over the entire place. I'ts got me very fed up but at least it keeps me out of mischief. MInd you the poor old Scot is worse off because he is colour blind to the dye so he does not even have that guide to help him on his runs. And to cap it all Roundup has gone from 100 to 300 dollars a 20 litre drum, and still rising.

No, the amphibian has disappeared, so is probably in the house tank. Horrors. A gheko fell into said loo last night so the Scot fished him out, saying poor little beggar. I guess that puts him in the animal carers group.

But I should not lead his thread astray. I feel very sad for the East Timorese. They suffered so much under Suharto, and still they cannot find peace and prosperity. How Keating could exalt Suharto beats me.  So many mass murderers get away with just that, mass murder. The least we can do is recognise them for what they are, not uphold them as some sort of national hero. I must say I never had any time for Keating anyway. His attitude to Suharto is about what one would expect. But he was not the only one that fawned in the way he did. No Australian PM was ever prepared to stand up and be counted when it came to Indonesia. Howard only jumped in when things were totally out of control in East Timor. So no kudos to him.

Better go. Hope all is quiet on the home front for you.

A couple of questions.

Ian MacDougall, you have given Paul Keating's views on the 1965 coup, perhaps you could provide the views of some others, for example, members of the Australian government of the time.

Also, you recommend Michael Baume's article, could you have recommended other from other, less overtly partisan sources?

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