Australia steals Timor Leste oil

Clinton Fernandes on stolen TL oil; Timor Sea Justice campaign; and TL Studies Association
1.Our land is girt by oil-rich sea … that we steal from East Timor
Australia has been stealing billions of dollars from one of our poorest neighbours, writes Clinton Fernandes, associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra and specialist in Australian foreign policy.

Australia has been flouting international law since 2002, taking billions of dollars in oil revenue that should rightfully belong to East Timor. No wonder we’re being so cagey about the East Timor spying allegations.

In the Senate yesterday, independent Senator Nick Xenophon asked Attorney-General George Brandis about reports in the Fairfax press that a former spy and his lawyer might be charged with disclosing classified information about Australian espionage against East Timor.

East Timor is alleging before a three-person arbitration panel in The Hague that Australia breached international law by bugging East Timor’s cabinet rooms during the 2004 bilateral negotiations over the Timor Sea Treaty. A key witness for East Timor is a former spy who is said to be the director of all technical operations for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, which allegedly conducted the bugging operation using the Australian aid program as a cover. On December 3, 2013, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation raided his house and the office and home of Bernard Collaery, a former attorney-general of the Australian Capital Territory who is providing legal advice to the government of East Timor. ASIO seized documents and data containing correspondence between East Timor’s government and its legal advisers.

The former spy, known as Witness K, is due to testify at The Hague on September 27.

“It is quite distasteful to see Australia’s intelligence services being used to deprive the people of East Timor of their principal economic asset.”

Xenophon wanted to know whether the government would permit Witness K to travel to The Hague unimpeded (provided, of course, that the identities of current and former ASIS officers were not disclosed). After all, if he were prevented from giving evidence, that would impede a fair hearing. Brandis gave the standard defensive formulation: the matter is “currently before an international arbitral tribunal” and “it is the longstanding practice of Australian governments not to comment on matters currently before international arbitration”.

East Timor is a fragile, new state, barely more than a decade old. It would like to draw a maritime border halfway between the Australian and East Timor coasts, as it is entitled to do under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, in March 2002, just two months before East Timor became independent, Alexander Downer, then Australia’s foreign minister, announced that henceforth Australia would exclude all disputes relating to the delimitation of maritime zones from the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. This meant that East Timor has the law on its side but can derive no benefit from that fact.

In 2004, Australia agreed to a median line boundary — with New Zealand, when we established a maritime boundary to resolve overlapping claims off the coast of Norfolk Island.

If international law were to apply, East Timor would be entitled to 100% of the oil and gas on its side of the median line in the Timor Sea. This includes the single most crucial resource, namely the Greater Sunrise field, the bulk of which lies just outside the lateral boundary of the Gap.

It is quite distasteful to see Australia’s intelligence services being used to deprive the people of East Timor of their principal economic asset.

Since 1999, Australia has taken more than $4 billion in oil revenue that should rightfully belong to East Timor. Having taken a large portion of the wealth of one of the poorest countries in Asia, the Australian government has given back about $0.4 billion in bilateral and multilateral assistance, and about $0.5 billion in military assistance.

This means that East Timor, believe it or not, is Australia’s largest international donor. This is not a typo.


Former soldier voices concern that Australia’s bullish tactics in dispute over Timor’s gas and oil is eroding INTERFET’s legacy

Saturday 20 September 2014

Today is the 15th anniversary of Australia’s military intervention in East Timor in the wake of the violence that followed the UN sponsored ballot for independence in 1999.

A former Australian soldier who was amongst the first to land in East Timor as part of the INTERFET mission says he is concerned the Australian Government’s bullish approach in the dispute over Timor’s oil and gas was jeopardising the legacy of goodwill the peacekeeping forces generated.

Chip Henriss, who served with the Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade, said he was profoundly proud of Australia’s role at the time.

“It seemed to capture the notion of ‘a fair go’ that my country so embraces. However, in the years that followed, I began to ask myself, was our Government’s motivation as pure as it would have us believe? Were we in East Timor to selflessly end the bloodshed or were we also eying off East Timor’s vast oil and gas reserves?” said Mr Henriss.

Mr Henriss said his doubts started growing in March 2002 – just two month’s before East Timor would finally become an independent nation – when Australia withdrew its recognition of the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.

“Turning your back on the independent umpire isn’t something you do if you intend to play by the rules – it’s something you do when you’re up to no good and you know it,” said Mr Henriss.

As a result of the very lopsided negotiations which followed, Australia managed to short-change East Timor out of billions of dollars of government revenue from oil and gas fields. Australia refused to set maritime boundaries with East Timor and instead cornered the poorest nation in Asia into a series of dodgy ‘temporary resource sharing agreements’.

“Fifteen years ago I thought INTERFET would have a great and lasting legacy in East Timor, but today I’m concerned the greed of successive Australian Governments and big oil companies is slowly but surely eroding the goodwill that the Australian Defence Force soldiers I served with helped to create,” said Mr Henriss.

The former soldier said if the Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants him to believe Australia went into East Timor to help them transition to independence – the PM would need to prove it.

“Our Prime Minister Tony Abott needs to finish the job that John Howard supposedly began. He needs to draw the line and set permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor so our neighbours can benefit from the natural resources that they are entitled to,” said Mr Henriss.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign’s Melbourne spokesperson, Tom Clarke, said in situations such as this one, international law calls for a ‘median line’ solution.

“This simply means drawing a line half way between the two coast lines. It’s fair and simple and it’s exactly what international law proscribes,” said Mr Clarke.

For further information or comments, please contact:
Tom Clarke on 0422 545 763 or Chip Henriss on 0408 039 711

15 Years After Liberation, Australia Is Still Screwing The East Timorese
By Tom Clarke
As East Timor marks the 15th anniversary of its independence, it still has no maritime boundaries. They can thank their greedy neighbours for that. Tom Clarke explains.

3.The TL Studies Association 2013 Dili conference proceedings is now available for order.

Edited by Hannah Loney, Antero B. da Silva, Nuno Canas Mendes, Alarico da Costa Ximenes and Clinton Fernandes, Hawthorn: Swinburne Press, 2014
Refereed proceedings of the Timor-Leste Studies Association’s Understanding Timor-Leste 2013 conference, held at UNTL Liceu Campus 15 – 16 July 2013.

Volume I includes papers presented in Tetun and Portuguese language (193pp), volume II includes English and Indonesian language papers, along with a special Festschrift Panel celebrating the work of Helen Hill

I have a paper on “Timor Leste Unions and the right to strike?” (see also this blog.)

FREE to East Timorese University Libraries / College Libraries / Reading Rooms.
ALL OTHER COPIES: $A70 (Institutions/Libraries)/ A$60 (Individuals) (GST and Postage included)

Details of the publication and order forms are also available on the Timor-Leste Studies Association website:

Comments are closed.