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La'o Hamutuk Submission to the Australian Senate
on Sunrise Unitization Agreement

Submission to the Australian Parliament’s Senate Economics Legislation Committee
 from the  East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis

 regarding the Greater Sunrise Unitisation Agreement Implementation Bill and Customs Tariff Amendment (Greater Sunrise) Bill 2004

 To Committee Secretary, Senate Economics Legislation Committee
Room SG.64, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 Australia

 18 March 2004

The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis hereby submits information to your Committee for consideration as you discuss Australian legislation implementing the international Unitisation Agreement between Australia and East Timor for the Sunrise and Troubadour oil and gas fields (IUA).

On 13 June 2003, we made a submission on this subject to the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which the Committee received as Submission No. 7.  The information we presented in that submission continues to be accurate, and we ask that your Committee incorporate that submission in your record and deliberations. A copy of it is appended to this submission.

Last year, we pointed out that the Sunrise IUA, as coerced upon the new nation of East Timor, is part of an ongoing effort by the Australian government to deny East Timor’s sovereignty for Australia’s short-term material gains. We are unhappy to observe that Australian policies over the past year, including the issuance of new exploration licenses in disputed areas and the continuing collection of revenue from Laminaria-Corallina and other oil and gas fields claimed by both East Timor and Australia, continues this behaviour.

Under current international law principles, the maritime boundary between two nearby nations’ exclusive economic zones is almost always defined along the median line between their coasts. Once again, we urge Australia, as East Timor’s government has done officially, to recognize that East Timor has a legitimate claim to maritime resources which lie closer to East Timor’s coast than to Australia’s, and to seriously and expeditiously negotiate a permanent maritime boundary with your new neighbour to the north. Until that boundary is settled, Australia’s extraction of resources and signing of contracts in this area is tantamount to an illegal occupation of our territory.

In our previous submission, we explained the self-serving mare nullius doctrine that seems to govern Australia’s actions, and the current legislation perpetuates that fiction. By repeatedly referring to the “Eastern Greater Sunrise Area” as “sole Australian jurisdiction,” you deny the independence that so many East Timorese people struggled and died for over the past quarter-century. Although Australia is rightfully proud of the role you played in leading InterFET in 1999 to help us emerge from illegal Indonesian occupation, many East Timorese are beginning to wonder if it was a more pragmatic move -- the beginning of a new military occupation so that our southern neighbour could continue to steal our oil, just as our northern neighbour formerly took our lives.

One illustration of the contempt your Government has for our nation is the use of the term “Joint Authority” in the current legislation for an agency which represents only the Australian government. This is intentional obfuscation, but it exemplifies your government’s belief that there is no substantive difference between the TSDA joint authority comprised of two sovereign governments, and a “Joint Authority” between two hemispheres of a Commonwealth Minister’s brain.

Like many in Australia, we were surprised at the urgent pace with which your Government tried to push this legislation through Parliament last week without prior notice, although the IUA was signed more than a year ago, and the JSCT issued its report in July 2003. The unseemly haste with which this legislation is now moving through your Parliament reminds us of 22 March 2002, when your government withdrew from impartial maritime boundary dispute resolution mechanisms under the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, informing your Parliament only after the action was taken.  At that time, your National Interest Analysis explained:

“The action was not made public prior to it being taken to ensure the effectiveness of the declaration was maintained. Public knowledge of the proposed action could have led other countries to pre-empt the declaration by commencing an action against Australia in the International Court of Justice that could not be brought once the new declaration was made.”

We do not yet know which of East Timor’s legal rights your government is attempting to undermine by the rushed ratification of the Sunrise IUA legislation, but past experience makes us concerned.  East Timor is Australia’s closest neighbour (as well as the largest, albeit unwilling, foreign contributor to the Commonwealth budget), and we believe that good relations between us, as well as the long-term economic and political stability of our new and impoverished nation, are in the best interests of both Australia and East Timor.

Unlike Australia’s withdrawal from ICJ and ITLOS, the IUA requires ratification by the Government of the Democratic Republic of East Timor as well as that of the Commonwealth of Australia. We hope that our new and under-resourced Government will act with more fairness, fuller deliberation of all relevant issues, attention to the rule of law, consultation with its constituents, and consideration of the long- and short-term consequences of its action than your Government is demonstrating with its approach to this legislation.

We give the Senate Economics Legislation Committee permission to circulate this submission in full. We also request the Committee’s permission to circulate this submission to other persons. This submission has been authorized at the highest level of our organization.

Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to continuing this dialogue at a more reasonable pace.

For further information or questions, contact:

João da Silva Sarmento, Timor Sea Project Coordinator, on behalf of the
East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
PO Box 340, Dili, East Timor
Tel: +670 3325013 or +670 7234330

The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
Institutu Timor-Leste ba Analiza no Monitor ba Dezenvolvimentu
Rua D. Alberto Ricardo, Bebora, Dili, Timor-Leste
P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3321040 or +670-77234330
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