East Timor, Australia and the Oil By Alex Schlotzer 22/09/09 Since the fledgling nation of East Timor (known

as Timor Leste) was born it has experienced extreme poverty and numerous hardships. Of course Australia has been there from the start; even Victoria's (a southern state of Australia) former Premier Steve Bracks gives advice to their Prime Minister. Australia's armed forces and diplomats are there to help keep the peace; keep their borders safe and to help build much needed infrastructure; infrastructure destroyed by the militia forces as they retreated back into Indonesian territory. Australia takes great pride in helping East Timor, and being the defenders of the newest of the world’s nations. There is an almost cruel duplicity in this Australian sense of pride for helping East Timor. The duplicity exists because while Australia ‘helps’ East Timor, Australia is responsible for keeping the nation from economic security and rapid development of infrastructure. But how could this be so? Australians are hospitable people (yeah that old cliché) and helping to rebuild the nation. Truth be known, the current Labor federal government, like its Coalition predecessor, are still holding the poor nation of East Timor to ransom for the sake of access to oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. While it is true an agreement was reached between Australia’s and East Timor’s governments in 2006, the terms of that agreement were grossly in favour of Australian interests. Sadly, the rub is that Australia gains the lion’s share of royalties. The particular issue at stake is the official sea boundaries between Australia and East Timor. Our current Labor government refuses to agree to a change in our national sea borders to accommodate a fair redistribution to recognize the legitimate right of East Timor to its sea borders under international law. Amazingly Australia under the stewardship of a Labor government has maintained the stance by the Coalition by not returning to the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the two international arbitration bodies used to settle such disputes; the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Even today the government apparently continues to ignore requests to return to the international fold. The remarkable (or perhaps unremarkable) thing is that the Australian government continues this position because re-drawing the sea boundaries means the Timor oil and gas reserves would be entirely located in East Timor’s waters; thereby giving the nation the sole rights to collect royalties from the oil and gas reserves. If there is a close neighbour of Australia that needs the royalties from our global obsession with oil, it surely must be East Timor.

The country needs significant public infrastructure and social and health programs. They need a boost to support education and for business investment with future job prospects. The full royalties from the Timor oil and gas reserves can help re-build a nation that was badly damaged in the ensuing violence after the vote for independence from Indonesia. Despite the good work being done by a range of charities and non-government organizations like APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad; Australian government policy is holding back social and economic infrastructure and development. These kinds of international issues, and the ones right here in our region’s backyard, cannot be allowed to be forgotten. This is about Australia’s responsibility to East Timor to do the right thing if we as a nation want to ‘help’. And here the right thing to do is to return to international law and recognize East Timor’s rightful sea boundaries thereby ensuring it has full rights to and over the oil and gas reserves and how they are used.

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