A Tale of the Missing Border in Timor Sea

27 April 2017

This article was first published on the webpage of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

The magnate who lives down the road from you has eyes on that lovely bit of land adjoining your two properties.


You'll have to go to Court, even though the expense makes you dip into what you've stashed away for the kids' education.

Still, if you win and you develop the land it will repay you, and you can then help set the kids up for life, plus improve your own house.  The land has actually been in your family for generations. Everything fell apart when that corrupt Council and its mercenary mayor tried to force you out years ago, fiddling the books, doing shady deals with those down the road, falsifying documents, and causing such distress.

No one knows how the Court will decide. But one of the worst things to have to endure is the attitude of the local media. They say that if you got that land and developed it, you'd probably waste the money. You don't know how to manage. You might fail. You haven't got a great track record in business. What would you know about anything, they say.

It all gets a bit tedious, really. How do they know how you'll manage? You've done some pretty amazing things, actually. You've done so well. When the Council came and tried to take your house, you stuck it out, and won. They backed off, and even though no one was put in jail, everyone knows about the corruption, and how they tried to get rid of you. Those down the road didn't help much. A lot of fence-sitting to see how things would pan out, and they made plans with the Council on how to carve up the whole site once you were gone. They changed at the very end, but it was a bit iffy for many years. But you didn't go, and you're still there. A bit of a thorn in the side, perhaps.

If your rich neighbours think they have a claim on the land, then they ought to go to the authorities, and sit down to make an agreement with you according to the law. You want the fence put half way between the two of you. Isn't that exactly what your neighbours down the road agreed with those on the other side of their property? So why won't they agree with you? The problem is, they've never taken you seriously. There's only a few of you, and your house is pretty small, not like theirs. Heck, with a place like that you'd wonder why they want your backyard too.

We ought to get a petition going. People ought to have a chance to say that you deserve a fair deal. And a fair deal is halfway, right?

Here's a petition and some background material. Please copy it, get some signatures and return the petition to the address stated.

It will be on the Parliament website in June, so people who go online can sign it there instead.

Let's make this a really BIG petition.

Susan Connelly rsj

Red Flags - The JSCOT Report and the latest PCA Release

So what is happening with the maritime boundary that Australia has committed to negotiating with East Timor?

The confidential nature of the United Nations Conciliation Commission, where five experts are working to help the parties ‘with a view to reaching an amicable settlement’, means that there is very little we can know.

The Commission is required to produce a report by 19 September 2017, which will then be delivered to the UN Secretary General.

The five Commissioners in the front row with a difficult task ahead

The five Commissioners in the front row with a difficult task ahead

In October last year a press release from the Commission said that the parties had agreed that they “should aim to reach agreement in the timeframe of the conciliation process.” Are we on track?

One public hearing and two recent publications raise red flags that should concern supporters of Timor’s quest for a fair border and motivate action now.

The JSCOT Hearing – an opportunity to ‘run down’ East Timor

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties review of the CMATS termination was revealing. JSCOT is made up of Australian Members of Parliament and Senators and is required to investigate and report on matters arising from treaties.

Because part of the ‘package of confidence building measures’ negotiated under the UN Conciliation Commission included changing and terminating the CMATS treaty, JSCOT was requested by Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop MP to consider this action and table a report by the 30th of March 2017.

Why the rush? Because East Timor had given notice to terminate CMATS and that was to become effective on the 10th of April.

Submissions were invited and many supporters rallied. Our submission, one of 32 received is here.

A public hearing was held at Parliament House in Canberra on the 14th of March.

It was a ‘set up’ and reflected the condescending, patronizing tone that the Timorese have endured for years from Australian Government representatives.

Why would I suggest that?

Firstly, only two external witnesses were admitted. Despite many of the submissions expressing a desire to give evidence none were called. The Committee only heard from Professor Clive Schofield and Dr. Rebecca Strating, described as their ‘Academic Expert Panel’.

Amongst many academics who are experts on the Timor Sea, Dr Strating is the most consistently negative about Timor-Leste’s approach to delimiting the boundary and it seems was an intentional choice to back the position of DFAT and support what is evidently the Australian Governments communication strategy on the issue:

  • avoid discussing international law
  • maintain that the original arrangements are fair
  • push the notion the Timor could become a failed state and
  • ramp up fear of the Indonesia/Australia boundary unraveling

Secondly, it was apparent that the Chair, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, was aligned to this strategy and guided the hearing, which took only an hour an a half, to facilitate those key messages. It is clear, particularly in the video, that he is fond of Ms. Strating’s evidence.

