So now what?
Is the Conciliation Commission going to go ahead?
Stop or go?
Well I don't really know for sure. But here's some reasoned speculation!
Since the commission has been releasing quite a lot of information to tell us what is going on, we can assume that when they have made their decision on Australia's challenge they will issue a Press Release through the Permanent Court of Arbitration. What their release said on the 22nd of August was that: "After having heard the Parties on the objections raised by Australia, the Commission will decide whether to rule on Australia’s objections as a preliminary matter or to continue with the conciliation proceedings and defer the question of competence for later decision."
So the way I read that is they will now decide if the proceedings STOP or GO ahead, and go means they will 'shelve' the question of competence for the time being. How that works is for another post that needs some research first!
OK - so how long is this decision to stop or go going to take? Well we know from the PCA release on the 31st of August that "on 12 and 25 August 2016, the Parties provided the Commission with written submissions on the question of the Commission’s competence." Added to this was the two and a half days hearing that dealt with this matter after the initial opening statements.
That means there must be a lot to consider. Could it take months?
That would be unlikely since the Commission, constituted on the 25th of June this year, have only 12 months to write their report. It is due on the 25th of June 2017, unless there is agreement between the parties to extend. If it does go ahead wouldn't they want to get stuck into the next step of consultations before the Christmas break?
Here's my reasoned speculation: we should know something in 2 or 3 weeks, maybe a month. I don't think it would be longer than that. Some of our Timor Sea Forum members with a legal background think they would need at least couple of weeks to consider such an important matter but at the same time the Commission would not want to let it drag on.
The decision on the competence of the commission to hear the parties, a yes or a no, should not be considered as a decision on the position of East Timor and its case to establish a maritime boundary with Australia. It will be a technical decision based interpretation of Annex V of UNCLOS and Article 298.
Whatever that decision is, and we may well know in a couple of weeks, the campaign to establish a maritime boundary will not be stopping, certainly not for all of the advocates here in Australia and for the Timorese people. The dispute is unresolved and the injustice in the Timor Sea will be getting more and more attention.
Canberra is no longer as one on the issue of the Timor Sea. The current policy of the Turnbull Government to leave the dispute unresolved will not stand the test of time and cannot properly serve Australia's national interest.