Mark Dodd August 26, 2008
EAST Timor's request to be included in an Australian guest worker program has been rejected by Kevin Rudd, with a multi-million-dollar package of development initiatives offered to Dili instead.
At a joint news conference in Canberra yesterday, Mr Rudd and his East Timor counterpart, Xanana Gusmao, pledged continuing co-operation on defence and security matters.
The federal Government was committed to build a $5.7 million defence training facility for the East Timor Defence Force (F-FDTL) focusing on logistics, medical services and communications, Mr Rudd said.
A new education, training and employment scheme to tackle the problem of mass youth unemployment was announced, along with a decision to send Australian specialists to Dili tohelp improve the quality of the country's politicised civil servants.
Canberra will also double the number of scholarships for Timorese undergraduate and postgraduate students, raising the number of places from 12 to 20by next year at a cost of $3million.
Opportunities for English language training will be boosted in Dili, a sign East Timor's political elite now accept that its young people do not want to learn Portuguese, despite the efforts of the former colonial power to restore the language.
East Timor, a tiny half-island state of one million people, is Southeast Asia's poorest country, with more than 80 per cent unemployment.
The Gusmao Government had high hopes Canberra would agree to a request for its citizens to be included in a guest worker program detailed last week by Mr Rudd at a Pacific leaders' forum at Niue. The issue was raised yesterday, but Mr Rudd made it clear it was not an option this year.
"We agreed with the Australian Government, with the Prime Minister, that we will discuss how we can participate and how the Australian Government can give us this (opportunity)," Mr Gusmao said.
Mr Rudd said the solution lay in developing home-grown employment and training opportunities for Timorese.
"We have agreed to launch a joint education, training and employment initiative which will come back to us with specific recommendations for action by year's end," he said.
"In particular, what we are looking at is the needs in the Timor Leste public sector ... for an intensified training program -- grassroots, middle level and senior level -- in order to make sure that East Timor is properly equipped to address its challenges for development."
Australia has a modest $8million defence co-operation program with East Timor focusing on developing nation-building skills by members of the F-FDTL.
An additional 14 Australian Defence Force specialists will be sent to East Timor to help with the training, bringing to 32 the total number there.
That does not include 750 soldiers serving as part of the UN-backed International Stabilisation Force.