Time to draw a line in East Timor

Oil platform/Wikipedia

It is amazing that Australian tax-payers' money is being used to fight a small neighbour – Timor Leste – over where the fence-line should be, writes Josephite Sister Susan Connelly at Catholic Religious Australia.

If you own a home, you know how important the fence-line is. It's puzzling to find that there is no boundary, no fence-line, between Australia and East Timor (Timor-Leste). No boundary! Who's supposed to know who owns the oil and the gas under the sea?

The saga of how this unfortunate situation came about is not a pretty one.

Australia agreed on a boundary in the Timor Sea with Indonesia in 1972. Timor was then under the control of Portugal which would have nothing to do with the setting of boundaries. So there was no border between Australia and Timor. The part where it should have been was left blank, and became known as the "Timor Gap".

When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, Australia did not help the Timorese. Our leaders had already decided that it was best for Timor to be under the control of Indonesia. In that way, they said, it would be easier for Australia to cut deals about the oil and gas in the Timor Sea. And so it was. In 1989, Indonesia and Australia signed the "Timor Gap Treaty", which concerned the area of the Timor Sea down to half-way between Australia and Timor. We agreed with Indonesia to split the oil and gas resources of this area 50/50.

In 1999 Australia went in to help after the Timorese had bravely voted to be free of Indonesia. The "Timor Gap Treaty" was re-negotiated with the new nation of Timor-Leste as the "Timor Sea Treaty". Australia got 10 per cent and Timor got 90 per cent. We were told this was "generous", but it doesn't seem too generous when you realise that the whole lot is all on Timor's side of the half-way line.

In 2006, Timor-Leste then signed a treaty with Australia over the resources of a rich field named "Greater Sunrise", which again, is all on Timor's side of the Timor Sea. The agreement was that Timor could have 50 per cent of the revenue, and Australia 50 per cent, on condition that Timor did not even mention the boundary, the fence-line, for 50 years, until 2056.

But Australia had bugged the Timorese government offices before the negotiations, so that listening in, Australia had access to private and important information about how the Timorese would conduct the talks and on what they would agree.

A treaty agreed on in such circumstances is very suspect indeed, and the Timorese believe that Australia did not act in good faith, as do many Australians.

READ MORE

It's time to draw the line: Justice in the Timor Sea (Catholic Religious Australia)

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Andyminicooper/Wikipedia CC 3.0

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