Australian government policy: Timor-Leste

Australian government policy: Timor-Leste


After supporting a UN-sponsored referendum on self-determination in August 1999, units of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) were deployed to Indonesian-occupied Timor in September 1999, as the leading units in the International Force East Timor (INTERFET).

However Australia’s leading role attracted political controversy, given successive Australian governments’ support for Indonesia’s occupation of the former Portuguese colony between 1975-1999.

Australia’s ongoing operations in Timor are designed to support the Government of Timor-Leste and successive UN peacekeeping and development missions in Timor which have followed the 1999 self-determination referendum and political independence in 2002. The mandate is set out in resolutions of the UN Security Council and a 2007 MOU between the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, the United Nations and Australia.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) was often critical of the Timor policies of the conservative government led by Prime Minister John Howard (1996-2007). However since the national elections in November 2007, the ALP government led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has maintained Australia’s involvement in Timor.

Attitudes to the current ADF deployment are affected by perceptions of Australian interests in economic and political sectors (such as disputes over the maritime boundary and oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea) and continuing concern about the future stability and viability of political arrangements in Timor-Leste.

There is increasing debate over the roles, mandate, competence and co-ordination of the international forces in Timor. These include debate over issues with Australian troops operating outside UN command and the record in operations record of the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) (including killings at the Dili airport and in Same, destruction of community property, poor pre-deployment preparation in the months after the 2006 crisis and lack of accountability processes).

For details of Australia’s Timor policy since 2006, see