Subject: Rep. McGovern condemns Australia's ruthless treatment of E Timor


I wanted to draw your attention to Rep. McGovern's remarks from today's debate on the U.S. Austalia Free Trade Agreement. In the second half he addresses Australia's stance in boundary negotiations with East Timor.

The relevant excerpt is pasted below:

James P. McGovern (MA) Opening Statement on the Rule to H.R. 4759, the United States Australia Free Trade Agreement Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Mr. Speaker, let me conclude my remarks with one final and very personal observation on a related matter. I have the greatest respect for the Government and people of Australia. I have every reason to believe this free trade agreement will be approved, further cementing the economic and political ties between our two nations. I am, therefore, deeply concerned by its ruthless treatment and disregard of East Timor's rights to oil and natural gas deposits in the Timor Sea.

We all remember how Australia led the international force to protect East Timor in 1999 from the bloody and devastating attacks by Indonesia-supported militias when the Timorese people first voted for their independence. However, ever since 1999, Australia has taken in, on average, one million dollars every day from petroleum extraction that may rightfully belong to East Timor.

At the root of this problem is Australia's refusal to negotiate and resolve maritime boundaries with East Timor. The U.S. and Australia scarcely took one year to negotiate a free trade agreement. Australia has been dragging its heels since 1999 to resolve this dispute with East Timor. Australia even unilaterally withdrew from the dispute resolution mechanisms established under international law to avoid having to act in good faith on this issue. Meanwhile, Australia keeps pumping out the oil from undersea deposits and even selling the rights to exploit even more of these deposits to foreign companies.

Australia is the wealthiest nation in its region, and one of the wealthiest nations in the world. East Timor, the world's newest democracy, is also the world's poorest nation. Currently, 41 percent of East Timorese live on less than 55 cents a day.

East Timor's elected president Xanana Gusmao has said the boundary dispute "is a question of life or death." The people of East Timor do not want to be poor; they do not want to be begging for charity from wealthy countries, they do not want to end up as a "failed state." They want to be self-sufficient. Australia needs to do the right thing by East Timor: Rejoin the international dispute resolution mechanism for maritime boundaries; refrain from offering disputed areas for new petroleum contracts; and expeditiously negotiate in good faith a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

The U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement was negotiated between two sovereign nations for their mutual benefit and respecting each others rights and interests. It exemplifies good relations between nations. Australia needs to show the same respect for the rights and interests of its newest democratic neighbor, East Timor.

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