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"Tell Australia to stop stealing the oil and the future of East Timor! On January 26, Australia Day, let Australian government representatives in your country know that it is no longer acceptable to seize territory or resources belonging to another nation. Australian embassies and consulates around the world will be having parties - Why not hold a vigil or distribute a leaflet?" Charles Scheiner, La’o Hamutuk, East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis


Act to Support East Timor on "Australia Day"


From La’o Hamutuk, 17 January 2004



On January 26, Australia Day (recalling the first permanent British settlement in Australia in 1788), let Australian government representatives in your country know that it is no longer acceptable to seize territory or resources belonging to another nation.

Australian embassies and consulates around the world will be having parties—Why not hold a vigil or distribute a leaflet?  (La’o Hamutuk and ETAN will shortly have a leaflet and a press release available for download. You can download a list of nearly 200 Australian missions worldwide from .)

Here are a few other activities which would also be helpful:

* Write a letter, phone or visit their embassy in your country.

* Write to Australian Prime Minister John Howard (House of Representatives, Parliament House  Canberra ACT 2600 AUSTRALIA).

* Contact your own government and elected officials and ask them to weigh in with Australia.

* Distribute a press release or write letters to the editor in your country or Australia explaining Australia’s actions.

The Issue

East Timor is an independent nation, entitled to know the limits of its territory by land, sea, and air, so that it can guarantee the security of its territory and citizens.

East Timor’s government, dependent on foreign support after 24 years of Indonesian occupation and destruction, needs to be able to use its own resources. At present, East Timor is struggling not to go into debt to the World Bank and IMF, as it needs to cover a USD $126 million financial gap between now and 2007. Yet between 1999 and today, the Australian government has stolen more than USD $1,000 million in oil and gas revenues that would belong to East Timor under a fair boundary settlement. If Australia continues to prevail with “interim” agreements negotiated under pressure, East Timor will continue to be the largest (albeit reluctant) contributor to Australia’s government budget, running into tens of billions of dollars over the next four decades.

In October 2002, East Timorese enacted a Maritime Boundary Law, claiming a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in all directions, based on U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) principles. Where their neighbors’ claims overlap, countries need to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary, usually halfway between their coastlines. Yet Australia is delaying resolving the maritime boundary, while at the same time it is depleting East Timor’s birthright.

The two countries held a first negotiating session last November, more than a year after East Timor requested it. They will not meet again until April, notwithstanding East Timor’s request to meet monthly and resolve the issue in 3-5 years.

The Australian Government’s arrogance can be ended with pressure from East Timor and its international friends. Australia must understand that East Timor is a sovereign nation, entitled to know the extent of its territory and to benefit from its natural resources.

In your signs and letters, tell them:

* East Timor is entitled to know its land and sea boundaries, and  Australia must respect this right.

* Australia will lose the good will it generated in 1999 if it cheats East Timor out of tens of billions of dollars of petroleum revenue.

* Australia should negotiate fairly and in good faith to settle the maritime boundary in no more than three years, treating East Timor respectfully as an equally sovereign nation.

* Australia should respect and implement international law by rejoining legal mechanisms for resolving maritime boundary disputes. Specifically, Australia should return to the process from which they withdrew in March 2002 (see below).

East Timor’s independence will not be fully realized until its boundaries, both land and sea, are defined and accepted by its neighbors.

Additional Background

Under legal principles established by case and statutory law under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the median line (half way between the coastlines of two countries) is the standard way to establish maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundaries when two countries are closer than 400 nautical miles to each other. This is the case with East Timor and Australia. If this international principle were applied, many of the oil and gas fields Australia has exploited and intends to exploit - including most if not all of the lucrative Greater Sunrise field and the nearly depleted Laminaria-Corallina field - would fall within East Timor’s EEZ.  East Timor has not received a single cent of the $1 billion in royalties from the Laminaria-Corallina field; all has gone to Australia.

In March 2002, Australia gave formal notice that it was withdrawing from international legal mechanisms to resolve boundary issues that cannot be settled by negotiation—the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. East Timor’s leaders called this withdrawal a hostile act. The withdrawal prevents the new nation from bringing Australia to those forums to contest its refusal to enter timely and cooperative boundary negotiations.

