Information about the Treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste on
Click on either map to see it larger. The one above shows Timor-Leste's maritime rights, while the one below shows the CMATS compromise on resource sharing.
The CMATS treaty was signed by Foreign Ministers Alexander Downer and Jose Ramos-Horta in Sydney on 12 January 2006, with Prime Ministers John Howard and Mari Alkatiri looking on, as shown in the photo at left.
Timor-Leste ratified both CMATS and the International Unitisation Agreement for the Sunrise and Troubadour Fields (IUA) separately on 20 February 2007, publishing the Parliamentary Resolutions on 8 March in the Official Gazette (Portuguese).
On 7 February 2007, the Australian government tabled the treaty in its Parliament, and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties began an inquiry. Submissions were invited before 16 March 2007. See below. Although CMATS has already entered into force, the JSCOT continued its inquiry and published a report in June 2007.
On 22 February 2007, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer sent a letter to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties invoking the "national interest exemption" to enable the treaty to enter into force without a Parliamentary waiting period. The next day, he announced that it had entered into force.
The CMATS package, the product of eight years of negotiation, had advantages and disadvantages for both countries. In summary, Timor-Leste increased its share of upstream revenues from 18% to 50% in return for accepting Australian sovereignty over areas east and west of the JPDA, ratifying the IUA, and agreeing not to raise the maritime boundary question for 50 years. At the time, La'o Hamutuk felt that the balance was not in Timor-Leste's favor. We continue to believe that Timor-Leste has the right to all maritime and seabed resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone shown in yellow on the map at left. (See below for additional analysis and commentary.)
Although signatories and oil companies had hoped that CMATS and the IUA would open the way for Greater Sunrise to be exploited , the basic development plan for the project was still not settled by late 2012, with Timor-Leste holding out for a pipeline to an LNG plant in Beacu on Timor-Leste's south coast, and the Sunrise Joint Venture (led by Woodside, with Shell, ConocoPhillips and Osaka Gas) preferring a mid-sea floating LNG plant.
Article 12.2(a) of CMATS provides that "if a development plan for the Unit Area has not been approved ... within six years after the date of entry into force of this Treaty [that is, 23 February 2013] ... either Party may notify the other Party in writing that it wishes to terminate this Treaty, in which case the Treaty [except for certain clauses] shall cease to be in force three calendar months after such notice is given." As the date nears, discussion is growing on the likelihood and consequences of such termination, and La'o Hamutuk will continue to update our page on Greater Sunrise (also Tetum) with current developments.
On 27 December 2012, Timor-Leste officially ratified (Portuguese) the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (also Port.) and on 8 January 2013, this country formally became the 165th country to accede to UNCLOS. On the same day, Timor-Leste also became a party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which it had ratified in 2004.
In late January 2013, Timor-Leste officials signaled that they are likely to invoke the CMATS termination option, as reported by the headlines at left from local newspapers on 28 January. Petroleum Minister Alfredo Pires clarified his views a few days later, indicating that either Australia or Timor-Leste could withdraw from CMATS after 23 February, but as far as he knows, neither country has yet decided to do so. For more detailed and frequently updated information, see La'o Hamutuk's page on the Greater Sunrise project.
On 7 February, Australian Senators asked Foreign Minister Bob Carr whether Australia intended to give notice of CMATS termination and if Australia was prepared to negotiate maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste. He responded "Timor-Leste and Australia freely entered into CMATS in 2007. Australia will honour the treaty. We expect Timor-Leste to do the same." We do not understand the Minister's comment, as invoking CMATS article 12.2 on termination would not dishonour the treaty any more than Australia did when it invoked its legal (if not moral) right to withdraw from UNCLOS and ICJ boundary dispute resolution processes in March 2002.
On 11 February, La'o Hamutuk published an article in local newspapers on the Implications for Timor-Leste of Terminating CMATS, and we did an interview with Radio Australia on 13 February. Many media reports on this issue on both sides of the Timor Sea are inaccurate or incomplete, so we gave a briefing for local journalists on 21 February and will organize a public meeting on the subject soon. Among the issues which seem hard to understand are:
We hope that Australia is ready to deal fairly with this neighbor, without imposing a gag rule to bar discussion of particular topics. And we hope that Australia is committed to with the rule of law – allowing courts or arbitration to settle the boundary when inherently unbalanced negotiations (due to the relative size, wealth, power and experience of the parties) are unable to. Law exists to protect the weak from the strong and to ensure the everyone’s basic rights are respected. Do some of the “Rule of Law” trainers and advisors AusAID pays to work in Dili need to build capacity in Canberra?
