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Essential ingredient for nation building

Rudd & Gusmao
Last week represented a great leap forward for Australia, with the Parliamentary Apology to the Stolen Generations finally taking place. The hope flowing from the momentum generated by this one event is immense, even though public attention will quickly be absorbed by other issues.
For East Timor, it was a different story, with the attempted assassinations of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. These demonstrated that, while the country may have been in good hands, this did not necessarily translate into a secure future for its young population.
What distinguished the lead-up to Australia's apology was determination on the part of political leaders to listen to the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples. By contrast, the Howard Government had got it wrong when it decided to pump an unprecedented level of resources into the Northern Territory intervention, without first listening to hear Aboriginal people articulate what they believe the priorities are.
At the end of the week, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith went to Dili for what was essentially a visit to listen and to reassure East Timor of Australia's availability if help were required. Rudd promised Gusmao that an enlarged contingent of Australian troops would stay in the country as long as they are welcome. On Saturday, Fr Frank Brennan commended them for recognising that an acknowledgement of the East Timorese people's need for self-determination must underlie all attempts to help them build their nation.
Fr Brennan, a former director of Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor, was speaking with Geraldine Doogue on ABC Radio National. He pointed out that the UN's attempts at nation-building came to nothing because it was 'very good at publishing documents that come off computers written by people who were well intentioned', but not as skilled in listening to the people's own perspective on their needs.
He said: 'Australia's intervention will work if whenever we do anything, we do it with the humility where we continue to say, you are the Timorese, you are self-determining. No matter what the problems you're facing, we're here to work with you.'
The outbreak of violence in East Timor April 2006 suggested that the UN had not reached first base in its efforts to lay the foundation for a small but robust nation. Now with its listening to the Stolen Generations as the basis for the apology and subsequent action, the Rudd Government has provided a template that may be of significant use to those involved with nation building in East Timor. — Michael Mullins


On Thursday, Eureka Street published a commentary by Scott Stephens on the Parliamentary Apology to Stolen Generations. The article has been withdrawn. It argued that the Prime Minister's motivation was self-serving, and his action empty rhetoric. Eureka Street, the Australian Jesuits and Jesuit Communications do not necessarily support the views expressed in our published articles. The publishers specifically disagree with the substance of this article. We apologise to those who were hurt or offended by allegations contained in it.



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