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"Australian policy is that we benefit financially from areas which are under dispute, and that policy has brought us nearly $2 billion since 1999. In discussing consequences of this policy, it is both fair and proper to consider the effects of the distribution of wealth.  So whilst I argue that the ownership of the resources of the Timor Sea must be determined only on principles of accepted law and customary practice, I maintain that the dire need of the people of East Timor makes the application of justice a priority. East Timor has gained its political independence, but is not yet economically independent.  It is one of the poorest nations in Asia." Sr. Susan Connelly, Spokesperson on oil issues, Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies (MMIETS)

Topic: Timor Sea Resources - Issues of Principle


Sister Susan Connelly,

Spokesperson on oil issues & Deputy Director of MMIETS,
Member of TSJC, Sydney

Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies (MMIETS)

Phone: 02 9623 2847

About the Mary MacKillop Institute / Institutu Mary MacKillop:

Timor Sea Justice Coalition (TSJC) - Sydney

Paper given at Politics in the Pub on 17.09.04:
-- Long Term Consequences of Government Policy on Resources of the Timor Sea
-- References


Hello everyone,

Here is a paper I gave at Politics in the Pub on 17.09.04.  With the Timor Sea talks underway between Australia and East Timor at the moment, it remains to be seen what outcome there will be.

I believe that regardless of what the East Timor Government accepts, there are issues of principle which Australians should require that our Government fulfil. 

These made up the terms of the recent petition:

1.  That a fair and equitable boundary be set.

2.  That Australia negotiates in good faith and in a timely fashion.

3.  That Australia returns to International arbitration.

4.  That Australia stops benefitting financially from areas under dispute.
(Please note that Australia has been receiving one million dollars a day from an area claimed by East Timor.  This amounts to nearly 2 billion dollars, ten times the amount we have spent there in aid.)

