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Issue #1787      July 26, 2017

Editorial

Australia’s maleficent role in East Timor

Last week marked the fourth national election in East Timor since its hard-won independence 15 years ago. Fretilin, the party whose members and supporters led the struggle for national liberation from Indonesia, appear to have won the largest number of votes along with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction. Both have been in a government of national unity since 2015. Australia’s maleficent role still hangs over East Timor’s history of struggle for independence.

It includes successive Australian governments’ stand-over treatment of East Timor over the exploitation of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Gap, an act of theft and plunder that is reflected in the declining respect for Australia in the Asian region and in Australia being regarded as a US “sheriff” in the region, a role confirmed in the present as preparations increase for a major military offensive in concert with a growing US occupation force in Australia’s north.

The people of East Timor, after years of Portuguese and then Indonesian colonialism, remain among the poorest in the world. The winning of their independence after years of armed struggle and the existence of rich oil and gas resources off the East Timorese coast should have opened the door to a better future, but this is being denied them by Australia’s ongoing policies. The foundation for this theft of East Timor’s natural resources was laid in an agreement between the Indonesian and Australian governments in 1972 in which one of the main gas fields, Greater Sunrise, was put mainly in Australian waters.

Disputes between nations concerning rights to territorial waters are usually settled by adherence to the half-way mark. This is the principle enshrined in the UN’s Law of the Sea. If this were to be the case most of the Greater Sunrise field would belong to East Timor.

However, in 2002 Australia withdrew from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and from the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction on maritime boundary questions. The then Howard government delayed ratifying the Timor Sea Treaty it had made with East Timor until the deadline was reached, leaving East Timor with the choice of either demanding greater revenues and perhaps risking the collapse of the agreement, or accepting Australia’s terms.

East Timor’s President at the time, Xanana Gusmao, stated: “We’re not asking too much from Australia. What belongs to us is ours. We hope Australia can understand that. They still haven’t agreed when to start maritime border negotiations”.

The Australian government’s principle however is “What belongs to us is ours and what belongs to you is also ours.” Is it any wonder that Australia is becoming increasingly seen in the Asian region and further afield as a pariah state devoid of principles with a successive number of predator governments?

Under the UN International Law of the Sea, all the areas presently being drilled are in East Timor’s half of the Sea. The reason Australian governments forced East Timor, the poorest nation in our region, to defer making a decision on the maritime boundary for 50 years is precisely because they know that Australia’s position is untenable under international law.

At issue in the maritime border dispute are royalties estimated at between $10 billion and $20 billion over the next 30 years. Australia has sucked in over $2 billion from royalties on the oil and gas in question since 1999. With its fair share of these funds, East Timor could meet the needs of its people and build some financial security.

East Timor has refused to ratify the Timor Sea Treaty. It wants Australia to return to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and UNCLOS for the adjudication of the maritime boundary.

Australia’s collusion with Indonesia in the past, its benefiting from Indonesia’s occupation by the Timor Gap oil treaty with Indonesia, its arming and training of Indonesian military, means that Australia shares responsibility with Indonesia for the past decades of murder, torture and terrorism against the people of East Timor.

Next article – Qld Youth horrors revealed

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