A significant international event during the life of the Howard government was the
emergence of an independent East Timor. The troubled former Portuguese territory
had been under Indonesian control since its occupation by the Indonesian army in
1975, and few would have predicted in 1996 when the Howard government was
elected that within seven years Timor-Leste1 would be an independent state and the
subject of the largest Australian military effort since the Vietnam War.
This article considers the principal aspects of Australia’s interaction with East
Timor during the Howard years: the role of Australia in East Timor’s
independence; and the negotiation of a new regime for petroleum exploitation on
the continental shelf between Australia and Timor. Both are examples of an
essentially Australian foreign policy, where the interests and pressures of
Australia’s allies abroad exerted little impact upon government policy: something
for which the Howard government was often not, in the popular mind at least,
known for pursuing.