Best wishes to all

Sister Susan Connelly,
Phone: 02 9623 2847

Politics in the Pub
Gaelic Club

Long Term Consequences of Government Policy on Resources of the Timor Sea


The point has very clearly been made by supporters of the East Timorese people that the dispute over the resources of the Timor Sea is about justice, not charity. This is a principle of International Law and is, of course, enthusiastically accepted by the Australian Government.
The spin on this principle is put by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade thus: "It is not appropriate to link East Timor's economic and social development with requests for Australia to sign away long-standing sovereign rights in respect of its continental shelf."
I agree that the whole matter must be resolved on the basis of fairness as regards the maritime boundaries in themselves. However, our topic is the long-term consequences of the present Government policy, consequences which affect both East Timorese and Australian people.
What is the present Australian Government Policy?  It concerns a fair and equitable maritime boundary, which has not yet been established.  Our Government agrees to meetings only twice a year, despite East Timorese requests for more frequent meetings.  It says that we settle disputes by negotiation rather than arbitration, and hence there is no need for us to be part to the maritime boundary sections of the ICJ and UNCLOS.  Australian policy is that we benefit financially from areas which are under dispute, and that policy has brought us nearly $2 billion since 1999.
In discussing consequences of this policy, it is both fair and proper to consider the effects of the distribution of wealth.  So whilst I argue that the ownership of the resources of the Timor Sea must be determined only on principles of accepted law and customary practice, I maintain that the dire need of the people of East Timor makes the application of justice a priority.
East Timor has gained its political independence, but is not yet economically independent.  It is one of the poorest nations in Asia.
The East Timorese Government has developed a National Development Plan for the next twenty years, which is aimed at lifting the nation out of poverty.
It was drafted after consultations involving 40,000 people in more than 500 towns and villages across the country. The top priorities are: education (70 percent), health (49 percent) and agriculture (32 percent) as the top three, followed by the economy, roads, poverty, water and electricity.
It is interesting to compare the concerns of the East Timorese people with those of Australians as we face this election.  Education and health are top priorities for both peoples, with the economy high on both our lists. However, our poorest schools are whiz-bang compared the best Timor has to offer, and our dogs and cats have far greater access to health care.
There is a sense of purpose in the new East Timorese Government. They plan that education and health will consume 48 percent of spending in these first years of independence. They plan to bank rather than spend revenue from the new offshore oil and gas for the first few years. They plan deficit-free budgets. They have begun life as a new nation debt-free, determined to leverage the oil and gas windfall to create a self-sustaining economy.
These positive aspirations are tempered by the realisation that there has been a decline in international assistance and reconstruction activities. There has been an estimated two percent  decrease of the Growth Domestic Product (GDP) in the Fiscal Year 2003-2004 meaning a decline of overall economic growth. Capital spending has been curtailed by 15% of the GDP, and there will probably be a decrease in public investment of about US$40-45 million a year for the next four years.
This situation has been caused by
1. the winding down of the UN presence,
2. normal post-conflict transition
3. a decrease in demand for goods
4. an increase in poverty.
It has been remarked to me by a number of people familiar with East Timor that the well-being of people out in the country has noticeably deteriorated.
With a population of about 900 000, half of whom are under the age of fourteen, East Timor faces an uphill battle even to feed them.  Food insecurity is widespread, resulting in wasting and stunting.
Wasting, as measured by weight for height, is used as an indicator of short-term access to adequate food, and is therefore affected by seasonal food availability. Over one in ten children are moderately or severely wasted. Stunting, which is measured by height for age, is an indicator of longer-term nutritional deficiency over multiple seasons. One in two children are moderately or severely stunted.  This evidence points to widespread chronic malnutrition.
Life expectancy is low at 57 years. There is a lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation facilities, and to the predominance of communicable diseases: malaria, tuberculosis and infections.
In order to halve poverty by 2015, Timor-Leste needs an annual economic growth rate of 4.4 percent over the next decade. To achieve this these issues must be addressed:
The Government has to generate sustainable domestic production, services and
employment and so become less dependent on external support.  This requires the promotion of good governance and efficiency, professionalism, transparency and accountability in state institutions, and the willingness and capacity to fight corruption in these areas.
Forty-six percent of the population live beneath the poverty line, that is, they have less than a dollar a day to live on.  Most of these people are in the rural areas. But only one-third of the total expenditure of East Timor and one-fifth of its goods and services go to these districts. The agriculture sector contributes  only one-fifth of the GDP while employing two-thirds of the population. Because of this overwhelming poverty in the rural sector the first priority must be to address rural skills and resource needs, to decentralize government agencies and development, so that basic services are provided where they are needed. The East Timor Government needs to increase productivity by large-scale investment in rural development including infrastructure, agriculture, forestry and livestock.
East Timor's only natural resource of any magnitude lies under the Timor Sea.  No other resource exists on a scale which could seriously address the food needs and other needsof the people.  Whilst it is true that the decisions on maritime boundaries must be based on justice, not charity, such considerations are luxuries which only those in Australia can afford, and they are beneath the contempt of those in East Timor who are dying from lack of nourishment or care.
Despite the poverty of these people, the Australian Government feels justified in dithering around over the oil and gas issue, a policy which has health, even survival  consequences for some East Timorese people.
One of the consequences for Australia is a further squandering of international respect.  If we are not willing to act responsibly in our region, particularly where money is concerned, how can we expect that others treat us in good faith?  When Australian officials bleat on and on about issues of sovereignty, "These negotiations involve significant issues of sovereignty for Australia", how can they hope for a respectful hearing in the light of Australia's recent history of resistance to the claims to sovereignty made by the Timorese, issues which caused so many deaths?
Australia's pathetic self-interest, so transparent in this case, must cause Asian nations to raise their well-mannered eyebrows.
Another is the further eroding of the Australian people's  trust in Government. Where does willingness to dupe the population stop?  Do we expect any Australian Government to value truth when manipulation of the truth is so prevalent, and in this case, so profitable?
Official communications are full of half-truths.  A good example of this is the latest two-page summary of Australia's position published by DFAT.
It says:
"No country has done more than Australia to assist the people of East Timor to realise their aspirations for independence and to help bring peace, stability and prosperity to the new nation." This at least is an advance on that other hilarious line: "Australia has long been at the forefront of international assistance to East Timor." The history gives the lie to all this fluff.  Alone among the nations, Australia gave official and supine recognition of Indonesia's illegal occupation. We could go on, but let's get back to the half-truths.
In discussing the Timor Trough, this paper says:
"International law supports Australia's claim to the full extent of its continental shelf northward to the deepest part of the Timor Trough."  But as Brennan points out (p.23), from 1985 International law has been moving "in the direction of drawing a median line between countries with coastlines opposite each other and separated by less than 400 nautical miles," as is the case in point.
The paper says that International law does not require that all maritime boundary disputes be resolved by using median lines.  Indeed, that is true. But it is even more true that the general movement of international legal opinion is to decide these issues on median line principles.  The Australian Government has the tricky knack of caricaturing opposing opinions and then building its case on refuting these caricatures, in this case, by using the word "require." 

