The protest held in front of Parliament House in Canberra last Tuesday the 15th of March kicked off a series of events to roll out over the next week calling for the Australian Government to engage in Maritime Boundary negotiations and return to the jurisdiction of the international courts that deal with maritime disputes.
It was a good start with a small group gathered on the lawns of Parliament House under grey skies addressed by a range of federal politicians who have been consistently supportive of East Timor on the maritime boundary issue. The determination of each one to give expression to their support on Tuesday was not lost on the protesters who all knew that it was an unusually demanding day in Parliament.
The speakers included:
- Kelvin Thompson [ALP MP for Wills]
- Senator Scott Ludlam [Greens Foreign Affairs Spokesperson]
- Senator Nick Xenophon [Independent South Australia]
- Senator John Madigan [Independent Victoria]
- Bernard Collaery
- Dr Adam Hughes Henry
- and organizer Peter Job who read out a message of solidarity from Tanya Plibersek
Reflecting on the day organizer Peter Job noted "All speakers emphasized the importance of seeking a just settlement with the people and government of Timor-Leste. Grouping across the political spectrum now agree on this with the sole exception of the coalition. Time to do the right thing Mr Turnbull."
In her Message of Solidarity the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development said:
"The maritime boundary dispute has poisoned relations with our newest neighbour" and went on to confirm that "Labor in government will finally resolve the border with Timor-Leste - through talks or through arbitration or adjudication."
MP Kelvin Thompson, who spoke in Parliament about Australia's poor treatment of East Timor last year, was again a clear voice of reason and compassion. He said of Timor-Leste:
"As a sovereign nation it wants maritime boundaries and is legally entitled to them. It is wrong to think that Timor is asking for its maritime boundaries to be redrawn. It has never had maritime boundaries; it is simply seeking to have them established for the first time, which is the right of every sovereign nation. Australia is not being generous by allowing Timor-Leste to share in profits from resources in the Timor Sea. What it should do is negotiate permanent maritime boundaries.
The maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste has been a significant and unresolved issue since the late 1960’s. The Timorese fought for 25 years for their independence. They do not want or need our charity. They simply want what is theirs by law. Timor-Leste seeks to exercise its legal and sovereign right, and Australia seeks to stymie Timor-Leste’s right.
Australia has often said, rightly, that everyone should abide by international law in general and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in particular. It is time we practiced what we preach."
His speech is downloadable as a pdf here.
Senator John Madigan wrote on his Facebook page after the event:
"When the chips are down for East Timor, people fail to speak for the Timorese people. We see the poverty that continues to sweep the nation, but still we argue over giving them what is rightfully theirs. While the circus was going on in the Senate this morning, I joined the Canberra Friends of Dili on the lawn to call on the Government to renegotiate the maritime boundary and stop this gross injustice."
Comments made at the protest by lawyer Bernard Collaery prompted two media articles [Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times] relating to an alleged spying operation of ASIS targeting the Timorese treaty negotiating team in 2004. This allegation is the subject of a dispute between Timor-Leste and Australia before arbitrators in the Hague.
Other links and transcripts will be added to this page as they become available.
Events are planned for next week in Dili, Sydney, Melbourne, Jakarta, Manila, Adelaide and the USA in what has been dubbed an "International Week of Solidarity".