Here are two examples from the transcript:

CHAIR: You seem to indicate that Timor-Leste's overt desire, driven by personalities, to have the pipeline go to Timor-Leste means they may well have been the architect of their own demise, which is why in the last decade no-one has developed anything.

Mr DANBY: I think you are over-interpreting the remarks.

CHAIR: Well, I put it to her: she did not say I was over-interpreting.

Dr Strating: I think that, paradoxically, Timor-Leste's ambitions to secure its sovereignty, and to secure its economic sovereignty as well, through economic development are undermining its capacity to develop.

And then this exchange at the end of the hearing:

CHAIR: Tremendous. Most enlightening. 'The architect of their own demise' is my favourite statement for the day. Thank you, Dr Strating.

Dr Strating: It is depressing, but if there is not some sort of compromise then that—

CHAIR: Like fifty-fifty?

Dr Strating: This is precisely why Australia has maintained, for a long period of time, its belief that the CMATS should be maintained, but—

CHAIR: Quite rightly.

And thirdly, it worked.  The one media article that came out about the hearing penned by AAP’s Lisa Martin carried the Chair’s favorite statement of the day “Timor may be architect of own demise” as its headline and included most of the ‘key messages’ delivered, principally by Dr Strating.

The JSCOT Report - Alternative Facts and Good Faith

JSCOT issued its report on the 30th of March supporting the amendments to CMATS and recommending ‘binding treaty action be taken.’ This was no surprise as the Government had already agreed on this course of action and JSCOT was not going to stand in its way.

As expected it incudes references to Timor-Leste becoming a ‘failed state’, Timor taking a ‘huge risk’ and the view that CMATS was fair. Only a handful of the 32 written submissions are referenced in the report and mostly when they supported these views.

The Committee’s view that “the CMATS Treaty was negotiated in good faith” is wonderfully destroyed in an “Additional Comments” section hidden at the very end of the report where the Australian Greens say they are:

“surprised by the Committee’s stated disagreement with the contention in many submissions that Australia behaved oppressively or unfairly towards Timor-Leste in the negotiation of the CMATS Treaty. It is manifestly clear that Australia behaved in a reprehensible fashion towards its fledging neighbour. The Greens would like to place on the record that Australia did not negotiate the CMATS Treaty in good faith, having spied on East Timorese Cabinet discussions regarding the Treaty in 2004. To assert otherwise would be to ignore a wealth of evidence against Australia.”

However what raised the biggest red flag in our analysis of the report was this statement at paragraph 2.19:

“In contrast, Australia favours principles of ‘natural prolongation’, which gives seabed territory that extends to the edge of a geomorphic continental shelf, to the Timor Trough (see Figure 2.1). The Timor Trough is a 3,500- metre trench 40 nautical miles from the coastline of Timor-Leste, dividing the two continental shelves. Delimitation according to this principle would result in Greater Sunrise falling within Australia’s maritime boundary. At the public hearing, DFAT confirmed that Australia maintains its position on the principle of natural prolongation.”

This assertion comes after the point made in the preceding paragraph that:

“Timor- Leste claims that the boundary should be drawn in the middle of the sea between the two states. These claims rest on the principle of ‘equidistance’ under which a median line should be drawn between Australia and Timor- Leste. Delimitation drawn according to this principle would see the sea border drawn significantly closer to Australia than Timor-Leste, and the majority of gas and oil reserves in the disputed territory would fall within Timor-Leste maritime boundary (see Figure 2.2)”

The report in its section on the Maritime Boundary Dispute says that many of the submissions support Timor-Leste’s position and that they “reference changes in international law” but conveniently omits the very clear evidence given by expert Professor Clive Schofield at the hearing.

In the hearing he said:

“The drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea took nine years to complete and was opened for signature in 1982. In a subsequent case in 1985 between Libya and Malta the International Court of Justice, on the basis of UNCLOS being introduced, dismissed geophysical factors in delimitation—that is, the geomorphology or the shape of the continental shelf and also the geology factor, so within 200 miles—that is, within 400 miles of opposite states—geophysical factors, natural prolongation principles, would no longer apply. The ICJ's wording was that they would be 'irrelevant to maritime delimitation'. So we have had a considerable shift away from natural prolongation which may cause issues for Australia in any delimitation negotiation with Timor-Leste if Australia's position still rests on natural prolongation.”

