|Canberra bullies Timor over sea
By Bob Burton
CANBERRA - The Australian government has
been accused of hypocrisy in its attempt to draw
maritime boundaries with its neighbors. While
setting a mid-point boundary with New Zealand,
after ratifying a treaty, Canberra has refused to
adopt the same standard with East Timor, which
lays claim to rich oil and gas deposits beneath
the Timor Sea.
Coordinator of the Timor
Sea Justice Campaign, Tom Clarke, accused the
Australian government of "breathtaking hypocrisy"
by adopting different standards for different
"It seems that Australia wants to
adopt one standard which is consistent with
international law to ensure good relations with a
developed Western country but rejects exactly the
same proposal when it is made by East Timor," he
told Inter Press Service.
"It is an
appalling attempt by the government to try and
bully the region's poorest country into giving up
both territory and valuable resources, even though
they are entitled to them under international
law," added Clarke.
Under the United
National Convention on the Law of the Sea, of
which Australia and New Zealand are signatories,
both countries are entitled to claim a continental
shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending
200 nautical miles.
At a hearing of the
Joint Committee on Treaties of the Australian
parliament on Monday, Canberra submitted a
"national interest analysis" of the treaty between
Australia and New Zealand stating that "the
boundary described in the treaty is a common
maritime boundary dividing both the EEZ and
continental shelf of the two countries. It is a
fair an equitable outcome in accordance with the
principles of international law."
final treaty, which has been under serious
negotiation since 1999, resolves the overlapping
claims that the national interest analysis states
by "being divided along the line of equidistance
between the nearest points of Australian and New
Zealand land territory".
represent an equitable and fair outcome for
Australia ... The settling of the maritime
boundaries between Australia and New Zealand
greatly reduces the potential for future disputes
and serves as a model of bilateral cooperation in
the region," the treaty states.
before the Senate committee on Monday, William
Campbell, the general counsel for international
law in the Attorney General's Department said,
"Each delimitation has its own unique
circumstances so that what is agreed in one will
not necessarily apply in the other. That said, the
principles underpinning our New Zealand boundary
and those we are advancing with East Timor are
consistent." Campbell stated that the critical
issue is the extent of the continental shelf.
It was an argument that bemused the deputy
chair of the Joint Committee on Treaties, Kim
Wilkie, an opposition Labor member of the House of
considered in detail the Timor Sea Treaty, where
the boundaries were of some issue, and we were
told that we weren't to apply that particular
method [a mid-point boundary] ... Now we are being
told that in the case of New Zealand we have
applied those same sort of conditions in
determining those boundaries. You can't have it
both ways," he said.
Just last week the
Australian government refused to discuss a
median-line maritime boundary in talks with East
Timor. Instead, it proposed deferring the
resolution of a permanent boundary by up to a
hundred years while the major oil and gas deposits
beneath the Timor Sea are exhausted.
Canberra proposed that it would make a
US$3 billion to $4 billion one-off payment if East
Timor agrees to these conditions. Critics argue
that under the same standard as adopted with New
Zealand, East Timor would stand to gain more than
$40 billion of gas and oil royalties.
the conclusion of three days of talks with East
Timor last week, Australia's Foreign Affairs
Minister Alexander Downer was upbeat: "I think
we've got the framework of an agreement nutted
out; we've got more details still to work through,
but I think we're making very good progress with
East Timor," he added.
negotiator for East Timor, Jose Teixeira, was more
circumspect. He stated only that a further round
of talks would be held soon.
Australian government has endorsed a mid-point
boundary with New Zealand as consistent with
international law, in a February 24 briefing for
journalists on Timor Sea issues an Australian
government official dismissed East Timor's bid for
a mid-point boundary as an "ambit claim".
Australia has frustrated East Timor's
ability to seek arbitration on the maritime
boundary by the International Court of Justice by
withdrawing from the court's jurisdiction on the
issue just two months before East Timor gained
independence in May 2002.
In the analysis
tended to the Senate committee on the New Zealand
treaty, the Australian government stated that the
issue of where the boundary of the continental
shelf lies is only relevant where it continues
beyond 200 nautical miles - the area a country may
claim as its EEZ.
Beyond that, it stated,
a nation may claim up to a maximum of 350 nautical
miles if approved after a submission to the
Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf
(CLCS), a United Nations agency responsible for
adjudicating international boundaries.
part of the deal of settling on a mid-point
boundary, the Australian government informed the
Senate committee that it would ensure New Zealand
supports Australia's submission to the CLCS
seeking a 350 nautical mile boundary.
Campaigners supporting East Timor's bid
for a mid-point sea boundary argue that Australia
has a powerful economic incentive for bullying
East Timor into settling for less than New
"It wants to steal billions of
dollars worth of oil and gas that, if
international law were to prevail, belongs to the
poorest nation in the region," said Timor Sea
Justice Campaign's Clarke.
between Australia and East Timor were underway
early this month in Canberra, Australian
businessman Ian Melrose renewed a prime-time
television advertising campaign bluntly
criticizing the Australian government's
negotiating position over the boundary.
"The Howard government has stolen A$2
billion [US$1.57 billion] in tax revenue from gas
and oil royalties which East Timor needs to create
a working health system," stated the
The majority of East
Timorese live in rural villages that are often
isolated and far from medical facilities or
hospitals. Roads are impassable during the wet
season, electricity is scant and
telecommunications are next to non-existent.
Curable and preventable diseases are life
threatening for most in these circumstances.
(Inter Press Service)
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