Green Left Weekly
August 18, 2004
Sword-Gusmao condemns Canberra's gas revenue offer
Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, the Melbourne-born wife of East Timorese President
Xanana Gusmao and chairperson of the
for women and children of East Timor, has condemned the stance taken by
the Howard government on the Timor Sea oil and gas negotiations.
Speaking in Melbourne on August 6, she said that having access to the
hydrocarbon resources in the Timor Sea was the key to East Timor’s
ability to respond to basic needs. “I'm dismayed at the attitude of the
Australian government”, she said. “Surely the powers that be in
Canberra should say it is better for us and better for East Timor if
they stand on their own two feet.”
Sword-Gusmao alleged that Canberra’s intractability in negotiations
suggested that Australia preferred to “keep East Timor dependent on aid
to give it leverage to have influence in the country”.
The issue of permanent maritime boundaries based on the international
law principle of the “median line” between two countries was “an
ongoing self-determination issue” for the Timorese, said Sword-Gusmao.
She praised the work of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign [http://www.TimorSeaJustice.org
which has “kept the issue alive in Australia” and “raised public
awareness”. She warned that in Australia, “newspapers don’t necessarily
tell you the real truth”, arguing that sections of the Australian media
ran the line that the Timorese were “ungrateful” for the 90% of gas
revenues East Timor would receive, despite this figure only pertaining
to the Joint Petroleum Development Area and not to the other oil and
gas fields in the Timor Sea.
Sword-Gusmao said that foreign minister Alexander Downer was not
interested in “Australians knowing the fact that East Timor would get
four times the amount if the boundaries were resolved [under
She said the Australian foreign affairs department “is out of synch
with public opinion and sentiment on East Timor”.
During her travels in Australia, according to Sword-Gusmao, she had not
met one person who disagreed with East Timor’s claim, “and I haven’t
just been meeting with members of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign”.
She said it was difficult, in a country with limited media outreach and
low levels of literacy like East Timor, to “get the technical details
across”, but the East Timorese people understand it as “an issue of
rights and fairness”.
Asked about the difference between the Labor Party and the Coalition on
the Timor Sea issue, she said: “I think the substantial difference in
the position of the opposition Labor Party and the current government
is Labor has said that they are not interested in screwing East
Timor... but let’s say that nothing can be worse than what we’ve got at