Australia's Natural Resources Minister Martin Ferguson visited Timor-Leste in February 2013; he was replaced by former Woodside executive Gary Gray in a cabinet reshuffle the following month. A few months later, Labour lost the election and a new government came to power in Australia.
Australian Minister of Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson visited Dili on 21-22 February, meeting with Timor-Leste Minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources Alfredo Pires and others. The visit, as well as the pending possibility of terminating CMATS, was the occasion for an usually large amount of misleading and uninformed coverage in the Australian and Timorese media -- for example, Timor Leste removes Australian company from gas project, East Timor Risks All in Oil Dispute, Woodside gas deal could redraw Australia-East Timor borders.
After their meeting, both ministers declined to give specifics in public, although Alfredo Pires said that Timor-Leste is still deciding whether to give notice of CMATS termination. He explained that the Foreign Ministries of the two nations would be the appropriate participants in such discussions, as the CMATS Treaty was signed in 2006 by Foreign Ministers Jose Ramos-Horta and Alexander Downer. Pires also said Timor-Leste was concerned about the long duration of the Treaty, and was considering various options, while Ferguson said that discussions would continue and Australia continues to want to work with Timor-Leste and the petroleum industry to advance Timor-Leste's development.
Also on 21 February, La'o Hamutuk met with local journalists to try to improve CMATS media coverage. Download the presentation in English or Tetum, or as a PDF (English or Tetum). Feel free to reprint any graphic, provided you ask permission first and credit La'o Hamutuk. We can provide higher resolution files for most of them.
The Timor-Leste Government remains committed to honor its contracts with the Sunrise Joint Venture, which will be in effect for at least 13 years more, and which they see as applying to upstream activities, leaving pipelines and downstream activities open for discussion. The Government is also committed to respect all treaties it has ratified, including the IUA and Timor Sea Treaty, and can always raise any concerns with the Australian government. Dili is discussing CMATS issues with Canberra, but has not announced formal notice of termination, as La'o Hamutuk related to an Australia radio audience. A few days later, Timor-Leste's Government issued a press release confirming the status quo.
On 28 February, The Australian newspaper published an opinion piece by Tom Clarke, an organizer with the Timor-Sea Justice Campaign in 2005, entitled Australia holding back East Timor. Clarke concluded "The only thing standing between East Timor and what it is legally entitled to is the Australian government. Australia could and should put an end to decades of hard-nosed greed and offer to negotiate in good faith with East Timor. Permanent maritime boundaries will provide more economic certainty for both countries and for the companies seeking to exploit the oil and gas resources. But, more than this, setting permanent boundaries in accordance with international law is the right thing to do. It would also bring some closure to the Timorese people's long and determined struggle to become an independent and sovereign nation complete with maritime boundaries."
The lead editorial in the March 2013 Petroleum Economist magazine, entitled "Going for Broke," discusses the failure of Timor-Leste's oil revenues to improve the lives of our people. The publication urges Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão to "be pragmatic [about the Tasi Mane project] and focus on ensuring Sunrise is developed and the revenues are used to underwrite the sustainable, long-term development of Timor-Leste’s non-oil economy. If this does not come to pass, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Timor-Leste is a failed state-in-waiting."
On 28 March, The Global Mail published Hamish McDonald's comprehensive article about petroleum history between Timor-Leste and Australia, including Sunrise: It’s Tiny, Poor, And Very Possibly Not Going To Take It Anymore.
On 23 April, Timor-Leste's government formally notified Australia that it was exercising its right to arbitration under Annex B of the Timor Sea Treaty, arguing that CMATS is invalid because Australia conducted espionage in 2004 and did not negotiate the treaty in good faith. Although the notification has not been made public, Timor-Leste reportedly accused Australia of bugging Australian hotels and Dili government offices while Timor-Leste's negotiators were discussing their strategy. Timor-Leste named former British supreme court judge Lawrence Collins as its representative on the three-person arbitration panel. Australia will select another, and those two will select the third. Appointing the panel could take six months, and the arbitrators have another six months to issue a ruling by majority vote. The Australian government and media (also audio) reported the notification on 3 May. On 6 May, Timor-Leste Petroleum Minister Alfredo Pires (also audio) explained his reasoning, and the business press reported corporate reactions.
