THIRTY BILLION REASONS TO HELP EAST TIMOR TO ITS OIL

Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace, Melbourne

18 April 2004

The Australian government is making a greedy grab for East Timor's $30 billion oil and gas deposits in the East Timor Sea, according to Melbourne’s Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace. When the two governments sit down this coming Monday 19 April, in Dili, the capital of East Timor, to negotiate over the East Timor sea, our Government will be playing the bully and the spoiler.

The Commission’s Executive Officer Marc Purcell said:

“If a line were drawn half way in the sea between the two countries, two thirds of these riches would lie closer to East Timor and, according to the International Law of the Sea, be rightfully theirs.”

“When it comes to oil, the Australian Government has done the dirty on the East Timorese. Before East Timor was independent, the Australian Government pulled out of the International Court of Justice and the tribunal which oversees agreement of international maritime boundaries. The Australian government was afraid that if we went to arbitration, the umpire would find in favour of the East Timorese,” he said.

“No one is holding their breath with the negotiations. Australia has a bad case of feet dragging and is refusing to meet monthly, as the East Timorese wish, preferring twice a year. Negotiations, which should only take a couple of years at most, will instead only be finished when our grand children are heading for retirement and the oil and gas fields under Australia's control have dried up,” he said.

“The annual budget for the East Timorese Government is US$ 79 million, and most of that comes from foreign aid. That’s roughly the same amount of money as the annual budget for a State Government Department program. There is no sense in keeping a pauper at our doorstep, on a drip feed of aid, when he could become self-sufficient from oil revenue in a few years,” he said.

“The Commission calls on the Australian Government to play fair, negotiate quickly, and draw the sea boundary at the halfway point between the two countries. The Commission wants to see Australian companies and workers work alongside the East Timorese people to develop the fields,” he said.

The Greater Sunrise oil and gas field lies between Australia and East Timor and it is estimated that it will bring $30 billion of revenue over its 30-year life. Over half of East Timor's 800,000 population live on less that US$340 a year (Australian's average income is US$20,530 per year). The average life expectancy is just 57 years; one in ten children die before they turn five; and only 60% of the population are able to read or write.


THIRTY BILLION REASONS TO HELP EAST TIMOR

Marc Purcell
Executive Officer
Melbourne's Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace

Cliff was a digger who could never forget his debt to the East Timorese. Hemmed in by Japanese soldiers in the mountains of East Timor in 1942, Cliff and his mates were smuggled by East Timorese villagers through Japanese lines to safety. Twelve East Timorese were captured, tortured and killed for their noble act of bravery in saving the lives of the Aussies.

Cliff died before he could see East Timor become independent in May 2002 but he would have been proud of the new generation of brave diggers who repaid the blood debt. Aussies defended the East Timorese against the wild militias causing havoc to the aspiring nation.

Now a new problem faces the plucky East Timorese. It looks like the Australian government is making a greedy grab for East Timor's oil and gas deposits in the East Timor Sea. When the two governments sit down this coming Monday, in Dili, the capital of East Timor, to negotiate a fair deal over the East Timor sea, our Government will be playing the bully and the spoiler.  Why so?

The Greater Sunrise oil and gas field lies between Australia and East Timor and it is estimated that it will bring $30 billion of revenue over its 30-year life. If you drew a line half way in the sea between the two countries, two thirds of these riches would lie closer to East Timor and, according to the International Law of the Sea, be rightfully theirs.

The East Timorese Government is calling for negotiations between the two countries to draw the sea boundary at the half way point. At present, there is only an interim agreement for exploitation of a couple of the many gas and oil deposits in the area. This is based on the old settlement Australia had with East Timor's occupier, Indonesia. It gives East Timor, the poorest country in the region, only 18% of the tax revenue from the fields while the richest country in the area - Australia – takes 82%.

When it comes to oil, the Australian Government has done the dirty on the East Timorese. Before East Timor was independent, the Australian Government pulled out of the international tribunal which oversees agreement of international maritime boundaries. The Australian government was afraid that if we went to arbitration, the umpire would find in favour of the East Timorese.

Don't hold your breath with the negotiations either. Australia has a bad case of feet dragging and is refusing to meet monthly, as the East Timorese wish, preferring twice a year. Negotiations, which should only take a couple of years at most, will instead only be finished when our grand children are heading for retirement and the oil and gas fields under Australia's control have dried up.

On any score, the East Timorese people are battlers. Over half of East Timor's 800,000 population live on less that US$340 a year (Australian's average income is US$20,530 per year). The average life expectancy is just 57 years; one in ten children die before they turn five; and only 60% of the population able to read or write.

It is said that if you give a poor man a fish he will be grateful but will have to ask for another tomorrow, but that if you teach him to fish he can feed himself for life. The annual budget for the East Timorese Government is US$ 79 million, and most of that comes from foreign aid. That’s roughly the same amount of money as the annual budget for a Victorian Government Department. There is no sense in keeping a pauper at our doorstep, on a drip feed of aid, when he could become self-sufficient from oil revenue in a few years.

If we did the right thing by the East Timorese, we would play fair, negotiate quickly, and draw the sea boundary at the halfway point between the two countries. We'd let Australian companies and workers work alongside the East Timorese people to develop the fields. Both sides would benefit, but the immediate revenue for the East Timorese people would be around US$12 billion, and would enable their government to lift expenditure for their people from about US$100 per head to US$300 per head each year. 

Cliff was a digger and a fighter for justice, and I know his spirit won't rest until our Government does the right thing by the people of East Timor and lets them have the oil and gas that is rightfully theirs.

For further information: Marc Purcell – 0418 170 541