Now What?!

After a gruelling eight week election campaign here we are three days after polling day unsure of who will be able to form the Government of Australia. 

What does this mean for the Timorese and their quest to establish for the first time a maritime boundary with Australia and what does it mean for the Australian citizens who have been advocating for the Timorese people?

Well for now we are all in the same boat bobbing around on the Timor Sea- waiting to see what will happen in the coming days.

Today the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste called for  "the incoming government to look at the Timor Sea with fresh eyes, and that we work together to solve our dispute and gain credibility in building peace and prosperity in our region."

What we do know is that the formation of a Labor Government should lead to Labor's policy on the Timor Sea being implemented. This policy was boldly put by Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Tanya Plibersek as part of the election campaign. The policy was to negotiate the border and if negotiations were unsuccessful to have Australia resubmit to international arbitration.

In fact according the Sydney Morning Herald she said that if Labor wins the election, she would go to East Timor in her first two months as foreign minister to begin negotiations on a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

If the Coalition manages to form Government then for now we assume their policy remains the same - no talks, no engagement on this issue. In my own opinion Mr. Turnbull is more likely to open the door a little to look across the issue than the former PM Mr. Abbott, but of course as reported in the press, the Timorese initiated the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation with Australia after receiving a letter from Mr Turnbull which they say indicated no change, policy as usual.

For those of us who are are supporters of East Timor, for now we should be primed to keep up the pressure. If it is a Labor Government we need to keep them accountable to their publicly stated policy position. If it is a Coalition government it will be 'a luta continua' - the struggle continues, and we work even harder to prod, prompt, persuade. At least now it is clearly not a bipartisan issue with Labor, the Greens and key independents supporting negotiation.

So we must continue to put the point that settling this matter is in East Timor and Australia's best interests.

  • It is in Australia's interests to have a strong, stable and prosperous neighbour. 
  • It is in Australia's interest to support certainty that encourages Australian business to set up and to do well in East Timor.
  • It is Australia's interest to negotiate and give credibility to our rhetoric on international law  and provides an opportunity to be seen as that good international citizen - particularly as we seek a role on the Human Rights Council.
  • and finally, Australian's have a right to a complete border. There’s 1.8% missing opposite the coastline of Timor-Leste, and the Australian government has the power to complete it - isn't that in Australia's interests?

Well done to all of you who chased up your MPs and candidates to seek their position on the boundary. Once we have a Government the next move will be to contact your incoming member to congratulate them and again raise the issue. Also the independents, who will have a major role in the next Government, are people we should approach to raise the issue.

Interesting days ahead.