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"She [Kirsty Sword-Gusmao] 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” ... " Vannessa Hearman


Green Left Weekly

Issue cover-dated
August 18, 2004


Sword-Gusmao condemns Canberra's gas revenue offer

Vannessa Hearman
vhearman@telstra.com


Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, the Melbourne-born wife of East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao and chairperson of the Alola Foundation  [http://www.alolafoundation.org/] 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 international law]”.

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 the moment.



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