Subject: Maritime boundary pact good for NZ

The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand)

August 7, 2004, Saturday

Maritime boundary pact good for NZ


NEW ZEALAND has done very well in its just finished maritime boundary agreement with Australia, an expert says.

The way the deal was struck contrasted strongly with Australia's hardline approach to maritime boundary negotiations with East Timor, where control of huge offshore oilfields is at stake, Dr Clive Schofield, an expert on international boundaries at the University of New South Wales, said.

New Zealand had gained considerably more than it would have if the boundary had been set at equal distance between New Zealand and Australian territories, Dr Schofield said.

The agreement, to be referred to parliaments in Wellington and Canberra before UN ratification is sought, gives New Zealand and Australia seabed and mineral rights to thousands of square kilometres of ocean floor on the continental shelf.

The shelf extends across the Tasman as well as to the northeast and south of New Zealand.

The agreement provides that both countries and their islands have full 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones. In a couple of places, where the zones overlap, a median line was drawn -- although these were already de facto boundaries that had been observed for decades, he said.

He could see questions being asked in Australia as to how New Zealand got such a good result. He added that Australia's approach to the highly contentious maritime boundary with East Timor was thoroughly inconsistent with its approach to other maritime boundaries.

As expected Australia was "cherry picking" arguments and case law to support its East Timor claims. It was claiming the fields were on its continental shelf and using old case law to support that. More recent cases recognised a country's right to claim 200 miles from is coast regardless of the seabed geology.

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