Canberra Kicks Off

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:

Organizer Peter Job

Organizer Peter Job

  • 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:

Kelvin Thompson MP

Kelvin Thompson MP

"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".

Senator John Madigan

Senator John Madigan

PMs Remarks at Launch

We have been able to get a copy of the remarks given by the Prime Minister of East Timor, Dr. Rui Maria de Araújo, at the launch of the Maritime Boundary Office Website in Dili last Monday.

The picture on the right sees Prime Minister Araújo in the dark coat joined by Chief Negotiator for Maritime Boundaries, Minister Xanana Gusmão, at the launch.

Two very clear things come out of these remarks:

  1. Prime Minister Turnbull has not accepted Dr. Rui's recent request for engagement on the issue of Maritime Boundaries. He notes that Australia 's position on the issue of East Timor's maritime boundary has not changed and this is regrettable.  Very disappointing.
  2. It is not about the money! DFAT apologist Stephen Grenville and even Minister Julie Bishop have been warning the Timorese that they will end up with a worse deal if they have maritime boundary with Australia based on international law.  I love the PMs clarity on this issue: "our aim is to delimit our maritime boundaries, not to gain a greater share of the resources - this is not our issue, our issue is to delimit our boundaries as part of the final phase of our sovereignty."

Here are the remarks in full:


Minister Counsellor, Chief Negotiator for Timor-Leste’s maritime boundaries.

Colleagues and members of the Government. Members of civil society.

I see here the presence of the combatants of national liberation from Australia, Portugal, and England. I also see the presence of national combatants of liberation from Timor-Leste.

I would like to welcome you all to the Government Palace to the official launch of the Maritime Boundary Office website.

This is a very exciting occasion, as it marks the beginning of an important new tool to help us in our pursuit of permanent maritime boundaries.

As you all know, establishing permanent maritime boundaries is a matter of national priority for Timor-Leste. It is a priority due to our need to complete our sovereignty. It is the final step in realising our full sovereignty as an independent State. From our perspective, this is the second and last phase of our pursuit for the liberation of Timor-Leste.

It has been almost fourteen years since the restoration of our independence. We have made tremendous progress. We have made great socio-economic development - we have constructed the foundations of the State, the construction of the nation. We have moved from a fragile country towards strong development in different areas. But, our struggle for sovereignty will not be over until we have claimed our maritime sovereignty.

We, as you all know, share maritime boundaries with two big countries, our neighbours Indonesia and Australia. And because we have not delimited our maritime boundaries, there is uncertainty as to where our sovereignty lies and theirs.

This uncertainty causes issues in various areas, including security, immigration, fisheries and exploration of the maritime resources. These three nations are aware that the establishment of the boundaries is very important in order to resolve all of these issues.

That is why the previous governments, the fourth government and the fifth government under ‘Big Brother’ Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, and the sixth government which I currently lead - has determined that achieving permanent maritime boundaries with Indonesia and Australia is a national priority. We as the Government will continue with all of our efforts to achieve this objective.

There have been some positive steps forward, especially with the Indonesian Government. The Indonesian Government and Timor- Leste have agreed to start negotiating maritime boundaries based on international law.

In a meeting that was held in August last year with H. E. Indonesia’s President, and recently in January when he visited our nation, there was an agreement to expedite the process. Since September 2015, there have been many meetings with Indonesia and we have agreed on the terms of reference to start negotiating.

On behalf of the State, the Government has nominated our Chief Commander Xanana Gusmão - our great leader of the resistance, now Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, also Minister Counsellor. He has been nominated as the Chief Negotiator for maritime boundaries. When the Council of Ministers made the decision, some colleagues said: “there is no better choice – we have Timor’s prize warrior.”

Regrettably, we have not made progress with our neighbour Australia. Australia continues to maintain their position that the existing temporary treaties to share resources in the sea which has become the dispute between our two countries, meets the requirements of international law. But Timor-Leste says that is not the case.

And as you all know, before we restored our independence, Australia carved-out from the international dispute settlement body – UNCLOS, better known as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

And since then we have not moved forward. There is still ambiguity in Australia’s position, particularly around issues of maritime boundary delimitation. A concrete example is 2004, during the process of negotiations, when Australia asked Timor-Leste to suspend the negotiations of maritime boundaries for 50 years. At the same time, Australia made an agreement with New Zealand on their maritime boundary, in accordance with UNCLOS and international law. In the joint-communique between Australia and New Zealand, they acknowledge that the treaty would “provide certainty of jurisdiction over both the water column and seabed, including over fisheries and petroleum resources.” However with Timor they do not acknowledge these issues are equally important to us, and have continued to enforce the existing resource sharing arrangements.

So from Timor-Leste’s perspective, this is not what we want. We need to have a really clear message when we talk about the delimitation of permanent maritime boundaries - we do not talk about sharing resources - that is a different case - we talk about where would Timor’s boundary lie and where would Indonesia and Australia’s boundary lie? Then we will know which resources, in which waters, belong to whom.

Therefore, we need to be clear to everyone that our aim is to delimit our maritime boundaries, not to gain a greater share of the resources - this is not our issue, our issue is to delimit our boundaries as part of the final phase of our sovereignty.

I think those are the important points that I would like to share with you all today.

This website will present a summary about our history, information on the relevant international laws, maps, and also some frequently asked questions, and it will help us develop a better understanding of the process we are facing.

Finally, I would like to invite Minister Xanana to come forward to officially launch the website with me.

I encourage everyone to explore this website to learn about Timor- Leste’s determination to secure permanent maritime boundaries. I also ask of you to share the website with your colleagues, friends and families, so we can all learn more about Timor-Leste’s position, what we want and how we are going about it.

Thank you very much for your attendance and attention.

You can download these remarks here.