Another example occurs in the same paper:
"Suggestions that an equidistant boundary would attribute to East Timor most of the Timor Sea's resources are simply wrong." But what fool would assert such a thing?  No one is saying that Timor should get all the resources of the Timor Sea.  That would be unfair to us Australians.  We are talking about, and only talking about resources which happen to exist on East Timor's side of a half-way line, which in anyone's language is a pretty fair place to talk about fairness. My badge says "It's Timor's Oil" and that statement is not referring to anything on Australia's side of half-way.

Another of the many examples of this illegitimate type of argument occurs in some letters received from Liberal ministers, those who move themselves to answer letters, anyway.
It said that we should remember that Australia remains a party to UNCLOS, a statement designed to mislead.  They don't say clearly that whilst officially a Party to the Convention and to the Court of Justice,  Australia has withdrawn from those elements of the ICJ and UNCLOS which affect the dispute between East Timor and Australia. It is dishonest to pretend adherence to the whole while omitting to mention self-imposed exclusion from the only relevant part.
No wonder it won't subject itself to the ICJ and ITLOS, where such underhanded use of language would be seen for what it is.

One reality which seems to be beyond the comprehension of many in Government here is the probability that East Timor will simply not give up.  Refusal to find a just solution now will  promote a festering sore for many years to come.  The Timorese know how to hang on.  They survived the laziest and most inept coloniser ­ Portugal ­ and the brutal and stupid dictatorship of Suharto.  They will use to their advantage the musical chairs of the Australian Parliamentary system.  The only aspect which will grow in strength is bad feeling between the two countries.
DFAT has stated, "It is clearly within Australia's national interest that East Timor be a stable and economically self-sufficient neighbour." There is a sense in which that statement is unfinished.  Australia's recalcitrance in seeing that justice is applied suggests that the stability and economic self-sufficiency somehow must be on our terms, as though it is up to us to dictate how rich the nation should be.
In fact, on Four Corners ABC TV 26.05.04 Alexander Downer said: "If there is an issue of economic disparity between Australia and East Timor that should be addressed through aid, which it is.  It should not be  addressed through shifting boundaries and changing International Law."
I think that this means that the Government would prefer to see a dependent East Timor, one more likely to be controlled by aid and debt, than a free and self-sufficient small neighbour.


1.    Timor-Leste.  Poverty in a New Nation: An Analysis for Action,
Asian Development Bank et al. Dili, 2003.

July 15, 2002 Letter From East Timor
by Wilson da Silva


Speech by Dr. Sukehiro Hasegawa
Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General
at the Public Debate on Social and Economic Issues in Timor-Leste
on "Timor-Leste's Economy after UNMISET"
22 January 2004 Becora, Timor-Leste


5.    Brennan, Frank.
The Timor Sea's Oil and Gas ­ What's Fair?
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, North Sydney, 2004.


Sister Susan Connelly
Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies
PO Box 299 St Marys  1790
Ph 02 9623 2847
Fx 02 9623 1573

(the Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies)

This info last updated: 23 Sep 2004

MMIETS is a Sydney and Dili based charitable institute established in 1994
by the Religious of St. Joseph (the order of the Blessed Mary MacKillop - Australia's first and only saint officially recognised by the Roman Catholic church) in response to an appeal for help by Bishop Belo (Diocese of Dili) and in consultation with the East Timorese community. It was created to assist in meeting the cultural, educational, health and material needs of the people of East Timor. MMIETS is safeguarding East Timorese culture by promoting the use of the language Tetum within the Church and general education and is developing a Tetum literacy program to this end. 

Director of MMIETS:
Sister Josephine Mitchell, RSJ (Religious of St. Joseph - "Brown Jo's")

Spokesperson on oil issues, Deputy Director of MMIETS:
Sister Susan Connelly, RSJ

Reception / Secretarial:
Noreen Nicoara

Supervisor of Linguistics & Editor of Tetun Materials (based in Dili):
Father Leão da Costa, Director of Catholic Education, Fundação São Paulo

Tetun Oral & Literary language expertise (based in Dili):
Father Ricardo da Silva, Bishop of the Diocese of Dili
Father Ricardo was born in Dare, East Timor and has been speaking Tetun all his life.

Linguist, Educator (based in Dili):
Sister Teresa (Tess) A. Ward, FDNSC (Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart)

Timorese Tetun language expertise (based in Sydney):
Luisa da Cunha Marques
Filomena de Oliveira

Health worker/educator, Nurse:
Sister Joan Westblade, LCM (Little Company of Mary)

MMIETS - Sydney, Australia:
20 Mamre Rd, St Marys
PO Box 299, St Marys NSW 1790
Phone: 02 9623 2847
Fax: 02 9623 1573

Institutu Mary MacKillop - Bekora, Dili Timur, Timor Lorosae:
New larger premises now located in Bekora.
PO Box 427, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin)

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