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 East Timor-Australia Dispute on Maritime Boundaries

Link to info on January 2006 CMATS agreement with Australia

Background on Australia


U.S. Energy Information Administration briefing paper on Australia's energy issues (Nov. 2004)


The Timor Sea's Oil and Gas: What's Fair? (PDF) by Father Frank Brennan SJ for the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (August 2004)   Bahasa Indonesia


Australian government report on Securing Australia's Energy Future (2004)


Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade flyer Australia-East Timor Maritime Boundaries: Finding an Equitable Solution (July 2004)


La'o Hamutuk discussion of Australia's gas resources


Fact sheets published by the Northern Territory Government


A Study of the Offshore Petroleum Negotiations bwteeen Australia, the U.N. and East Timor. Ph.D. thesis by Alexander J. Munton, June 2006.


Map of Australia's maritime boundary claim

Cartoons: a collection of cartoons on Australia's relations with East Timor


The boundary dispute between East Timor and Australia will largely determine whether East Timor receives the full benefit from resources it is legally-entitled to. This page summarizes the chronology of negotiations since East Timor became independent in May 2002. The Timor Sea Treaty (TST) was signed the same day.

Beginning a few months after independence, East Timor repeatedly wrote to Australia asking for negotiations to determine the maritime boundaries between the two countries' Exclusive Economic Zones:

3 October 2002: Alkatiri writes Howard to propose initial discussions on boundaries. He points out that the two countries currently have no maritime boundaries, and invites Australia representatives to come to Dili during the second week of November.

3 November 2002: Howard replies, saying that Australia has previously expressed its "willingness to commence discussions" after the Timor Sea Treaty is in force and the Sunrise IUA "has been completed." He hopes the IUA can be completed by the end of 2002, and mentions that East Timor will have tariff- and quota-free access to Australian markets beginning in July 2003.

18 November 2002: Alkatiri replies more strongly, saying that he sees no reason for the "completion of these interim arrangements" to be necessary before boundary talks start, and asking for a "swift timetable" for boundary discussions. He sees Howard's making boundary negotiations conditional on "these interim arrangements" as a new Australian policy, without a clear reason. He points out that Australia, and not East Timor, is depleting and receiving revenues from several fields within territory claimed in East Timor's Maritime Zones Act, underscoring the need for rapid resolution of boundaries.

Australia did not reply, although the leaked Downer-Alkatiri meeting took place less than two weeks after that.

Link to media articles published during 2003

4 March 2003: Alkatiri writes that the TST will soon be in force and the IUA is being submitted to the RDTL council of ministers. He asks for "your early indication of a date" on which permanent boundary "discussions might begin, and a date by which you consider those discussions might result in a permanent boundary delimitation."

The IUA was signed in Dili within a week. The TST came into force less than a month later.

1 August 2003: Howard finally replied, indicating a willingness to begin talking about talking about boundaries.

12 November 2003: The first round of "talks about talks" were held in Darwin. Although East Timor's delegation requested monthly meetings, Australia would not agree to another round before late April 2004, claiming they did not have the personnel and resources to meet so often. (During the Sunrise IUA negotiations in early 2003, which Australia wanted to conclude quickly, the two sides had met monthly.)

Following the unsatisfactory first talks, East Timor's government (including President Xanana Gusmão) were outspokenly critical of Australia. In the lead-up and after the second round, the media began to report more accurately, in contrast with before.

Link to media articles published during 2004

19 April 2004: The second round of talks took place in Dili. with little results. Prime Minister Alkatiri opens the talks, and his office issues a press release at their close.

Australian Green Party Senator Bob Brown visited East Timor to show his support for their cause, and then released a fact sheet asking Australians to Demand a Fair Go for East Timor.

20 May 2004: The Timor Sea Justice Campaign holds coordinated demonstrations around Australia.

On the same day, Oxfam/CAA Australia issued a report "Two years on…What future for an independent East Timor?" Read the press release, executive summary (PDF), and full report (PDF). The Department of Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to Oxfam about the report, and Oxfam replied.

The following week, ETAN organized a demonstration (photos) at the Australian Embassy in Washington.

9 June 2004: Speaking to a Darwin oil conference, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri described Timor-Leste's position.

