Subject: AAP: Timor minister criticises Australian justice campaign

see below for response

Timor minister criticises Australian justice campaign

July 21, 2005

EAST Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has criticised an Australia-based campaign calling for a better oil and gas revenue deal for his country.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner said the Timor Sea Justice Campaign (TSJC), financially backed by Melbourne businessman Ian Melrose, had become counter-productive.

The campaign, which has featured television ads, calls for a boundary in the Timor Sea halfway between Australia and Timor, giving the fledgling nation greater and fairer control over oil and gas fields.

The campaigners say revenue from oil and gas development should be put in a trust fund until the boundary dispute was resolved in international courts.

But Mr Ramos-Horta said while a solidarity campaign could be healthy and helpful, some of the comments made by the TSJC were misguided.

"Often the tone and language of some individuals purporting to speak for the Timor Sea Justice Campaign exceeds the bounds of what is proper and has become counter-productive," he said in a statement today.

"While the Timor-Leste (East Timor) government welcomes all expressions of support from friends in Australia, some of the arguments and language used by certain elements of the TSJC suggest that the Timor-Leste government does not know, cannot know, is not able, to defend our own country's vital interests.

"We were able to do so for 24 long years against overwhelming odds."

Mr Ramos-Horta said his country and Australia had "basically finalised" an agreement on the $5 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea, but some of the details were yet to be worked out.

But the question of a permanent maritime boundary had been set aside temporarily.

East Timorese president Xanana Gusmao met with Prime Minister John Howard in Sydney two weeks ago to discuss the agreement, which was reported to be worth $13 billion in royalties to Timor.

The government was now working to inform MPs and the public about the merits of it, Mr Ramos-Horta said.

"We believe (it) to be in Timor-Leste's best interests, as it is just and fair," Mr Ramos-Horta said.

There had also been productive talks between East Timor prime minister Mari Alkatiri and resources giant Woodside about the issue of a pipeline to the country's southern coast, he said.

Mr Ramos-Horta said he believed his country had the expertise to negotiate a fair deal.

"It seems that there are an abundance of instant experts in Australia who seem to be even more patriotic than us," he said.

Timor Sea Justice Campaign spokesman Tom Clarke said the campaign had never been targeted at the Timorese government.

"The Timor Sea Justice Campaign's focus has always been on the Australian government and what we see to be the Howard government's refusal to abide by current international law," Mr Clarke said.

"We've never been in business of criticising the East Timor government.

"The inadequacies lie squarely with the stone-walling and hard-nosed Australian government taking advantage of the poorest nation in Asia."

Mr Clarke said a permanent maritime boundary was the only way to ensure legal certainty over the oil and gas reserves and give companies the confidence to develop them.

AAP


Response

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign Melbourne, has taken the opportunity to respond to East Timor’s Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta’s media release (dated 14 July, 2005) by reiterating the campaign’s motivations and aims in the statement below.

22 July, 2005.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign’s (TSJC) focus has always been on the inappropriate behaviour of the Australian Government, namely the unilateral exploitation of contested petroleum resources coupled with it’s refusal to establish permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor in accordance with principles of current International Law.

The East Timorese negotiating team has done a commendable job in securing a larger share of royalties from the Greater Sunrise gas field, especially considering that they have been up against a hardnosed and stonewalling Australian Government that has demonstrated that it has never had any intention of settling this matter in accordance with International Law.

The TSJC believes that fair and balanced negotiations can not take place in good faith when the more powerful of the parties is employing a ‘might is right’ attitude and has unilaterally taken over $2 billion in contested royalties. Therefore the TSJC has been calling upon the Australian Government to place contested royalties into a trust fund to be distributed accordingly once the dispute is settled.

In the face of repeated failed attempts to establish permanent maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, the TSJC believes that it’s time for the Australian Government to agree to take the matter to the International Court of Justice to let the ‘independent umpire’ to settle the dispute once and for all.

The Australian Government has a responsibility to reflect the Australian people’s commitment to the notion of ‘a fair go’. Our Government’s complete failure to do this, is what the TSJC continues to criticise and work to readdress. The TSJC would like Australia to be known in the region as a law abiding, cooperative and helpful nation, not one that is willing to bully smaller and dramatically less wealthy nations, for its own financial gain.

The TSJC also desires the best for our neighbours and acknowledges the many challenges that East Timor faces in its continuing struggle for self-determination. In solidarity with a range of East Timorese civil society groups and activists, the TSJC will continue to call for permanent maritime boundaries to be established between our two countries in accordance with current International Law.

The proposed ‘temporary resource sharing agreement’ over the Greater Sunrise gas field is a welcome step forward and the 50% share of royalties that East Timor is set to receive is a considerable improvement on the miserly 18% previously offered by the Australian Government. However, there is still work to be done in settling the issues of sovereignty and without permanent maritime boundaries, such disputes are bound to reoccur if new resources are discovered.

While both Governments appear set to agree to the Greater Sunrise deal, the TSJC urges all Australians to reflect on what has happened in our names. Terms such as ‘fair’ and ‘adequate’ and ‘an improvement’ have been used to describe the deal, but considering Australia’s wealth and the level of hunger, illiteracy and preventable disease that East Timor currently faces, the TSJC would prefer if words such as ‘generous’ could accurately be used.

Given that the situation is akin to someone dying of thirst in the desert being forced to bargain over a price of water, the TSJC has never been in the business of criticising the East Timor Government. Our struggle is with our Government.

While there may be East Timorese civil society groups questioning the logic of signing deal that may jeopardise East Timor’s claims of sovereignty, that is a debate for the East Timorese to have. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign meanwhile, will continue to challenge our (the Australian) Government to act fairly and in accordance with International Law.

In solidarity,

Tom Clarke
Co-ordinator, Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Melbourne.
www.timorseajustice.org


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