Thousands rallied in Timor-Leste in March to demand the establishment of a permanent and fair maritime boundary. Australia’s ongoing theft of Timor-Leste’s oil and gas exposes Australia as the imperialist bully that it is.
More than 10,000 packed out on the streets outside the Australian Embassy in Dili on 22 and 23 March 2016. Placards read “Down with Australian imperialism”, “Stop the theft” and “Median line now”. Solidarity protests took place in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.
Timor-Leste is demanding that a median boundary in line with international law. This would likely see the lucrative oil and gas fields—that are much closer to Timor-Leste—fall under their jurisdiction.
With the issue of the boundaries still unresolved Timor-Leste Prime Minister Rui Araujo wrote to Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year requesting a new round of talks on the boundary, but Turnbull has refused to discuss the issue. Now, Timor-Leste is taking Australia to conciliation under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Just two months before Timor-Leste gained official independence in 2002, Australia withdrew its recognition of dispute settlement procedures under the UN Convention. This means conciliation proceedings will be non-binding.
Since then it has bullied Timor-Leste into signing three agreements that ensure they are cheated out of revenue from gas and oil fields off its coastline.
The most recent treaty in 2006 splits the revenue from the Greater Sunrise fields fifty-fifty between Australia and Timor-Leste. The agreement came at the cost of Timor-Leste having to shelve its claims for permanent boundaries for another 50 years until the agreement expires in 2057. Timor-Leste argues it has lost $6.6 billion in revenue to Australia since 2002 under these arrangements.
Australia’s spy agency went as far as installing bugs into a cabinet room in East Timor during the negotiations, under the guise of an Australian aid project. After a whistle-blower made these revelations, Timor-Leste commenced international proceedings against Australia over the 2006 agreement.
In a brazen attempt to prevent the whistle-blower testifying at the case in The Hague, Attorney-General and Liberal Senator George Brandis instructed ASIO to cancel his passport and raid the Canberra home of the lawyer representing Timor-Leste to seize his files.
Timor-Leste is one of the world’s poorest countries and is heavily dependent on revenue from the oil and gas fields. Almost 50 per cent of the population live below the national poverty line. Australia has used its regional muscle to bully Timor-Leste and steal oil profits. Justice is long overdue.
By Vivan Honan