Subject: AU: Petroleum Release taunts E Timor
March 30, 2004 Tuesday All-round Country Edition
Release taunts E Timor
AUSTRALIA has released new exploration acreage in areas of the Timor Sea claimed by East Timor.
The Timor Sea acreage is among 31 new offshore petroleum exploration areas, off the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, released by the federal Government yesterday.
Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane was unrepentant about the Timor Sea release, saying Australia had a long history of sovereignty over the area.
East Timor wants to negotiate a maritime boundary with Australia and has argued that production from existing fields outside the joint petroleum development area set out in the Timor Sea treaty should be suspended until negotiations are concluded.
The second round of talks on the boundary will be held in Dili next month.
Mr Macfarlane said the leases had been released in accordance with Australia's established practice.
"We can't leave these resources unexplored and undeveloped," he said.
Mr Macfarlane said he did not expect an early settlement of the boundary dispute but rejected East Timor's plea for negotiations to be held on a monthly basis.
He expected long and robust negotiations but refused to indicate any timetable.
East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkartiri has demanded the Australian Government set a deadline for the talks.
Mr Macfarlane said successful bidders for the new Timor Sea acreage should not be alarmed because their rights would be protected.
Bids for 11 of the areas would close in September, with the rest closing next March.
Exploration permits will be awarded over six years.
March 31, 2004 Wednesday
* Maritime boundaries
THE federal Government's release of exploration acreage in the Timor Sea has been described as "a slap in the face" for East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
Shadow resources minister Joel Fitzgibbon said it was another example of the Australian Government bullying East Timor over maritime boundaries.
On Monday, Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane included Timor Sea acreage among 31 new offshore petroleum exploration areas available for tender, saying Australia had a long history of sovereignty over the area.
East Timor and Australia have begun negotiations on a maritime boundary. Dr Alkatiri has argued that Australia is robbing his country of billions of dollars in revenue by approving projects in areas of the Timor Sea where sovereignty is in dispute. He has called for existing production in developments such as Laminaria/Corallina to be stopped until the boundary is settled.
Mr Fitzgibbon yesterday reiterated that the ALP wanted to achieve a negotiated settlement with East Timor in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the maritime boundaries protocols which the Howard Government withdrew from before signing the Timor Sea treaty with East Timor two years ago.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the ALP was committed to settling the maritime boundaries within three to five years and he had great confidence in the negotiation process.
But he rejected allowing the boundary to be set by the International Court of Justice.
"These are matters for bilateral negotiations. I don't think we need the international community to tell us how to run our foreign policy or our resources policy," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"I'm sure that we can work through this thing together but it won't work if the present Government continues the high-handed attitude and the bullying tactics. Mari Alkatiri will go back into his shell."
Mr Fitzgibbon said the East Timorese had a strong case for their boundary position, which Australia should acknowledge.
Australia could continue to send direct foreign aid, or work out a way to help East Timor become self-supporting, he said.
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