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Australian spying & harassment of Timor supporters

Australian spying & harassment of Timor supporters

During the last two days, dozens of articles in the Australian media have described Australian intelligence's clumsy efforts to harass and restrict an Australian attorney and witness for Timor-Leste's case which is bringing the CMATS non-boundary treaty to arbitration this week.  La'o Hamutuk has tried to provide comprehensive background and history on this issue at, which includes links to many documents, analyses and articles.  The following is excerpted from that page, and it contains links to about two dozen articles which have recently been published, most of which have not circulated on this list.  We will continue to update that page as new developments occur.

As Timor-Leste celebrated the 38th anniversary of its Proclamation of Independence on 28 November, many were discussing Australia and the U.S. eavesdropping on other governments, including Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Minister of State Agio Pereira re-opened the public debate on maritime boundaries with interviews on Australian radio ( audiotranscript) and television ( videotranscript). The Australia grassroots organization Timor Sea Justice Campaign also urged Australia to establish a boundary with Timor-Leste, while former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer patronizingly belittled Timor-Leste's effort to advance its national interest ( audio), while TSJC's Tom Clark urged Australia to " Heed law of the sea and set a fair Timor border" in the Age. The World Socialist Web Site described some of these events in context.

On 3 December, Australian media reported that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) had broken into the Canberra home of Bernard Collaery, a lawyer representing Timor-Leste in the CMATS arbitration case. Australian agents also detained and searched an Australian whistleblower who planned to provide evidence for Timor-Leste to the tribunal. Timor-Leste supporter Clinton Fernandes, a former Australian military officer, wrote that " Dealing fairly with East Timor is not charity, but justice". The following day saw more articles about Australia's actions ( Tempo SemanalGuardianSydney Morning HeraldRadio Australia), including questions from the Labor and Green parties and justifications by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney General George BrandisTimor-Leste's Prime Minister "deeply regretted"the "counterproductive and uncooperative" actions of the Australian Government, while Ambassador to Australia Abel Guterres was "deeply disappointed."  

An ABC (Australian state media) "Fact Check" used Australian sources to conclude that what Australian intelligence did was legal because "one of the functions of ASIS is to engage in espionage in relation to negotiations between Australia and a foreign state to protect Australia's economic interests." However, as Australian priest and lawyer Frank Brennan explained, the raids were "designed to show Timor who's boss."

More than half a dozen Australian journalists and producers contacted La'o Hamutuk on 4 December. We explained that the long history of Australia's theft of Timor-Leste's oil begins with Woodside's discovery of the Sunrise field in 1974, which encouraged Australia to support Indonesia's invasion the following year. Australia's greed for the undersea wealth of the illegally occupied territory led Canberra and Jakarta to sign the 1989 Timor Gap Treaty over the corpses of tens of thousands of Timorese people. Australia's refusal since 2002 to recognize Timor-Leste's sovereignty by establishing legally valid maritime boundaries demonstrates their desire to continue to profit from maritime territory gained as part of Indonesia's illegal occupation. In light of this history and the continuing theft of 40% of Timor-Leste's oil and gas, the latest spying incidents are almost background noise.

In our submission to the Australian Parliament last March, La'o Hamutuk wrote that "we cannot understand why the democratic nation of Australia, which respects human rights and rule of law for its own citizens, is unwilling to apply those principles to its northern neighbour. Is Australia so afraid of a fair boundary settlement that you would rather be a bully than a good international citizen? Why do you continue to exploit advantages you obtained during the shameful and bloody Indonesian occupation of our country? ... Australia should take the path of legality and mutual respect by engaging in good faith negotiations and dispute resolution processes to decide our maritime boundary."  Although the latest scandal casts doubt on our initial premise, the renewed attention could help answer the questions we asked.

Charles Scheiner
La'o Hamutuk (The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis)


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