Lawyer Bernard Collaery says Australia had direct knowledge of the dangers facing the murdered Balibo Five journalists, citing a damning report suggesting Australian intelligence knew Indonesia viewed reporters as a “hurdle to be got over” in keeping its invasion of East Timor secret.
Collaery has published his long-awaited book Oil Under Troubled Water, a forensic account of Australia’s relationship with its tiny developing neighbour, Timor-Leste. The lawyer describes the relationship as a “tortuous” and “grim” tale of exploitation, missed opportunity, culpability and complicity.
The book’s release comes amid Australian government threats and the criminal prosecution of Collaery for his role in exposing the bugging of Timor-Leste’s government offices during sensitive oil and gas negotiations.Collaery’s book treads carefully around the criminal proceedings he faces for legal reasons. But it raises renewed questions about what Australia’s foreign intelligence service knew of the dangers to five journalists murdered by Indonesian forces in Balibo in the lead-up to the invasion of then Portuguese Timor in 1975.
Collaery quotes a secret assessment from the then British ambassador to Indonesia John Ford that points to high-level and immediate intelligence sharing between Australia and Indonesia’s intelligence service, then known as Bakin, in 1975.
Ford’s report described information obtained by “the Australians” showing they had knowledge of “clandestine activity” by Indonesian troops in East Timor in the lead-up to the invasion. It said Indonesia’s principal fear was that their activities in Timor would be exposed.