Past Governments accused of deaths cover-up

A former Australian Government official has accused the Whitlam and Fraser governments of lying over the deaths of five Australian-based journalists in East Timor in 1975.

The inquest into the deaths of one of the journalists, Brian Peters, has been told by two former federal officers that an intercepted intelligence report they saw in 1977 indicated the men were killed on orders from Indonesian forces.

Ian Cunliffe has told Glebe Coroner's Court the intercepted report, which he believed to be from Indonesian forces in Balibo to higher command, contradicted the position of successive Australian governments that the men had been accidentally killed in crossfire.

"I had been made privy to something which suggested the Australian Government had basically been lying," Cunliffe told the court.

Cunliffe, assistant to the secretary at the Hope Royal Commission into Intelligence and Security in the late 1970s, said he believed the intercepted document which was dated at the time of the men's death on October 16, 1975, could have been seen by then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

"I believe it would have been passed up the chain of command and drawn to the attention of ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister."

Whitlam was sacked in November 1975 and Labor lost the subsequent election to Malcolm Fraser.

Cunliffe and Hope Royal Commission secretary George Brownbill both had top-level security clearances and were shown the intercepted document at the Defence Signals Directorate at Shoal Bay in the Northern Territory in early 1977 - 18 months after the Balibo Five were killed.

Cunliffe and Brownbill both told the inquest yesterday the report suggested the journalists were deliberately killed.

"It said the Australian journalists had been killed ... and the words strongly suggested it had been done on instructions," Cunliffe said.

Official reports since 1975 have said Peters, Greg Shackelton, New Zealander Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Tony Stewart were killed in crossfire between Indonesian forces and Fretilin troops.

- AAP

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