Subject: GLW: Time to repay East Timor! (editorial)

Also: Still fighting for East Timor's sovereignty

Green Left Weekly

EDITORIAL: Time to repay East Timor!

The Australian government is continuing the disgraceful 30-year bipartisan foreign policy of utter disregard for the people of East Timor.

The second round of negotiations with the East Timorese government to settle the maritime boundary between the two countries began on April 19. No ``negotiation’‘ should be necessary, however — international maritime law is perfectly clear: the boundary lies on the median line.

The Coalition government is determined to steal as much as it can get its grubby hands on from within East Timor’s sovereign territory. Despite East Timor’s desperate need for funds to rebuild the country and establish a future for its people that is free from poverty, disease, illiteracy and unemployment, the Australia government has its greedy eyes fixed firmly on the $30 billion in potential revenue from oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Establishing the border on the halfway point would give East Timor two-thirds of this revenue, tripling the country’s national income. The Australian government is attempting to stall a resolution of the boundary negotiations for as long as possible, so that it can squeeze maximum profits from the Greater Sunrise field. This area is currently covered by an interim agreement that awards 82% of royalties to Australia.

Many people will still remember the sickening images of ALP foreign minister Gareth Evans clinking champagne glasses with Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas as they flew over the Timor Sea in 1989. This marked the signing of the Timor Gap Treaty — an agreement between partners-in-crime Australia and Indonesia to jointly steal East Timor’s oil and gas resources.

This policy of blatant theft is exactly the attitude maintained by the Australian government today. As the Timorese people have pointed out, Australia’s actions amount to a “second invasion” of their country.

There is growing international pressure against the federal government’s bullying of and blatant theft from its close neighbour. In March, 53 members of US Congress sent a letter to the Australian government urging a fair resolution of the boundary dispute. Peter Galbraith, minister for the Timor Sea in the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor, has also insisted that Australia must accept the median line as the boundary.

Rather than furthering the shameful theft of East Timor’s natural resources, the Australian government should immediately acknowledge the legal maritime boundary, which would enable East Timor to access the resources that rightfully belong to them.

Since East Timor’s independence ballot in 1999, Australia has collected US$1 billion from the Laminaria-Corallina oil field, which is closer to East Timor’s shores than Australia’s (and therefore all revenue should legally go to East Timor). In the same period, Australia contributed just $100 million in aid to East Timor.

The Australian government should pay every cent it owes to the people of East Timor. This includes not only revenue generated through theft of East Timor’s oil and gas in the Timor Sea, but also reparations for the total destruction of East Timor under the Australian-backed Indonesian occupation.

Such massive allocation of funds would not be “aid”, but the repayment of debt. There will be no justice for the Timorese people until the Australian government takes responsibility and provides compensation for its massive theft, lies and complicity in genocide.

In 1999, tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Australia to demand an end to successive Labor and Coalition governments’ support for the brutal Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Today we must heed the call of East Timorese activists to provide solidarity to their ongoing struggle for real independence — an independence denied by Australia’s illegal occupation of the Timor Sea and refusal to repay its debt.

From Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004.


Still fighting for East Timor's sovereignty

Sarah Stephen, Sydney

“Each of us has to choose between being either a champion of human dignity or a collaborator with an increasingly inhuman system”, Sister Susan Connelly from the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies told a crowd of 600 people in the Sydney Town Hall on April 21.

Connelly was one of many speakers and performers who came together to pay tribute to the life and work of Dr Andrew McNaughtan, human rights activist and former convener of the Australia-East Timor Association. McNaughton died at the age of 49 last December.

Connelly urged people to continue McNaughtan's work by taking up the defence of East Timor's right to benefit most from Timor Sea offshore oil and natural gas resources, and to oppose Canberra's attempt to steal up to 82% of the tax revenues expected to be generated from exploitation of these resources.

The East Timorese “are not asking for hand-outs”, said Connelly. “They are asking that they be treated with the dignity that is rightfully theirs as a sovereign nation, and that their claims be heard according to law.

“Australia’s maritime boundaries can change within one parliamentary sitting for migration purposes, and yet we are told that the borders affecting the Timor Sea resources could take many years to determine. Timor’s financial viability is being jeopardised by Australian gluttony.

“The shame of waiting 25 years to come to Timor’s aid will be with us for a long time. Are we to compound our cowardice by forcing them to wait even more years for economic independence?”

The meeting was also addressed by Shirley Shackleton, whose husband was a journalist murdered in East Timor during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of the country; Paddy Kenneally, an Australian soldier stationed in East Timor during 1941-42; and a special guest, East Timor's “first lady” Kirsty Sword-Gusmao.

Outrage at the Australian government's attempts to steal East Timor's oil and gas resources was a theme which ran through many speeches. The event raised funds for the Alola Foundation, established by Sword-Gusmao to address the needs of East Timorese women.

From Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004.

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