Under interim arrangements promoted by the Australian government, East Timor is providing more support to Australia in petroleum revenues than Australia has given or likely will give East Timor in foreign aid.

East Timor is among the poorest of the world’s countries, suffering from very low levels of basic services and high unemployment. The quality of life for East Timor’s present and future generations depends on a fair boundary agreement. Well-managed, these petroleum resources can provide the basis for just and equitable economic development in East Timor.

To read more in-depth analysis of the Timor Sea issue, see .

To see the letter a hundred organizations from around the world sent to the Australian Prime Minister last November, see .

For further information, please contact: La’o Hamutuk at or by phone at +670 3325013 or 7234330.

Example: Letter to the Editor recently sent to “The Australian”:

La’o Hamutuk, The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis

14 January 2004

To the Editor:

We agree with The Australian (Editorial January 6, “Don’t Leave Timor before job is done”) that East Timor will continue to require economic and political aid from Australia and other rich nations for several years. Such support is not only necessary to prevent this impoverished infant democracy from becoming a “failed, anarchic state”, but it is also a meager compensation for a quarter-century of Australian complicity with Indonesia’s brutal military invasion and occupation.

However, in the long term, the interests of East Timor and Australia are best served by East Timor achieving complete political and economic independence. Unfortunately, short-sighted Australian policies are obstructing those goals, by refusing to fairly and expeditiously settle maritime boundaries, and by stealing oil and gas which lie under territory claimed by both nations, but closer to East Timor than to Australia. If Australia succeeds in bullying East Timor for the next few decades, our southern neighbor will have taken nearly 60% of our nation’s entire oil and gas entitlement.

Australia began collecting revenues from the disputed Laminaria-Corallina oil field while the smoke was still rising from the ashes of Dili. Since late 1999, the Commonwealth government has taken in more than A$1.7 billion from that field, far more than Australia has given East Timor in aid over the same period. (The great majority of the $2 billion cited in the editorial is for troop deployments, most of which ADF would have been spent whether or not the soldiers came to East Timor.)

More than 200 years ago, colonists viewed Australia as “terra nullius,” as they took over land from people who had lived on it for millennia. Although that racist ideology is now discredited, Australia’s “mare nullius” policies in the Timor Sea today deny East Timor’s hard-won sovereignty and refuse to comply with international law.

Every nation, no matter how young or fragile, is entitled to know where its territory ends, especially when that territory contains the nation’s birthright. Australia should comply with East Timor’s government’s requests to suspend petroleum exploration and development in disputed areas, and to quickly negotiate a boundary based on international legal principles.

That is the best and most just way Australia can support East Timor’s long-term stability, and it won’t cost Australian taxpayers one penny or put any Australian soldiers at risk.


Charles Scheiner and Selma Hayati
East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)

Charles Scheiner
La'o Hamutuk (The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis)
P.O. Box 88, Dili, East Timor
Mobile:  +670-7234335
Office landline +670-3325013   fax +670-3317294
La'o Hamutuk:

In-depth analysis of the Timor Sea issue:

Letter sent [Nov 2003] to Australian Prime Minister by 100 organizations from around the world:

What is La'o Hamutuk?

La'o Hamutuk (Tetum for Walking Together) is a joint East Timorese-international organization that seeks to monitor and to report on the activities of the principal international institutions present in Timor Loro Sa'e as they relate to the physical and social reconstruction of the country.

* La'o Hamutuk believes that the people of East Timor must be the ultimate decision-makers in this process and that this process should be democratic and transparent.

* La'o Hamutuk is an independent organization and works to facilitate effective East Timorese participation.

* In addition, La'o Hamutuk works to improve communication between the international community and East Timorese society. La'o Hamutuk's East Timorese and international staff have equal responsibilities, and receive equal pay and benefits.

* Finally, La'o Hamutuk is a resource center, providing literature on development models, experiences, and practices, as well as facilitating solidarity links between East Timorese groups and groups abroad with the
aim of creating alternative development models.

In the spirit of encouraging greater transparency, La'o Hamutuk would like you to contact us if you have documents and/or information that should be brought to the attention of the East Timorese people and the international community.

[La'o Hamutuk is a registered East Timorese non-government organization (ETNGO)]


See also:
BD: TIMOR OIL / Mina iha Timor Gap / O Petróleo do Mar de Timor / Le pétrole de la Mer de Timor

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