|Subject: GLW: Book review - Shakedown:
Australia's grab for Timor oil
Australia: International oil thief
Green Left Weekly - August 22, 2007
[Shakedown: Australia's grab for Timor oil. By Paul Cleary. Allen &
Unwin, 2007. 336 pages, $29.95. Reviewed by Vannessa Hearman.]
This is a story about how Australia bullied East Timor out of its
rightful share of oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Paul Cleary, a
journalist for the Australian newspaper, was a media adviser with the
Timor Sea Office during the bilateral negotiations. The negotiations are
set in the context of East Timor's political history and its difficulties
in the post-independence period. This allows the reader to gain a fuller
picture of why the negotiations were crucial and how this country has been
denied its resources and its freedom over and over again. Cleary has
combined political history and some development theory with eyewitness
accounts of the negotiations and some lessons in maritime law.
The close connections between the state and business are amply
demonstrated in this book. Australian imperialism worked hard at helping
secure the interests of businesses like Woodside Petroleum to access the
Timor Sea resources, by collaborating to secure a deal to exploit the
Greater Sunrise field and to reject Timorese requests that the pipeline be
built to East Timor, rather than to Darwin. Bullying and dirty tactics, in
the name of the "national interest", are all legitimate. These
included accessing the communications of those who were working in the
Timor Sea Office, as well as the more despicable act of withdrawing from
the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in
2002, to avoid international adjudication of the dispute.
Cleary gives us an account of the personalities involved. In contrast
to the voluminous coverage given elsewhere to people like Xanana Gusmao
and Jose Ramos Horta, information about other political leaders in East
Timor can be scant and Cleary has provided a picture of several of East
Timor's political leaders who are not as well-known and perhaps not as
loved by Western media commentators. These include Fretilin secretary
general and then- prime minister Mari Alkatiri; lead negotiator and former
Brisbane lawyer Jose Teixeira, and son of independence fighter Nicolau
Lobato, Jose Lobato Goncalves who was wrested from his mother's arms just
before she was executed in 1975.
The stories of many Timorese are remarkable indeed, a story of
struggle, sometimes of diasporic dispersement and of survival in such
recent times. Many on the other side of the negotiating table, diplomats
and oil men would probably not be able to boast of such tales however. The
book contrasts the Australian officials' words and actions to those of
Australian civil society, particularly philanthropist businessperson Ian
Melrose and the Timor Sea Justice Campaign in Melbourne.
Spending large parts of his time in East Timor, Cleary struggles
somewhat in portraying the events and the excitement of the campaign for
oil justice in Australia, and does not capture adequately the underlying
dynamics driving the campaign. People demonstrated outside government
buildings in many cities and came to wintry halls in far-flung parts of
Melbourne to hear about and participate in the campaign. The Timorese
civil society also ran a determined campaign against Australian
officialdom, which resulted in some of these organisations losing
Australian government funding for criticising Australian government policy
on the Timor Sea.
Cleary has tried to reflect on the social and political realities of
post-independence East Timor and how fighting the Australian government
for four years impacted on the government's ability to run the country. He
outlines the intention of safeguarding the income from the Timor Sea
through the Petroleum Fund, but he also criticises the government for not
spending enough in the economy, thus driving the economy into the ground.
He documents the corruption, collusion and nepotism plaguing the early
years of the Fretilin-led government.
The outcome of the 2005 negotiations, an agreement on 50% revenue from
the Greater Sunrise oil field was, as Cleary has demonstrated, a vast
improvement on what the Australian government was offering in 2001. In
return, no maritime boundary discussions were to be held for 50 years.
When contemplating this, one is left with a distinct bitter taste in
the mouth, reflecting on Australia's dirty tactics to force East Timor to
accept a large compromise like this and then to brand the country as
"not very well-governed", as Australian troops landed in Dili in
2006 to "restore order" following unrest.
For a well-written and informative account of yet another act of
bastardry by Canberra, read this book, because the struggle continues.
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