Submission to Joint Standing Committee on
Treaties Inquiry into Maritime
Arrangements Treaty with East Timor
To: Committee Secretary
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
PO Box 6021
Canberra ACT 2600
Via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS)
does not serve the people of either Australia or Timor-Leste.
Australia has put its own and some oil companies’ short-term
financial interests over fundamental principles of democracy, the
rule of law, economic justice, and respect for national sovereignty.
This treaty and the way it was negotiated and ratified will only sow
the seeds of long-term animosity and conflict between Australia and
its neighbor to the north.
Australia and the oil companies put tremendous pressure on the
government of Timor-Leste and took advantage of its people’s poverty
and their inexperience with negotiations and self-government. The
Australian government should be embarrassed for taking resources in
an inherently unequal negotiation process that forced concessions
from one of the world’s poorest nations.
The ratification of the treaty clearly shows a democratic deficit
in both countries. Signed more than a year ago, there is no
justifiable reason why its consideration was so rushed in the
parliament of Timor-Leste and short-circuited in Australia. The
after-the-fact, truncated inquiry to which we offer this input only
highlights both nations’ failure to allow for any genuine public
Greater Sunrise, the subject of the treaty, is twice as close to
Timor-Leste as it is to Australia. By agreeing to allow Timor-Leste
a 50% (rather than 18%) share of Greater Sunrise’s upstream gas and
oil revenues, Australia has not been generous. Any
self-congratulation on this score by Australian officials will sound
hollow to reasonable observers. Under international legal principles
and practice, Greater Sunrise’s resources rightfully belong to that
nation, as should all of Laminaria-Corallina. If any party has been
overly generous, it is Timor-Leste – allowing Australia to take half
of its national birthright.
It is true that under CMATS, Timor-Leste will receive a greater
share of its resources than Australia was willing to accept a few
years ago, when the Australian government coerced Timor-Leste into
signing the International Unitization Agreement. We appreciate that
Australia has finally recognized that its hard-line negotiating
stance was a growing international embarrassment. By squelching the
more fundamental issue
of a maritime boundary for half a century or more, when all the
petroleum resources in the Timor Sea are likely to have been
exhausted, the agreement attempts to legitimate Australia’s past and
ongoing theft of Timor-Leste’s resources.
By prolonging Australia’s refusal to recognize Timor’s sovereign
right to a boundary line, CMATS continues Australia’s occupation of
Timor-Leste’s maritime territory. The government of Timor-Leste may
have temporarily acceded to this occupation, but ETAN joins with
many in that country, Australia and around the world in the belief
that their struggle for independence remains incomplete until
definitive boundaries are accepted by their neighbors.
Finally, we are troubled by the permanent nature of some of CMATS’
provisions, especially those which prevent the use of courts or
other impartial mechanisms for resolving disputes and which
implement Australian control over development options for the
Greater Sunrise project.
Two years ago, 17 key members of the U.S. Congress wrote to Prime
Minister Howard to “urge Australia to move quickly and seriously to
establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste,
based on the rule of law and respect for the sovereignty of both
nations.” Australia has clearly failed that test.
As Australian security forces strive to restore order and the
rule of law in Timor-Leste, an equitable agreement to delimit Timor
Sea territory and resources could have built good will on both
sides, good will which is increasingly essential as Australian
soldiers take lives of Timorese citizens. Instead, Canberra’s
demonstrated eagerness to get its hands on as much Timor Sea oil
money as possible has bred further resentment.
Last month’s hasty ratifications in Canberra and Dili pre-empted
democratic processes, motivated by concerns that the upcoming
elections in either country could result in a climate less eager to
satisfy the desires of the oil companies to develop Greater Sunrise
immediately and of the Howard government to maximize revenues to
Australia. Timor-Leste has no tradition and little experience with
democracy and the rule of law, and its people, like those in most
new nations, need support and guidance as they learn how to govern
themselves in a transparent, legal and just manner. Australia should
be ashamed of being such a bad role model.
John M. Miller
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network/U.S.
Timor Sea, Boundaries & Oil
Additional submissions can be found at