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The Forum > Article Comments > East Timor advances despite Australian aid failures > Comments

East Timor advances despite Australian aid failures : Comments

By Richard Curtain, published 21/7/2009

What progress has East Timor made in the last decade and how effective has Australian Government assistance been?

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“In addition, there is little evidence that the Australian aid program has been effective, especially in reducing poverty.”

So, we shouldn’t be wasting money, time and troops on a fly speck like Timor; we should have left them to the Indonesians to look after. Perhaps Timor’s ex - ‘freedom-fighter’, ex-president now Prime Minister could take back the muliti-millions he gave to his daughter and put into the country and its people. Although, not “directly into the hands of the poor”, which seems a pretty stupid thing to do.

The $117 million dollars that has apparently not made much difference could be used at home. If Ausaid is “floundering”, stop it immediately. Let someone else do a better job.

Richard Curtain could be just indulging in a bit of good old Australia-bashing, but if he is right about our incompetence in Timor, we should be leaving the country altogether and saving Australian taxpayers’ money.
Posted by Leigh, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 11:37:00 AM
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Actually, the country's elite prefers to call itself Timor Leste, in Portuguese, even in English. Portuguese that the vast majority doesn't speak, never did, never will, only the creole elite that considered its birthright to lead after the Portuguese left. Except that they had a civil war among themselves too to sort out who is the looniest Marxist, creating the mess that the Indonesians could not tolerate after their own experience with communist uprising not that long before. Small wonder they intervened, and the international community was not exactly sorry, including the unusual political consensus in Canberra.

Not that it mattered much to the ordinary East Timorese who was lording over them. The small urban elite suffered from the brutal Indonesian 'pacification' efforts, but the village people were little affected. Independence hasn't changed much either. The elite doesn't care much about village people, they look after the Dili population. Just like the article's author who clearly wasn't interested enough to go beyond Dili city limits. Neither does he know much about economic development: the positive presentation of plentiful subsidized rice should horrify anyone who does. This is the well-proven way of setting economic distortion in stone, ensuring the vote of the urban disaffected,guaranteeing that the country's own agricultural sector will not stand on its feet - as it cannot compete with imports sold off with a subsidy - and thus creating more urban disaffected who will demand ever more subsidized rice. Meanwhile East Timor was ranked 170th out of 180 countries in terms of business attractiveness, and Blind Freddy can see that there is a problem, but the creoles who are too busy still fighting among themselves to worry about running the country.

For the size of population Australia spent a decent sum on East Timor, and got no thanks from the previous government run by Alkatiri. AusAID may well be inept, but East Timor shows every sign of a failing country AND a screwed-up petro economy at the same time, so as Leigh pointed out it is a total waste to spend any more on them.
Posted by gero101, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 9:02:36 PM
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East Timor (or Timor Leste) has a severe shortage of arable land. According to CIA World Factbook figures, it has more than a million people living on an average of 0.11 hectares of arable land for each of them. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said that 0.053 hectares is the minimum required to meet an individual's nutritional needs, even with the best modern farming techniques. According to Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba 0.07 hectares is the minimum required to sustainably provide an adequate vegetarian diet for a person without expensive chemical inputs.

East Timor also has a total fertility rate of 6.5 children per woman, according to the UN World Population Prospects report and even higher by some estimates. See

Our own Department of Defence says that the annual population growth rate there is estimated to be around 4%. This implies a population doubling time of a little over 17 years.

The lack of an industrial base, in conjunction with all this, implies that there will soon be either a collapse or permanent welfare dependency on international aid. Yet the article doesn't even mention family planning aid. It is no wonder that the government there wants to export people to Australia. There should be no "temporary" workers and no other aid unless it is in conjunction with making family planning available to people who want it, regardless of any squawking from the Catholic Church. (The country is 98% Catholic.) The previous commenters are right.
Posted by Divergence, Friday, 24 July 2009 11:49:37 AM
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The author has written a informative and neutral article about East Timor (ET) while the first 2 commenters have it all wrong.

ET is too important strategically and economicly for Australia to lightly consider pulling out. The power vacuum left by the removal of Australian aid and military forces would invite another country to dominate ET. For example China has effectively bought ET a mini navy (two patrol boats) and 90%+ of its future electricity supply. The later consists of old heavy oil fired generator that will require Chinese personnel to manage them and Chinese oil to run them for decades. If this sharp increase in Chinese influence is maintained the prospect of a Chinese naval and airforce presence on ET (so close to Australia) becomes a possibility.

Influence over ET means influence over the large undersea gas and oil deposits which ET shares with Australia.

ET's population will boom as long as aid and oil money prop up the increase. As in some developing countries the Catholic Church has a strong traditional hold over much of the population and most of the Portugese speaking politicians.

Yet population increase is probably not central to the question of East Timorese training in Australia. Rather it is the disparity in living standards. Economic refugees (guest workers, long stay trainees all seeking high pay) may be a concern in the midterm. In the mid-long term violent changes of government in Dili may form a genuine reason for East Timorese refugees to flock to our shores.

Uncoordination between Australia's defence effort (Stabilisation Force) and the civilian agencies (AusAid and DFAT) is a fairly standard bureacratic result of having such large Australian structures in the country rather than a small unified embassy.

The military use or at least threaten coersion, AusAid hands out money and the diplomats seek to cover and smooth - so its no wonder their diverse roles are uncoordinated.

Should there be an Australian military or civilian boss to coordinate our effort in ET?

Posted by plantagenet, Friday, 24 July 2009 12:41:37 PM
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