Subject: Letters on Timor Sea

The Age November 1, 2004

A need for arbitration

It is disappointing to see Australian Government officials trying to blame the East Timorese for the recent breakdown in Timor Sea negotiations (The Age, 28/10). Because of Australian intransigence, the Timorese proposed a creative solution.

Australia's only response was to offer East Timor a cash payment far below the value of the resources. At no stage has the Australian Government offered East Timor anything like what its entitlement would be under maritime boundaries drawn consistently with international law. Understandably, this is the bottom line for East Timor.

If the two governments can't agree on the entitlement, arbitration by an independent third party would be a fair solution. Unfortunately, the Australian Government has baulked at this too. If it were willing to respect East Timor's sovereignty, and acknowledge its rights under international law, this issue could be resolved quickly. The future of the projects to develop the petroleum fields, and of East Timor's budget, would be assured - a win-win solution.

Dan Nicholson, North Melbourne


A million reasons to play fair with Timor

There are a million reasons why Australia should quickly walk back to the negotiating table and strive for a just agreement with East Timor over the Timor Sea oil and gas deposits (The Age, 28/10). The people of East Timor, who number almost a million, are the poorest of the Asia Pacific region. According to United Nations reports, more than 45 per cent of East Timorese are under 15 years, many with little formal education, unemployment is extremely high and one in every 12 children will not reach the age of five. The country badly needs long-term development, and hence negotiations to secure a solution to the Timor Sea dispute are critical. To put the annual budget of East Timor in perspective, it is about $100 million - minuscule when you compare it with the $140 million per year that Australia spends on the maintenance of Parliament House. After all the commitment of Australians and East Timorese to rebuilding a shattered East Timor, it would be a disaster to have a failed state at our doorstep. It is in Australia's national interest for the East Timorese to have the resources to prevent such a disaster.

If we cannot negotiate successfully with the East Timorese, we must put ourselves back within the remit of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which offers arbitration in such disputes and which Australia unilaterally withdrew from months before East Timor became independent.

Penny Gorman, acting executive director, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad


Published in The Australian, 29 October 2004

Timor limbo

OIL prices are rising, and certainly won't be falling to the $20 a barrel Timor uses to estimate its budget revenue (Business, 28/10). If Alexander Downer and his cronies think East Timor would accept a flat fee in exchange for their sovereign rights and a non-aid dependent future, he's as stupid as I always thought he was. If you want to let Greater Sunrise sit on ice for 20 years then go ahead; future Timorese generations will be just as happy. It's not the Timorese stalling - come on Australia, "creative solutions" don't come from one option on the table.

Jennifer Drysdale Ainslie, ACT

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