If you want a quick summary of the positions of Australia and Timor-Leste on maritime boundaries in the Timor-Sea read these two recent letters to the editor of the Saturday Paper. Minister Bishop's letter was published on the 17th of October, with Minister Gusmão responding in a letter published on the 31st.
Timor-Leste is clear in it's request, "We ask Australia, through its new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as a good neighbour and a leading power in the international community that is seeking seats on the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, to honour its obligations by negotiating permanent maritime boundaries with Timor- Leste."
Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia
17th October 2015
Australia Stands by Treaties
I refer to recent articles about the Timor Sea arrangements published in The Saturday Paper (“Hamish McDonald, “Australia called to Hague on Timor Gap”, June 13-19; Steve Bracks, “Timor Sea policy a challenge for Labor”, July 11-17). I am concerned that readers of The Saturday Paper will have been left with the impression that Australia’s Timor Sea policies are inconsistent with international law and unfair to Timor-Leste.
This is not the case.
Australia and Timor-Leste both claim the seabed of the Timor Sea and, in negotiations on the location of a permanent maritime boundary, were unable to reconcile overlapping claims. To resolve this impasse, Australia and Timor-Leste concluded three treaties that provide for the co-operative development of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea. In the treaties, we also agreed to defer maritime boundary delimitation for up to 50 years to develop the resources and provide long-term certainty for investors. Far from being inconsistent with international law or undermining sovereignty, this type of provisional arrangement is actively encouraged by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Our ability to put aside competing claims and pursue joint development is cited internationally as a good model.
The treaties have allowed Timor-Leste to accumulate almost $US17 billion in its petroleum fund, enabling it to press ahead with much-needed economic development without waiting years for permanent boundaries to be resolved. Much of the current attention is focused on the development of the Greater Sunrise gas fields, where we have agreed to split the upstream revenue 50/50. It is often claimed that a median line would be an equitable solution, and that this would put Greater Sunrise in Timorese waters. Such claims ignore the fact that the application of median line principles would leave no more than 20.1 per cent of Greater Sunrise in Timorese jurisdiction, resulting in substantially less revenue for Timor-Leste than provided for in the current treaties.
Australia takes its treaty obligations seriously, and we believe in sticking to our agreements. We negotiated the Timor Sea treaties in good faith and remain committed to them.
Xanana Gusmão, Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, Timor-Leste
31st October 2015
Desire to Settle Permanent Maritime Boundaries
In Foreign Minister Bishop's letter to the editor (October 17-23) she expresses "concern" that readers will be "left with the impression that Australia's Timor Sea policies are inconsistent with international law and unfair to Timor-Leste", declaring emphatically that "This is not the case."
This is precisely the case.
Minister Bishop is treading down the path of her predecessors continually frustrating Timor--Leste's rights to have its maritime boundaries permanently settled. We are a patient people, but our patience is sorely tested. Australia has steadfastly foreclosed all avenues towards resolution of this issue, including negotiation and dispute resolution.
At the same time, it has locked up an unfair share of the resources of the Timor Sea through the "provisional arrangements" Minister Bishop references. These "provisional arrangements" purport to restrict Timor-Leste for "up to 50 years". This is beyond any reasonable estimate of the life of the seabed resources in the disputed areas. Timor-Leste entered into these arrangements believing that Australia, as a good international citizen, would later negotiate to settle permanent maritime boundaries. Not only has it refused to do so, but it has also prevented other resolution of the matter by withdrawing, on the eve of Timor-Leste's May 2002 restoration of independence, from relevant international processes on matters relating to settlement of maritime boundaries.
In short, Australia knows its position on its maritime boundary claims in the Timor Sea is inconsistent with international law, and has sought to preserve the pre-Timor-Leste independence status quo one based on an illegal annexation. Australia's conduct is inconsistent with international law and with its public position on other maritime boundary disputes, where it admonishes all to act according to international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Timor-Leste remains willing to negotiate in good faith, but it cannot do so alone.
We ask Australia, through its new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as a good neighbour and a leading power in the international community that is seeking seats on the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, to honour its obligations by negotiating permanent maritime boundaries with Timor- Leste.