FRIEND OF TIMOR-LESTE: State Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin wearing her Order of Timor-Leste, awarded in 2015.
FRIEND OF TIMOR-LESTE: State Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin wearing her Order of Timor-Leste, awarded in 2015. Contributed

OPINION: A worthy recipient

LAST week I joined other Australian politicians, diplomats and veterans for Timor-Leste's 20th anniversary of the Popular Consultation in which East Timorese voted for independence, then achieved in 2002.

Former Chancellor of Southern Cross University The Honourable John Dowd AO QC and I were there as observers in the United Nations-led mission and this was a reunion with colleagues and friends from that history-making time.

I was honoured to receive a personal invitation from the former first President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste His Excellency Xanana Gusmao to attend a celebration ceremony in Dili last Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Marise Payne also attended.

Australia has deep ties with Timor-Leste dating back to World War Two when our first commandos in Sparrow Force fought the Japanese, and to two decades ago when the INTERFET Mission, including Australian soldiers and civilians, risked their lives alongside the East Timorese, in the violent aftermath of the referendum.

Mr Gusmao, who was the leader of Falintil (the geurrilla army), has described the August 30 1999 referendum as the people of Timor-Leste, in a remarkable show of courage and resolve, exercising their right to self-determination.

In a letter to Ms Saffin, Mr Gusmao wrote: "Janelle, you have been with us since the beginning as we built one of the largest solidarity movements in the world. You have been more than a friend to our country; you have always been there to give us valuable strategic advice and wisdom.

"... You made a remarkable contribution during our struggle for independence and your selfless work for our country continued as we worked together to build peace and build our state,” Mr Gusmao wrote.

"Your political advice is unsurpassed and your dedication and strength of character during the most difficult of times has meant so much to us.”

I also met with a number of serving Timor-Leste politicians and elder statesmen like Mr Gusmao and His Excellency Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, Timor-Leste's former Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, Defence Minister and President, and Nobel Peace Laureate.