Green Light. Commission Proceeds.


The Conciliation Commission issued its Decision on Competence on the 19th of September and it was made public today. The Permanent Court of Arbitration put out a Press Release announcing that "In its Decision, the Commission held that it was competent to continue with the conciliation process.”


This means the challenges of Australia to the commissions existence have been overcome and the proceedings concerning the establishment of a maritime boundary between Australia and East Timor will continue. 

The Government of Timor-Leste responded with a media release saying: 


Now one question for me is "how will the Australian Government respond?"

In their challenges Australia made it clear that they do not want to be a part of this process. Julie Bishop herself was tweeting to remind everyonethat the outcome was not binding.

The Decision of the Commission has something to say about the engagement of the parties:


So if Australia is committed to engage in 'good faith' does that mean that they will take on board the suggestion of the Commission in paragraph 108 and participate with an acceptance of the process, willingness to seek agreement and with an intention to give serious consideration to the recommendations of the commission?

We have not yet seen the official response from the Australian Government , but if it involves reiteration of the 'non binding outcome of the process' it would not be a sign of 'good faith' and would  fly in the face of Australia's loud endorsement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the dispute resolution solution for the South China Sea. After all this Conciliation Commission is set up under UNCLOS to help solve disputes and [Decision Paragraph 42] "provides for compulsory conciliation where a State elects to exclude sea boundary delimitation from arbitral or judicial settlement.” This is the exclusion Australia made in a targeted way two months prior to the independence of Timor-Leste.

It's no wonder that Senator Penny Wong has jumped in to say:


Let's get on with it. I'm for that. 

But doesn't the proceedings mean we all have to wait 12 months for the report of the Commission due on the 19th of September 2017?


UNCLOS Annex V notes that the Commission’s report "shall record any agreements reached and, failing agreement, its conclusions on all questions of fact or law relevant to the matter in dispute and such recommendations as the commission may deem appropriate for an amicable settlement.” 

So agreements can be made in the process and will be encouraged.

I think in the coming weeks and months we need to make it clear to the Australian Government that we want them to stop avoiding this issue and get on with it. There are activities coming around the country to help you do that. One of the best ways in the 'old school' method of going to talk to your local federal member to ask them about their position on a maritime border in the Timor Sea.

Let's get on with it.