[Denis Burke is the Northern Territory (Australia) Governmentís Chief Minister - BD]
FMC: I spoke to Denis Burke earlier this morning and heís currently preparing to fly to the United States on a range of oil and gas related topics including further discussions on the Timor Gap.
DB: Itís a very sensitive issue and difficult at the moment but certainly weíre working closely not only with the East Timorese leadership but also with the federal government and the companies involved to ensure we get a resolution. We need to have this thing settled certainly by I would think mid June otherwise we have a crisis on our hands. Weíve got a crisis on our hands now frankly. But it has to be sorted out by mid June or it may not be salvageable. But certainly on the discussions so far there is a will of everyone whoís involved to get an agreement because itís too good an opportunity to let pass and I donít believe anyone agrees with the comments of Mr Galbraith that the East Timorese are quite happy to leave that resource in the ground for 20 odd years. The opportunity will go. There is understandable concern from the East Timorese that they get a fair slice of the revenue. They see because of the advice theyíre being given immense and disproportionate wealth going to the Northern Territory.
[BD: Yes. There already is a crisis: the theft of East Timorese oil and gas resources and revenue over many years including the present day]
FMC: So youíre conceding that a disproportion amount of the wealth from the Timor Gap is going to the Northern Territory?
DB: Well if you see it in terms of the construction effort. For example you know about $8b worth of contracts are on the drawing board ready to go in many respects once the gas decision is made to bring onshore. And in comparison to the revenue to East Timor, using that simple analogy, they would say you know we want a greater share of the resource. And I donít believe that anyone wants to be not generous with the East Timorese. But once you introduce things such as sovereignty issues, changing the boundaries between countries not only do you enter into intractable arguments you then involve third parties and itís already starting with the West Timor bid. And no doubt the Indonesianís would get involved again and meanwhile the companies would walk away and nothing would happen. So weíve got to keep the discussions down to a fair share of revenue for the East Timorese. If we can achieve that and get a decision which everyone wants we can put this problem behind us.
* Being 'generous with the East Timorese' is a red herring. It belongs to them, let's give it back.
* 'once you introduce things such as sovereignty issues' You mean like who actually owns it.
* 'changing the boundaries between countries' You mean placing the boundary where it should have been in the first place - half way between East Timor and Australia.
* 'you enter into intractable arguments' that are only intractable when criminals refuse to submit to international norms and laws.
* 'the West Timor bid' You mean we're stealing from West Timor as well!
* 'weíve got to keep the discussions down to a fair share of revenue for the East Timorese' A fair share. Couldn't agree more.
FAIR SHARE = 100% to East Timor + return of previously stolen revenue + compensation for complicity in genocide.]
FMC: So you still believe that not a centimetre not an inch of Australian sovereign soil should be given up here?
DB: Absolutely yes. I just think itís a ridiculous issue to introduce. Iím disappointed that some parties have suggested that that is a reasonable proposition to put on the table. It immediately introduces the Indonesians back in the equations and if one looks at the borders that have already been settled with Indonesia including West Timor using the same methodology you would open up a hornets nest of problems which some might say should be there on the table. But I can tell ya whilst these things are there you can bet your life the oil companies and the gas companies have gone. Theyíre not going to muck around with this sort of stuff, theyíve got investors who donít invest billions of dollars into this sort of uncertainty. And thatís what we should be focused on at that moment. A fair deal for the East Timorese, get the issues off the table that are going to certainly crash this solution and letís get down to a win win situation with them in the short term.
[BD: Yes, stop mucking about and give back East Timor's oil and gas resources and revenue. That will give the investors the much needed confidence. They'll know who they are dealing with - the East Timorese.]
FMC: How likely is it though that that particular issue, that issue of sovereignty of sea boundaries is going to be taken off the table. Because it seems as though it had been put up there for a very good purpose and at the moment no indication that itís about to disappear from the agenda.
DB: Well I donít believe the East
Timorese leadership themselves put that purposely on the agenda.
Some of them have been lead to believe thatís a reasonable proposition
and frankly I believe Australia has to hold a very hard line in the region.
I mean like it or not we have responsibilities in this region. Like
it or not we have taken leadership and should continue to hold a strong
leadership position in the region. And in that context we have to
demonstrate firmness on issues such as sovereignty. And to suggest that
somehow you can move the boundaries of the (?) either laterally or north
and south to my mind introduces a set of issues that are too difficult
to contemplate, reaching a decision in the short term and certainly will
create an immediate situation where the oil
companyís go and we all lose.
[BD: 'I mean like it or not we have responsibilities in this region.' Quite right. Responsibilities awaiting accountability.]
FMC: You said earlier that youíre keeping in communications ? you are talking with the East Timorese on this. I got the distinct impression from some of the things I was hearing from the East Timorese side that they were very very annoyed with the Northern Territory government and basically werenít talking to them at all anymore.
DB: Well I donít know about at all Fred. I mean it depends who speak to but as late as a couple of days ago weíve been in tough and consistently in touch with people who I believe are influential. And theyíre certainly upset with the comments that their so called expert and spokesman has been making, Peter Galbraith. He certainly has created and inflamed the situation unnecessarily and if Iíve given him a serve up and thatís all Iíve done because I havenít attacked the East Timorese themselves, Iíll stand by that. Because he is playing a game of brinkmanship which is totally unacceptable.
* 'consistently in touch with people who I believe are influential' You could try talking with the grassroots.
* 'he is playing a game of brinkmanship' Dictionary definition: 'brinkmanship' is the art of pursuing a dangerous policy to the brink of war etc. before stopping Who's guilty here?]
BD: TIMOR OIL - A collection of recent reports, position statements, petitions, articles and news