Kirsty Sword Gusmao

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I rise today to speak about a remarkable woman, who has made a significant difference in the lives of many women and their families in Timor-Leste. I speak of Kirsty Sword Gusmao, founder of the Alola Foundation, former First Lady of Timor-Leste and now an Officer of the Order of Australia. Dr Gusmao was recognised for her distinguished service to Australia-East Timor relations through the development of mutual cooperation and understanding, particularly in the education sector, and through her advocacy for improved health and living conditions for the Timorese people.

From 1992 to 1996 Dr Gusmao lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, and worked there as an English teacher, humanitarian aid worker and human rights campaigner. During this time she worked closely with the Timorese pro-independence movement and took the codename Ruby Blade. Dr Gusmao would smuggle information, documents and even telephones to Xanana Gusmao, who was serving a 20-year sentence in a Jakarta jail.

In 2001 Dr Gusmao established the Alola Foundation to improve the lives of women and children across Timor-Leste. The foundation is named after Juliana ‘Alola’ dos Santos, a 14-year-old girl who was brutally raped and taken to Indonesian West Timor during the militia attacks of September 1999. Following this horrifying incident the foundation set to work raising awareness of the widespread sexual violence against women and girls in Timor-Leste. Today the organisation seeks to nurture women leaders and advocate for the rights of women by addressing problems relating to education, economic development and maternal and child health.

I am lucky enough to know Dr Gusmao and have met her many times. Many people in my electorate are members of the group called Friends of Ermera, which is changing people’s lives. Dr Gusmao has changed lives. She has fought to create a better nation and a free nation for all. I congratulate her.