Letter to Darebin City Council (Melbourne, Victoria, AU) in response to Mr. Vince Fontana's statement

Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 8:53am

To the Council members of the City of Darebin.

Dear Councillors,

I write to you in regards to the statement made by the mayor of Darebin, Mr. Vince Fontana. In a statement to The Age, dated July 21, 2010, which can be accessed on this webpage:
http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/push-to-house-refugees-in-inner-city-20100720-10jkg.html, Mr. Vince Fontana said:

"We are concerned if anything ever happened in East Timor, you might get someone like Fretilin burning the place [processing centre] down, so ideally we want to be managing it on our shores and not offshore. It is a more simple, rational way of doing things,'' he said."

Dear members of the Council,

Mr. Vince Fontana, the Mayor of Darebin, cannot be any more insulting to the people of Timor-Leste than his statement above proves. It shows how little the Mayor of Darebin knows about Timor-Leste and how even little does Mr. Vince Fontana or the Darebin City Council care about Timor-Leste. It makes a mockery of the City Council's "Friend of Baucau" community support initiative. It makes an even bigger mockery of the word "Friend"!

Mr. Vince Fontana is weighing in on the debate to find solutions to Australia's asylum seeker issue, of which the Gilard Labour Government has proposed Timor-Leste as one such solution, that a processing centre be built over in Timor-Leste. Needless to say, the Timor-Leste leaders have emphatically rejected this proposition through a vote in the National Parliament. Many East Timorese even find such proposal insulting to say the least, that Australia considers Timor-Leste a dumping ground for its domestic issues. And Mr. Vince Fontana could not have come at a worse time.

Australia and Timor-Leste's relationship is at its most testing. The Timor Sea oil negotiations has been a thorny issue in the relationship of both countries. Timor-Leste regards Australia as a bully thanks to the position the later has taken in the Timor Sea negotiations. The presence of Australia's troops in Timor-Leste is also a divisive issue in the Timorese community. Some see the troops as helping to provide security, others see it as an occupying force. There are people in Timor-Leste who view the presence of the Australian soldiers as purely for the protection Australia's interests. Mr. Vince Fontana's statements will only help to cement these types of views.

It is also unfortunate that a City Council such as Darebin which has worked with the people of Timor-Leste for nearly a decade is the one to come up with the worst insult imaginable against a community it is trying to assist. If I remember correctly, the City of Darebin, through the works of people like Rae Perry, was one of the first to establish the inter-community friendship between the people of Australia and Timor-Leste communities. However Mr. Vince Fontana was able to turn this efforts up-side down through a simple uninformed, misconceived and conceited statement. His statement will not only jeopardise the good working relationship between the communities of Darebin and Baucau, they will go along way in undermining other good initiatives by the Australian people. Darebin is not the only city council to form friendship ties with Timor-Leste towns. The Ballarat City Council is working with the Ainaro community, The City of Port Phillip is with Suai, Kingston City Council with Ermera and the City of Burundara with Aileu. These are just some of the many examples of community based relationship that various Australian communities have established. And Friendship Cities are not the only initiatives of its kind to provide community support to Timor-Leste.

It is obvious that Mr. Vince Fontana knows very little about Timor-Leste politics, history and society, though he is presiding over a City which has held a long term relationship and friendship with Timor-Leste communities, and with the Baucau community in particular. Baucau is electorally a Fretilin stronghold. However, throughout the many years of which the Friends of Baucau has existed and has carried out its works in the Baucau district, how have the "Fretilins" or the people of Baucau or of Timor-Leste, behaved toward Darebin City Council's presence? The Friends of Baucau project also employed a number of Australian AVIs to work in Baucau and they can testify that Mr. Vince Fontana is misrepresenting the facts about Timor-Leste in an awful way. Mr. Fontana is doing the people of Timor-Leste a greater disservice than what the Friends of Baucau have been trying to achieve for years.

I am, as well as my fellow East Timorese and many Australian friends of Timor-Leste, are deeply saddened by Mr. Vince Fontana's statements. I am particularly offended by such remarks. So much so that I would urge the District of Baucau to review its ties with the City of Darebin until this matter is settled. I call on Mr. Vince Fontana to withdraw his remarks and apologise to the people of Timor-Leste and to Fretilin, which represents the largest parliamentary block in the Timor-Leste national parliament and serving as the opposition party. I urge and I hope for everyone to be more sensitive about Timor-Leste and its people in their future dealings with this country, as it is the least that everyone can do.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Alex Tilman

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