Australian lawyer/priest Frank Brennan, a long-time supporter of Timor-Leste, visited Dili and wrote Time to draw the line between Australia and Timor-Leste on 13 May. The controversy was covered in as diverse places as Interfax Natural Gas Daily (a Russian News Service), Clayton Utz insights, The Strategist (ASPI) and the Vancouver Sun in Canada. On 23 May, ABC radio interviewed Timor-Leste Petroleum Minister Alfredo Pires and Australian Resources Minister Gary Gray. On 26 May, Minister Alfredo Pires informed local media (Tetum article at right) that Timor-Leste is preparing to take Australia to an international court in April 2014, after the CMATS arbitration process is finished. A few days later, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão clarified that Timor-Leste will wait for Australia's response before taking court action.
On 29 May, The Australian published Aussie spies accused of bugging Timor cabinet with additional information about Timor-Leste's complaint against Australia, with comments from Timor-Leste Petroleum Minister Alfredo Pires, his lawyer Bernard Collaery, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and others. ABC News reported that Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr "insists that the two countries are good friends," although he declined to comment on the specifics of the case. The following day, Radio Australia carried further comments from both sides.
On 4 June, Timor-Leste's Government issued a statement that "the overarching relationship between the two countries is and will continue to be one of deep unity, friendship and mutual respect." On the following day, Australian officials confirmed that they had not yet responded to Timor-Leste's arbitration filing. The press continued to follow the controversy, with articles in The Economist and Australian Financial Review, as well as many in the Independente and other Timorese newspapers. On 19 June, Australia responded, appointing U.S. law professor Michael Reisman as its arbitrator, (see report on Channel News Asia). The change of Prime Minister the following week will probably not significantly change Australian maritime boundary policies, and it is unlikely that the September election will either. On 5 July, Australia opposition spokesperson Julie Bishop visited Timor-Leste, exhibiting her ignorance about the 2006 CMATS treaty.
In October, the Timor-Leste and Australian members of the panel selected Argentinean-born Tullio Treves, a former judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and Professor at the University of Milan, Italy as the third member of the arbitration panel, and he will be its President. The three distinguished jurists have six months from when they first convene to issue a decision, which is expected during the second quarter of 2014. The panel will hear its first arguments on 5 December in The Hague, Netherlands.
Prior to the Australian election, its Parliament began an inquiry (all 73 submissions available here) on Australia's relationship with Timor-Leste. Submissions from La'o Hamutuk, the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Robert King, Damien Kingsbury and many others urged Australia to respect Timor-Leste's sovereignty regarding maritime boundaries. Differing views were offered by the Australian Attorney General and Resources Ministry, ANU's Don Rothwell, and five oil companies. At a hearing on 21 May, Australian MPs and selected witnesses exchanged ideas and misinformation on the boundary issue, but a better perspective was expressed by ANU's Joanne Wallis at the hearing the following day: "...until the maritime boundary between Timor-Leste is settled and the exploitation of resources in the Timor Sea is agreed in a mutually satisfactory way there will always be strains in the relationship. ... [T]he best way for Australia to improve its relationship with Timor-Leste would be for us to comply with international law as set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and to refer the question of the maritime boundary to an international tribunal, preferably the International Court of Justice. The committee should not underestimate how central the exploitation of resources in the Timor Sea is to the Timor-Leste government's strategic development planning, or the amount of popular resentment that is present within Timor-Leste concerning Australia's approach to these resources. Australia is a very wealthy country with one of the highest standards of living in the world. Timor-Leste remains one of the world's poorest countries where 37 per cent of the population live below the global poverty line. I ask the committee to consider whether Australia is meeting its legal and moral obligations to Timor-Leste when you are preparing your report. Only once we do that will we ever have a truly free, fair and friendly relationship with one of our nearest neighbours." At another hearing on 24 June, Canberra Friends of Dili tried raise the boundary issue, but the MPs weren't interested. With the change of Government in Australia, the inquiry has lapsed but could resume.
The Australian exploration company Oilex is the operator of Product Sharing Contract JPDA 06-103 in the Joint Petroleum Development Area, holding a 10% share in partnership with five other companies (details here). The November 2006 PSC required the companies to drill six test wells during the next seven years, but only two dry wells have been drilled to date and Oilex has requested and received several extensions. On 12 July 2013, Oilex asked the ANP to terminate this contract because they are uncertain about the impacts of the ongoing maritime boundary dispute. As explained by Energy News, Oilex was already thinking about exiting this contract for other reasons, but "Private capital needs not only the geology, it needs the certainty on the government side and we don't think its quite possible to have that confidence when the treaty underpinning the PSC is up in the air." A month later, Timor-Leste responded by press release. In October, Timor-Leste Ministers were cited in local media as declining Oilex's request to withdraw, but saying that if they did, many other companies would jump at the chance.