25 July 2004: Australia and New Zealand agree on a permanent maritime boundary after decades of negotiations. Text of the Treaty, Australian National Interest Analysis.

August 2004: The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) publishes a 64-page paper "The Timor Sea's Oil and Gas: What's Fair?" by Father Frank Brennan SJ.

11 August 2004: Foreign Ministers Jose Ramos-Horta and Alexander Downer meet in Canberra, looking for a "creative solution" to the boundary dispute, where Australia would provide a larger share of revenue from disputed areas to East Timor, while East Timor would agree to forego a permanent maritime boundary at least until all the petroleum was exhausted.

19-22 September 2004: Bilateral boundary negotiations are held in Canberra, followed by discussions in Darwin the following week. East Timorese NGOs demand a fair boundary. Talks are adjourned with no agreement or announcement until after the Australia election.

8 October 2004: Australian voters return John Howard and Alexander Downer to power, with enlarged majorities.

27 October 2004: Boundary negotiations resume in Dili, with a call for fairness by East Timorese NGOs. The talks end with no agreement, restoring the status quo to before the 11 August "creative solution." The following week, East Timor's Prime Minister explained his position to Australians.

17 November 2004: Woodside announces it is suspending the Greater Sunrise project, due to the failure to agree on boundaries. The announcement comes a week after Woodside signs an agreement of cooperation with the U.S.-installed government in Iraq.

29 November 2004:  East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, speaking in Australia, threatens to ask the UN General Assembly to take Australia to the International Court of Justice.

Link to media articles published during 2005-2006

14 January 2005: As Woodside puts the Sunrise project on the shelf, Australia invites Timor-Leste to re-commence boundary talks. Timor-Leste accepts the offer in early February, and talks are scheduled for March in Canberra.

26 January 2005: On Australia day, businessman Ian Melrose runs a TV Commercial and newspaper advertisements challenging Australia's position on border negotiations with East Timor.

11 February 2005: Timor-Leste files a statement with the United Nations concerning Australia's submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

14 February 2005: NT Chief Minister celebrates soaring employment at Wickham Point LNG Plant.

15 February 2005: Timor-Leste writes to Woodside asking for information about an oil spill at Laminaria.

24 February 2005: Senior officials from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and trade hold a background briefing on Timor Sea issues for the media.

5 March 2005: Seventeen senior members of the U.S. Senate and Congress write John Howard to urge Australia to negotiate seriously.

7-9 March 2005: Australian and RDTL negotiators meet in Canberra.

26-29 April 2005: Australian and RDTL negotiators meet in Dili, with demonstrations across Australia.

11-13 May 2005: Australian and RDTL negotiators meet in Sydney. Although Australia claims an agreement has been made, Timor-Leste officials are not so clear. ETAN says the deal cheats Timor-Leste.

June 2005: The Australian government assistance agency AusAID cancels a grant to a Timorese human rights NGO because they had spoken out against Australia's continuing occupation of the Timor Sea. (See Editorial, La'o Hamutuk Bulletin Vol. 6 No. 4.) In November, AusAID cancelled another grant to a Timorese environmental NGO.

18 July 2005: In Washington, protesters tell John Howard to stop stealing Timor-Leste's oil.

September 2005: Timor-Leste and Australia agree on the details of a Petroleum Mining Code for the JPDA, which must be formally approved before a licensing round for new JPDA areas scheduled for early 2006 can be conducted.

29 November 2005: Australian and RDTL technical delegations meet in Darwin reaching an agreement to resolve disputed oil and gas fields, but it is not made public.

12 January 2006: Jose Ramos-Horta and Alexander Downer sign the CMATS treaty in Sydney, dividing Sunrise upstream revenues 50-50 but deferring maritime boundaries for 50 years or more.

25 January 2006: Australia-New Zealand Boundary Treaty enters into force.

28 February 2006: Australia approves the JPDA Petroleum Mining Code, enabling the May 2006 TSDA bidding round to proceed.

12 October 2006: Australia and East Timor Sign Security Arrangement on Joint Petroleum Area

February 2007: CMATS treaty is ratified by the Timor-Leste Parliament and put into force without Australian Parliamentary ratification.

4 August 2007: Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans visits Timor-Leste and refuses to acknowledge he did anything wrong when he signed the Timor Gap Treaty in 1989.

More recent developments are continued here.

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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