As 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 today 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.
“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…