Horta hands East a dossier


Jose Ramos-Horta gives a dossier to Roger East in this scene. Later, East reads its contents, which include a number of classified documents. Documents such as these were in circulation within the Australian government and bureaucracy at the time and subsequently. Some classified documents later leaked to the media.

There is an interesting episode that illustrates the lengths to which the Australian government would go to prevent public knowledge of its diplomacy. In 1980, an attempt was made to publish a book called Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-75. It contained classified documents outlining some of the written advice provided by senior Australian bureaucrats to the Gorton, McMahon, and Whitlam governments. Much of the material reproduced in the book came from the Department of Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or from
related bodies like the National Intelligence Committee. The most sensitive documents were those dealing with the government's diplomacy towards Indonesia prior to its invasion of East Timor.

The problem was that sections of the public were opposed to the government's policies. The government sought to conceal these policies - conducted with full prior knowledge of Indonesia's plans - from the Australian public. Two newspapers in the Fairfax press in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, were scheduled to publish three series of extracts from the book on 8 September 1980. Hours before the first extract was due to hit the newsstands, the Australian government obtained injunctions against both newspapers in the High Court of Australia. The first installment of the extracts made it into the first edition of both newspapers, but they were withdrawn from all subsequent editions.

The next day, injunctions were obtained against the publishers; the day after, further injunctions were obtained against the distributors. A proportion of the print run had already been sold to the book trade, and some books were resold to the public. When the applications for injunctions were heard, the Australian government claimed there were national security grounds to prevent publication. It invoked section 79 of the Crimes Act and sections 41 and 42 of the Copyright Act. The injunction failed on the grounds of national security but succeeded on the grounds of copyright (since the material was Australian government property). The book was withdrawn from sale as a result. All unsold copies held by the publishers were surrendered to the government and later destroyed, although some libraries do still have copies. In 1982, the publishers released Secrets of State, which contained extensive excerpts from the banned book, as well as an accompanying analysis. This book could not be banned on any grounds.

On the subject of dossiers, it is worth noting that the Australian government prepared dossiers on members of Fretilin in order to ban them from entering Australia.

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