As Timor-Leste celebrated the 38th anniversary of its Proclamation of Independence on 28 November, many were discussing Australia and the U.S. eavesdropping on other governments, including Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Minister of State Agio Pereira re-opened the public debate on maritime boundaries with interviews on Australian radio (audio, transcript) and television (video, transcript). The Australia grassroots organization Timor Sea Justice Campaign also urged Australia to establish a boundary with Timor-Leste, while former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer patronizingly belittled Timor-Leste's effort to advance its national interest (audio), while TSJC's Tom Clark urged Australia to "Heed law of the sea and set a fair Timor border" in the Age. The World Socialist Web Site described some of these events in context.
On 3 December, Australian media reported that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had broken into the Canberra home of Bernard Collaery, a lawyer representing Timor-Leste in the CMATS arbitration case. Australian agents also detained and searched an Australian whistleblower who planned to provide evidence for Timor-Leste to the tribunal. Timor-Leste supporter Clinton Fernandes, a former Australian military officer, wrote that "Dealing fairly with East Timor is not charity, but justice". The following day saw more articles about Australia's actions (Tempo Semanal, Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Radio Australia), including questions from the Labor and Green parties and justifications by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney General George Brandis (Ministerial statement and press release). Timor-Leste's Prime Minister "deeply regretted" the "counterproductive and uncooperative" actions of the Australian Government, while Ambassador to Australia Abel Guterres was "deeply disappointed," as he explained on ABC Lateline.
An ABC "Fact Check" used Australian sources to conclude that what Australian intelligence did was legitimate because "one of the functions of ASIS is to engage in espionage in relation to negotiations between Australia and a foreign state to protect Australia's economic interests" and because Australia had passed a law allowing its intelligence services to undertake actions which would be crimes if done by civilians. Similar state self-justification has legitimized a wide range of atrocities, from drone assassinations to Guantanamo Prison to the Nazi Final Solution to Indonesia's occupation of Timor-Leste. The Australian newspaper has also lost perspective, editorializing in favor of stealing from Timor-Leste to advance Australia's political and economic interests.
However, as Australian priest and lawyer Frank Brennan explained, the raids were "designed to show Timor who's boss." Although Clinton Fernandes defended the legitimacy of the raids as protecting Australian intelligence agents (audio), Brisbane Times columnist John Birmingham lamented that the former ASIS officer who blew the whistle on the 2004 Australian spying on Timor-Leste is likely to be unjustly punished. Lawyer Bernard Collaery, whose offices were raided, explained that the whistleblower had tried to work through channels without results.
More than half a dozen Australian journalists and producers contacted La'o Hamutuk on 4 December. We explained that the long history of Australia's theft of Timor-Leste's oil begins with Woodside's discovery of the Sunrise field in 1974, which encouraged Australia to support Indonesia's invasion the following year. Australia's greed for the undersea wealth of the illegally occupied territory led Canberra and Jakarta to sign the 1989 Timor Gap Treaty over the corpses of tens of thousands of Timorese people. Australia's refusal since 2002 to recognize Timor-Leste's sovereignty by establishing legally valid maritime boundaries demonstrates their desire to continue to profit from maritime territory gained as part of Indonesia's illegal occupation. In light of this history and the continuing theft of 40% of Timor-Leste's oil and gas, the latest spying incidents are almost background noise, as La'o Hamutuk's Charles Scheiner explained on ABC Radio National (audio).
The 5 December papers included two articles by former Timor-Leste advisor Paul Cleary, on the history and dreams for Timor-Leste gas. As the initial arbitration hearings began in the Hague, it emerged that Timor-Leste has four whistleblowing witnesses and had told Australia their names two weeks ago. Many papers described the upcoming battle (World Today, Lateline, Herald Sun). That afternoon, a group of Timorese activists demonstrated peacefully across the street from the Australian Embassy in Dili. Their statement (Tetum original) said that the Movement Against The Occupation of the Timor Sea will continue to protest until Australia changes its policy.
