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Australia Must Play Fair With East Timor Oil


New Zealand should urge Australia to play fair over East Timor oil.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee has faxed Foreign Minister Phil Goff to urge him to take up the issue of the maritime boundary dispute between East Timor and Australia.

Australia is acting like a renegade in refusing to submit its dispute over its maritime boundary with East Timor to international arbitration. What is worse it is continuing to exploit the oil resource while the issue remains unresolved.

Australia the "lucky country" is profiting at the expense of one the world's poorest and most vulnerable nations. As East Timor's Foreign Minister has described it Australia is "vacuuming up" an estimated million dollars a day in oil.

The international principle about maritime boundaries is clear, when neighbours claims overlap the boundary should be at the halfway point between the two coast lines. So why has Australia withdrawn from the dispute resolution mechanisms of the International Law of the Sea and the International Court of Justice?

New Zealand must urge Australia to play fair: cease exploiting the oil until the issue is resolved in international mediation.

Letter attached.

22 July, 2002.

Hon Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

Dear Phil Goff,

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee urges that the New Zealand Government call on Australia to play fair in its maritime boundary dispute with East Timor.

We believe that Australia is acting like a renegade in refusing to submit its dispute over its maritime boundary with East Timor to international arbitration. What is worse it is continuing to exploit the oil resource while the issue remains unresolved.

Now East Timor is trying to negotiate a fair maritime boundary with Australia, basing its claim on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. When neighbours' claims overlap the boundary should be at the halfway point between the two coast lines.

If this international principle were applied, many of the oil and gas fields Australia is claiming, including most if not all of the lucrative Greater Sunrise field and the nearly depleted Laminaria-Corallina field, would fall within East Timor's economic zone. East Timor has not received a cent of the $1 billion in royalties from the Laminaria-Corallina field; all has gone to Australia.

Effectively the 'lucky country' is stealing from poverty stricken East Timor, since these disputed oil revenues far outstrip Australia's aid contributions. It is a cruel irony that Australia continues to benefit from the advantageous deals it concluded with Indonesia while that country was maintaining an illegal occupation of East Timor.

As Jose Ramos Horta has expressed it Australia is "vacuuming up" an estimated million dollars a day in oil.

Recently 54 United States Congress Representatives wrote to Prime Minister John Howard, urging Canberra to establish a "fair, permanent maritime boundary and an equitable sharing of oil and gas resources".

New Zealand should also urge Australia to play fair , cease exploiting the oil and submit the issue to international arbitration.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater (for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee)

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