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TV Commercial challenges Australian position

On Australia Day 2005, businessman Ian Melrose took out national television and newspaper advertisements challenging Australia to treat East Timor fairly during maritime boundary negotiations. Here are some articles describing that ad and its consequences.

If your computer has Quicktime, click here to see the television ad.

Click the image above to see the newspaper ad.

TV Commercials attack Howard over Theft of East Timor's Oil

Timor Sea Justice Campaign Press Release
23 January 2005

Businessman Ian Melrose has recommenced his campaign of television commercials criticising the Australian Government’s unfair treatment of East Timor, branding the $1.5 billion Australia has already taken in disputed oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea as “Stolen Goods.”

The new television ad to be shown in all states, is going to air in the lead up to Australia Day and questions whether Australian notions of a fair go and justice are really being upheld.

“While the Howard Government has already stolen 2 billion dollars of gas and oil royalties, East Timor desperately needs revenue to create a health system that works.” claims the television ad.

“Australia Day is meant to be a time to be proud of being Australian, but how can I be proud when the Australian Government is stealing billions of dollars from one of our closest and poorest neighbours?” asked Mr Melrose.

“With the Tsunami relief efforts the Australian people have shown amazing generosity, but the Howard Government in undermining our good reputation by taking billions of dollars worth of oil and gas royalties from East Timor.” Mr Melrose continued.

The Australian Government is currently depleting several gas and oil deposits that lie closer to East Timor than to Australia, despite the fields being included in East Timor’s maritime boundary claim that is currently being negotiated with the Australian Government.

East Timor is unable to take the matter to international arbitration because two months before East Timor’s independence, Australia suddenly withdrew from maritime boundary jurisdiction of the two international arbitration bodies used to settle such disputes, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Mr Melrose claims, “John Howard’s Government only withdrew from the International Court of Justice because it knew that it would lose if the matter was decided by an independent umpire.”

Mr Melrose said he was compelled to write and finance the advertising campaign because, “It’s not the Australian way to steal from a poor country” and that he was concerned about the ramifications of Australia being seen as a bully in the region.

“It’s time for John Howard to realise that Australian people such as myself will not remain silent on this issue. It’s East Timor’s oil, it’s as simple as that.” finished Mr Melrose.

For more information or requests for interviews with Ian Melrose contact:
Tom Clarke, Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Coordinator, 0422 545 763,
Dan Nicholson, Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Spokesperson, 0409 328 289,

Businessman wins ace in campaign for Timor

Sydney Morning Herald
By Julian Lee, Marketing Reporter January 27, 2005

The organisers of an advertising campaign that ambushed the Australian Open to highlight disputed maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea have pledged to dog John Howard at public events to further their cause.

Ian Melrose says that over the next three years he will spend $6 million on advertising campaigns and media stunts to embarrass the Prime Minister over the contentious issue of Australia's claim on the lucrative oil and gas fields.

The first of the businessman's commercials, which says the Federal Government has stolen $2 billion in revenue from the East Timorese, caught television viewers of the Alicia Molik fourth-round victory over Venus Williams on Monday by surprise.

But the 30-second spot - estimated to have cost about $30,000 - is just the beginning of a campaign by Mr Melrose and a recently formed coalition of groups, including World Vision, Oxfam and the Uniting Church of Australia, to push the Timor issue to the top of the political agenda.

"I'm not after dropping shit on Johnny - he's done a good job on many things. I'm after justice for the Timorese. They need the money. We don't," said Mr Melrose, who runs a chain of optometrists and who has visited East Timor to see first-hand the population's plight. 

Although not a member of a political party, Mr Melrose said his ownership of a business under the Coalition's stewardship made him, if anything, a "natural Liberal".

A spokesman for the campaign team at the lobby group The Timor Sea Justice Campaign promised that for every big public event Mr Howard "used to promote himself" they would be there to "ambush" him.

The next event to attract the campaign's attention is the anniversary of Australia's decision to ignore the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice on maritime boundaries, made two months before East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in May 2002.

Mr Melrose and his campaigners are pushing for Australia to recognise that court and accept its decision if it found in favour of East Timor's claims.

The Prime Minister's office did not return the Herald's calls.

Comment circulated by Oxfam CAA in response to the above article

Oxfam Community Aid Abroad is not involved with, nor an endorsee of, an adverting campaign launched by Mr Ian Melrose in support of resolution of the dispute between Australian and East Timor. Oxfam Community Aid Abroad is not a member of Mr Melrose's campaign or the Timor Sea Justice Campaign as implied in reports in the Sydney Morning Herald. Oxfam Community Aid Abroad is not involved in any activities of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign.

Oxfam Community Aid Abroad supports seeking a fair resolution of this dispute, and provides development assistance to the people of East Timor.

Marc Purcell, Advocacy Manager
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad

Canberra hits Timor ads

Sydney Morning Herald, By Julian Lee and Cynthia Banham
February 1, 2005

An advertising campaign accusing the Prime Minister of stealing billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues from East Timor has been branded "deceptive and misleading" by the Government.

The Government has gone on the defensive as it attempts to resume stalled talks over disputed maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea.

The television ads, paid for by Ian Melrose, the owner of Australia's second-largest optical chain, claim Australia has "stolen" $2 billion in revenue from the Timorese.

The Melbourne businessman is running a campaign to embarrass John Howard over Australia's claim on the lucrative oil and gas fields.

However, Mr Melrose's ads have cost him the support of a coalition of groups, with Oxfam, World Vision and the Uniting Church moving to distance themselves from him.

Earlier this week Mr Melrose and the Timor Sea Justice Campaign said the groups were part of a "coalition" that supported his pledge to ambush Mr Howard at public events.

Oxfam advocacy manager Marc Purcell said: "It's a matter of employing different methods of trying to achieve a just outcome for the Timorese. That involves talking to Government ministers . . . it's unhelpful to be associated with a campaign targeting the Prime Minister."

A World Vision spokesman said: "An ad campaign such as this is not a strategy we would use to influence government. We don't endorse it."

The Uniting Church said: "We welcome community action but we don't support any personal attacks."

The Government's reaction to Mr Melrose's ad was swift. One official involved in negotiations over East Timor's maritime boundary said the figure of $2 billion was incorrect. He said Australia had received $15 million at most from the joint petroleum area.

"That's where his campaign is deceptive and misleading," said the official, who asked not to be named. "He's including things East Timor has never had a right to."

A spokesman for Mr Melrose said: "If the Australian Government is so sure of its legal case, why doesn't it simply take it to the International Court of Justice and settle it once and for all?"

The Government has not received any response from East Timor to its invitation to attend a third round of talks in Australia in February or March.

The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
Institutu Timor-Leste ba Analiza no Monitor ba Dezenvolvimentu
Rua D. Alberto Ricardo, Bebora, Dili, Timor-Leste
P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3321040 or +670-77234330
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