The demonstration was totally peaceful, assisted by four PNTL officers who kept the protesters and the traffic separate. After about an hour, the PNTL "Task Force" arrived and immediately fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, without talking with anyone. The above banner headline and article from Diario Nacional describe the excessive force used by police without provocation. Unfortunately, a Timorese AFP stringer falsely reported that stones were thrown at the embassy, a slander eagerly propagated by media in Australia and around the world. We have asked AFP to issue a retraction. Off the record, high officials in both the Australian Embassy and the National Police confirmed to La'o Hamutuk that the demonstration was totally nonviolent.
Except for this false report, some Australian media are deepening their understanding of the issue. An editorial in the Melbourne Age concluded "If Australia has exploited such imbalances in power for commercial gain, and done so through espionage, then we should be deeply ashamed." Letters and columns by Donald Anton in the Age and Richard Ackland (in the Sydney Morning Herald) include historical background and raise doubts Australia's behavior.
In our submission to the Australian Parliament last March, La'o Hamutuk wrote that "we cannot understand why the democratic nation of Australia, which respects human rights and rule of law for its own citizens, is unwilling to apply those principles to its northern neighbour. Is Australia so afraid of a fair boundary settlement that you would rather be a bully than a good international citizen? Why do you continue to exploit advantages you obtained during the shameful and bloody Indonesian occupation of our country? ... Australia should take the path of legality and mutual respect by engaging in good faith negotiations and dispute resolution processes to decide our maritime boundary." Although the latest scandal casts doubt on our initial premise, the renewed attention could help answer the questions we asked.
Tansá Timor-Leste-Australia Seidauk iha Fronteira? husi Juvinal Dias ba TLSA ( mos 3 MB PowerPoint ka 1.4MB PDF), Outubru 2013
Negosiasaun Dezenvolvimentu Kampu Gas Natural Greater Sunrise Impas: Sa Ida Mak Sai Problema Nia Hun?, husi Estanislau Saldanha, DIT, 22 July 2013
Many submissions, including from La'o Hamutuk, to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry on TL-Australia relations, March-May 2013
Terminasaun Tratadu CMATS no nia implikasaun ba Timor-Leste / Implications for Timor-Leste of Terminating the CMATS Treaty by LH in local newspapers, (11 Feb. 2013)
LH index page on The Greater Sunrise Oil and Gas Project (also Tetum) regularly updated from 2010 to present
Australia's Carbon Tax and Timor-Leste (April 2012)
LH Analysis of how much money Australia has stolen (English/Tetum) from Timor-Leste via the Laminaria-Corallina oil field (January 2013)
LH Book Sunrise LNG in Timor-Leste: Dreams, Realities and Challenges and related links, February 2008
La'o Hamutuk submission to the Australian Parliament Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, 16 March 2007
The Committee has published a report and seven submissions on CMATS, including from
Robert King (long history of negotiations since 1960s)
All the submissions can be downloaded from http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jsct/6_7_february2007/subs.htm.
Now you CMATS, now you don't. By Dr. Mark Byrne, UNIYA in New Matilda, 5 March 2007
La'o Hamutuk letter to Timor-Leste Parliament regarding CMATS Treaty, 14 February 2007
La'o Hamutuk public meeting on CMATS Treaty, 18 January 2007
La'o Hamutuk Bulletin comprehensive analysis of the history and meaning of CMATS Treaty, April 2006
La'o Hamutuk statement on CMATS Treaty, January 2006
ETAN/U.S. statement on CMATS Treaty, January 2006
Timor Sea Justice Campaign (Australia) release on Treaty, January 2006
Questions and Answers on the CMATS Treaty by Jeffrey J. Smith, January 2006 (PDF)
Australia notified treaty bodies in March 2002 that it was withdrawing from legal mechanisms for settling maritime boundary disputes (press release):
Australian National Interest Analysis on Sunrise International Unitization Agreement (March 2003)
Parliamentary media release on CMATS inquiry (8 February 2007)
Letter from Alexander Downer to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties invoking "National Interest Exemption" (22 February 2007)
Transcript of Parliamentary Treaties Committee hearing (26 February 2007)
Transcript (Hansard) of debate on CMATS in the Australian Parliament (28 February 2007)
Transcript (Hansard) of debate on CMATS in the Australian Senate (22 March 2007)
Timor Sea Treaty and Exchange of Notes (signed and effective May 2002)
Timor-Leste Maritime Zones Act (September 2002)
Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (23 May 1969)
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)