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Critics Blast Australian Government's Band-Aid Approach to Timor Sea Dispute

Media Release from the Timor Sea Justice Campaign in Australia
12 January 2006

With the Governments of Australia and East Timor today signing another interim resources sharing agreement for contested petroleum resources in the Timor Sea, an Australian lobby group has vehemently attacked the Australian Government's failure to address the larger and more important issue of permanent maritime boundaries.

Timor Sea Justice Campaign co-ordinator, Tom Clarke, claims the deal to share 'government royalties' from the Greater Sunrise gas field 50/50, despite the field being twice as close to East Timor than Australia, simply postpones the real issues of sovereignty for half a century.

"This deal is a 'stop gap, band aid' solution that will enable the commercial development of the field without the Australian Government acknowledging East Timor's sovereign rights to this and other fields on East Timor's side of the median line. Not only has the Australian Government refused to negotiate permanent maritime boundaries until a time when all of the oil an gas has been taken, but it continues to unilaterally deplete the Laminaria-Corallina and Buffalo fields," Mr Clarke said.

The campaigners claim the deal marks another sad chapter of Australian foreign policy betrayal and that the Howard Government seems determined to increase Australia's reputation as a bully in the region.

"The Australian Government has continually and blatantly refused to abide by International Law. Instead, it has bullied the poorest country in Asia into a series of dodgy resource sharing deals, to take billions of dollars that simply do not belong to us," Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarke claims this short-changing deal is just the latest of many unscrupulous acts committed by the Australian Government during the negotiations.

"The treachery became glaringly apparent, when the Australian Government secretly and suddenly withdrew its recognition of the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice just two months before East Timor's independence, and made it very clear that it would not be playing by the rules.

"Since 1999 the Australian Government has unilaterally proceeded to take over $2 billion in government royalties from the Laminaria-Corallina and Buffalo fields, that are likely to belong to East Timor if permanent maritime boundaries were established in accordance with International Law.

"Now, on top of the 10 percent of royalties the Australian Government dubiously takes from the Joint Petroleum Development Area, Downer and his posse have just managed to pilfer half of the Greater Sunrise field which is located twice as close to East Timor!"

Mr Clarke lamented that with the Australian Government ignoring the 'independent umpire' and with East Timor facing extreme levels of poverty, the negotiations were never likely to be equitable.

"This really should have been a very simple matter of just drawing a line half way between two coastlines, but once again the greed and self-interest of our, the Australian Government, has brought shame to all Australians who believe in a fair go," Mr Clarke said.

Although disappointed that the task of establishing permanent maritime boundaries has been left for future generations to negotiate, the campaign is claiming some of the credit for the change in the Australian Government's position on sharing royalties from the Greater Sunrise field.

"Given they were up against a stonewalling Australian Government that never had any intention of settling this matter in accordance with International Law, the East Timorese negotiating team has done a commendable job in securing a larger share of royalties than the miserly 18 percent previously offered.

"But I would also like to acknowledge the combined impact that Australian grassroots pressure, businessperson Ian Melrose's television commercials, international pressure, the work of trade unions and churches, and all of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign's supporters, have had in significantly shifting Canberra's position over the past 18 months," Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarke claimed that one of the benefits of the new deal would be the opportunity it presents to Woodside Petroleum to make a significant and lasting contribution to East Timor's economic development.

"The Greater Sunrise gas field will produce billions of dollars of 'government royalties', but other 'down stream benefits' need to be taken into consideration. Obviously East Timor should also receive a fair share of the flow-on economic benefits from the commercial development of its own resources and we'll continue to monitor that situation," Mr Clarke said.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign will continue to call for the Australian Government to establish permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor in accordance with International Law claiming that the issues are integral to East Timor's process of self-determination and achieving true independence.

"Until the East Timorese enjoy just and fair borders, their struggle will continue, and I'm sure they will have the support of all Australians who believe in a fair go," Mr Clarke said.

For more information please visit: www.timorseajustice.org

For further comments, please contact:
Tom Clarke, Co-ordinator, Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Melbourne.
m: +61(0)422 545 763 e: tom@timorseajustice.org