Subject: Woodside visit to Timor over stalled project

Also:Lateline: Timor dispute threatens gas project

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Woodside visit to Timor over stalled project


WOODSIDE Petroleum chief executive Don Voelte will visit East Timor this week to encourage the tiny nation to ratify a stalled pact for sharing revenue from the $6.6 billion Greater Sunrise undersea gas project.

The oil and gas group said the pact needed to be ratified by the end of the year to allow key timetables, including the first commercial production of liquefied natural gas, to be met.

"We need ratification by the end of the year for Sunrise to maintain momentum," a Woodside spokesman said.

"Without it Sunrise will stall."

Federal Parliament approved the pact in March but East Timor has said it will not ratify it until Australia shows "goodwill and good faith" in negotiating a permanent Australian-East Timorese maritime boundary. The boundary would cover all oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea.

The project is 450km northwest of Darwin and 150km south of East Timor.

Woodside has a 33.4 per cent stake in the project, US energy giant ConocoPhillips 30 per cent, Shell 26.6 per cent and Japan's Osaka Gas the rest.

Woodside said the joint venture wanted to move into a $60 million engineering and design phase. "But we are not in a position to commit shareholder funds of that magnitude whilst the dispute continues and the Sunrise pact is outstanding," the spokesman said.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation



Broadcast: 28/07/2004 Timor dispute threatens gas project

Reporter: Narda Gilmore

TONY JONES: The PM has again attacked Mark Latham's foreign policy decisions, today accusing him of immaturely undermining important negotiations between Australia and East Timor.

The two countries are trying to reach a deal on permanent maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea and any delay could threaten a $50 billion gas project there.

Labor says its policy was announced months ago and could involve starting boundary negotiations afresh.

Both sides are accusing each other of playing cheap politics.

From Canberra, Narda Gilmore reports.

NARDA GILMORE: Negotiations on permanent maritime boundaries are a point of tension between Australia and East Timor and, as yet, there's no sign of an agreement.

Now the Government has accused the Opposition of undermining the negotiations after these comments by Mark Latham.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: If we come into Government I think we'll have to start again, because from what I can gather there's been a lot of bad blood.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: This is an intervention, an unwelcome intervention, an inexperienced, immature intervention from the Leader of the Opposition that is against the Australian national interest.

NARDA GILMORE: The Government is under growing pressure to resolve the boundary dispute.

If there's still no outcome at the end of the year, resources company Woodside is threatening to withdraw its $5 billion commitment to develop the Greater Sunrise gas field in the Timor Sea, worth $50 billion.

KEITH SPENCE, WOODSIDE: The harsh reality is we will not invest billions of dollars without fiscal and legal certainty, so we can't proceed.

NARDA GILMORE: The Opposition's policy on maritime boundaries does offer East Timor the prospect of greater oil and gas revenues.

But Labor says it announced that position six months ago.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESMAN: John Howard and Alexander Downer are purely interested in using foreign policy to play a domestic political game here in Australia in the lead-up to the elections.

NARDA GILMORE: But the PM says Labor is jeopardising the boundary negotiations.

JOHN HOWARD: This is another example of his ill thought out approach to foreign affairs.

NARDA GILMORE: That's a familiar line of attack from the Government, but today the Labor Party was also facing pressure from within on another international issue - its support for the free trade agreement with the United States.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie says the Opposition should sign up and get on with it.

PETER BEATTIE, QUEENSLAND PREMIER: All the debate about this is not helping us.

All this debate is simply helping John Howard.

The sooner we determine a position on the free trade agreement, the better.

NARDA GILMORE: The PM couldn't resist.

JOHN HOWARD: This is the advice that should have been followed five months ago by Mr Latham.

I think in the end he'll fold and he'll sign it and he'll support it, but he'll do so for political reasons.

KIM BEAZLEY, OPPOSITION FRONTBENCHER: It's almost as though John Howard and his ministers are trying to provoke the Labor Party into opposing it.

NARDA GILMORE: The Opposition's waiting for the outcome of a Senate inquiry into the trade agreement.

Kim Beazley, who supports it, says it's the Government politicising the issue.

Narda Gilmore, Lateline.

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