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Howard’s Attempted Bribery To Steal Timor Oil

Howard’s Attempted Bribery To Steal Timor Oil

By Jon Lamb
Green Left Weekly From:

''We went to East Timor to help those people, and now we are slapping them in the face and stealing their oil.''

This is what Chip Henriss-Anderssen, a former major in the Australian military who served with the International Force for East Timor, told reporters on March 7. “We thought we were doing something decent. Now we have to ask the very real question of whether or not we went to East Timor to secure oil assets that aren’t ours.”

The latest round of talks between Australia and East Timor in Canberra on disputed oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea took place on March 7-9, but concluded with little else other than an announcement that further talks will take place again soon.

Just prior to the talks, a foreign affairs and trade department official told reporters in Canberra that the Australian Coalition government was prepared to hold out for up to 99 years — referring to a “Hong Kong” scenario — if the government of East Timor maintained its demand that the maritime boundaries be settled according to international law.

Two months before East Timor gained independence, Canberra withdrew recognition of the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, leaving East Timor with no legal avenue to contest the current boundary dispute.

At the centre of discussions is the Greater Sunrise gas field, the largest known reserve of gas in the Timor Sea. Negotiations stalled last year after the October federal election, when the East Timorese government refused to accept the terms on offer for a “creative solution” regarding Greater Sunrise.

The Coalition has reportedly made an offer of $3 to $5 billion (over 30 years) to East Timor if it drops the demand for a greater royalty share than the 18% of total royalties on offer at present. Australian negotiators are arguing that this new “creative solution” should be concluded separate to finalising the maritime boundaries, hence the threat to hold out for decades if East Timor does not relinquish its claims.

While the estimates of the wealth expected to be generated from Greater Sunrise vary, based on current world prices the total government take from royalties is in the order of US$30 billion. The latest offer is clearly a miserly one that the Coalition government hopes cash-strapped East Timor will be forced to accept.

A delegation of prominent supporters of East Timor, including Greens Senator Bob Brown, Bishop Hilton Deakin and businessperson Ian Melrose, gathered in Canberra outside the venue of the talks on March 7 and condemned the Australian government’s stance.

According to Bishop Hilton Deakin, “ The majority of Australians want our government to offer a fair deal that reflects East Timor’s rightful entitlement under current international law.”

Melrose has vowed to spend more than $6 million on a media campaign in support of East Timor’s claims, “if I don’t think it’s getting the momentum required”.

Many former Australian military personnel, including Second World War veterans who were stationed in Timor, have spoken out in support of East Timor’s rights.

A letter signed by 17 US senators and representatives was also recently sent to PM John Howard, calling for “Australia to move quickly and seriously to establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste”.

The letter said: “An equitable sharing of oil and gas revenues would enable Timor-Leste to provide better health care and other essential services to its citizens. Such equitable sharing of revenue is not a question of charity; rather it is a matter of self-determination, sovereignty and Timor-Leste’s future.”

On March 10, Tom Clarke, coordinator of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign in Melbourne said: “Unless the Australian government acknowledges East Timor’s legal entitlements under current international law and stops trying to short-change the East Timorese people, then future negotiations are not going to result in a just and fair outcome.”

Referring to Australia’s “creative solution” of bribing East Timor to drop its claim for greater royalties, Clarke said, “The East Timorese resisted a brutal occupation for 24 long years, why would they give up on their struggle for self-determination for a one-off payment that falls well short of what East Timor is legally entitled to?”

Clarke claims the Howard government is ignoring international law “so it can take billions of dollars from one of the poorest nations in the world. East Timorese children are dying from preventable diseases and the Australian government is taking $1 million a day of contested oil royalties. It’s bringing shame to all Australians.”

From Green Left Weekly, March 16, 2005. Visit the Green Left Weekly home page -

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