Relatives of two news reporters killed at Balibo in East Timor in 1975 say an attempt to exhume their remains will cause more trauma. The reporters, and three fellow newsmen, were killed by Indonesian troops during the invasion of East Timor. The independent Senator Nick Xenophon has backed a move to have the remains returned to Australia.
Brendan Trembath: Relatives of two news reporters killed at Balibo in East Timor in 1975 say an attempt to exhume their remains will cause more trauma. The reporters and three fellow newsmen were killed by Indonesian troops during the invasion of East Timor.
The independent Senator Nick Xenophon has backed a move to have their remains returned to Australia.
Anthony Stewart reports.
Newsreader (archival audio): Indonesian authorities have finally confirmed the deaths of the five Australian newsmen who have been missing presumed dead for some weeks in East Timor. The remains of the four bodies and personal effects have now been handed over to Australian officials in Jakarta and the Indonesians now regard the incident as closed.
Anthony Stewart: The remains of Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie were all placed in a half-sized coffin and now lie in a Jakarta cemetery.
Greg Shackleton's widow Shirley supported by independent Senator Nick Xenophon was in Jakarta yesterday publicly calling for the remains to be exhumed and returned to Australia. The move has upset Tony Stewart's sister Annie, who says she wasn't consulted.
Anne Stewart: So to hear Shirley come out again – we're used to that – but for Nick to support her, Senator Nick Xenophon to support her, it's just outrageous that he would make comments like that without even talking to our family.
Anthony Stewart: Gary Cunningham's son John Milkins says he wasn't aware of the move either and that it distracts from attempts to bring the killers to justice.
John Milkins: For our family our focus is very much on bringing the perpetrators of the journalists' murder to justice, as recommended in 2007 by the coroner. We're wondering why there is still no outcome from the AFP investigation that's ongoing.
Anthony Stewart: Senator Xenophon says the situation is fraught with emotion but he wanted to support Ms Shackleton's bid.
Nick Xenophon: Shirley wants her husband's remains to be returned to Australia. She's wanted this for many, many years and her wishes are important in this, as are the wishes of all the other family members.
Anthony Stewart: He's hopeful all the families will be able to work out a resolution.
Nick Xenophon: I think it's going to take a lot of dialogue. It's been going on for many years and every family has been deeply traumatised by this. Shirley desperately wants her husband's remains brought back but obviously the best thing to do is to get a consensus.
Anthony Stewart: Ms Stewart says her family has already said goodbye to her brother.
Anne Stewart: We have all talked about it as families and we are not that interested in having it repatriated. In 2003 when the memorial service was held at Balibo East Timor, we all thought 'What a wonderful place to leave their memory'.
To do anything else, to dig it up and, you know, pose more questions, it's just not something we're interested in.
Anthony Stewart: John Milkins says all the families can agree the people who murdered the men need to be put on trial.
John Milkins: It think what you do about the remains of five people in a half-sized coffin in a different country in Jakarta which may or may not be them and will be subject to DNA testing that individuals have to agree to, is a different matter entirely.
It's part of the story, without a doubt, but I think the key focus should be on whether our politicians have the courage to pursue whatever the AFP recommendation will be.
Anthony Stewart: Senator Xenophon says he'll be taking up that cause during Senate Estimates.
Nick Xenophon: I think it's absolutely clear that the issue of justice for the families, in terms of the perpetrators being brought to account is a fundamental one and it has to be a priority. That's why I'll be asking questions in the Senate Estimates process this week and that's why I needed to go to Jakarta and meet with people to get further information about what's occurred.
Anthony Stewart: Annie Stewart says she's unsure whether her brother's killer will ever be brought to justice and perhaps the greatest memorial to the Balibo Five can be achieved in East Timor.
Anne Stewart: Mr brothers and I, my sister, we have been longtime supporters for East Timor, and as we often say in our family, we did lose a brother but we gained a whole nation who has lost 200,000 people since the invasion. Always we have been looking to support East Timor.
Anthony Stewart: The 37-year anniversary of the men's death is tomorrow.
Brendan Trembath: Anthony Stewart.