Not only does he debunk Australia’s ‘natural prolongation’ argument he goes on to validate the three step process advocated by East Timor in their Opening Statement to the Conciliation Committee on the 29th of August 2016:

“We have now something of a road map from International Court of Justice cases and other international tribunals. From 2009 in the Black Sea case between Ukraine and Romania the International Court of Justice introduced what has been termed the three-stage process, which develops from previous cases where there were two stages. The three stages really are: first, to define a provisional delimitation line based on equidistance unless it is unfeasible to do so; secondly, to look at factors that might lead you to shift that line one way or the other, such as the concavity of the coastline so that a country's jurisdiction is, if you like, squeezed off by neighbouring states; and, thirdly, to undertake what is termed a disproportionality test.”

This is remarkable. The Australian Government knows that its position on ‘natural prolongation’ is not in line with international law. It knows that the median line is the starting point under international law. And even though it is irrelevant it knows that there are not in fact two shelves.

And yet it March 2017 it asserts and confirms a position that it knows is not sustainable under international law.

These are the ‘alternative facts’ of the Australian Government regarding the Timor Sea.

Not right – but assert them anyway.

Is this the position that is being put cynically by Australia in the UN Conciliation Commission? If it is and if there is no fall back to the median line as a starting point I would say this:

  1. the negotiation by Australia is not being conducted in good faith
  2. there will be no agreement reached by the 19th of September and
  3. the Commission will debunk Australia’s position as inconsistent with international law in its report.

As supporters of Timor-Leste’s position we need to ask our politicians to state their position on the median line.

The Government of Australia says it is committed to negotiate a maritime boundary with Timor-Leste in good faith. Will the Government agree that the starting point for that boundary is the median line between the two coasts consistent with international law?

If not why not? 

The latest Commission Release – hosing down expectation

What adds to concerns arising from the JSCOT hearing and report is the latest Press Release from the Conciliation Commission issued by the PCA. It is the first release that is trying to ‘hose down’ expectations.

In contrast to the Press Release after Singapore [Optimism Pervades Recent Meetings with Conciliation Commission - 13 October 2016] and the Trilateral Joint Statements of 7 and 24 January 2017 this one talks about how these are “difficult issues for any State” the process is a “marathon, not a sprint” and that they “still have work to do.

My reading of this is that Australia is being difficult and that things are not going well.

This release also begins to put the Commission a bit more at arms length from the parties saying things like “the Commission is not here to decide the parties dispute”, the goal is to “help them find an agreement that is both fair and achievable, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” and that “we will continue to meet with the Parties with that goal in mind.”

This change of tone rings alarm bells and indicates that Australia’s fine sounding public statements are not indicative of their behavior in the secrecy of the Commission.


We should be very concerned by this and assume that Australia is not playing fairly. Now more that ever we need to let political class know that we are watching this process and expect Australia to respect international law and be a good neighbor.

Please sign our petition and stay tuned for a push for a Senate Inquiry. Contact your local politician – we are happy to help. Get in touch with us here.

And be prepared for more undermining talk – more blaming Timor for taking a risk, for becoming an architect of its demise, and being on the way to become a failed state.

This is the dirty bag of tricks needed when you will not countenance giving your neighbor their due rights under international law.

What a failure in terms of Australian National Interest.

Our Defence Policy White Paper has as one of its primary themes a close and positive relationship with Timor-Leste in the context of a growing China. We should be maximizing our contact,  our business partnerships and our high-level interactions – but instead we disconnect, undermine the countries reputation and assert ‘natural prolongation’.

If what we are seeing over the next few months is more of the same – what a tragedy that would prove to be for us and our Timorese neighbours.

Let’s be active now – we cannot wait until September.





Formal Petition and new Background Material

Here's an opportunity to do something practical that we can all do towards finalising the border in the Timor Sea. But it has to be done as soon as possible.

Please download this petition and get it signed by as many people as you can.

You can also use this simple background material - just two pages - plenty of images and easy text to help people understand the situation.

This is something we can all do. Take the petition and the flyer to your groups, churches, schools etc. and get people to sign. No need for addresses. Anyone who can read, write and understand can sign, as there is no age limit.

We can all do this!

Timor's Veterans Speak Out

There are many wonderful submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties that speak up for East Timor's rights to have a maritime border. There are 32 Submissions now available that can be accessed on the Submissions Webpage.

What follows here is the submission presented by former independence fighter Jorge Alves 'Wemoris' on behalf of Timor-Leste's veterans, in Timor called the 'former combatants'. I encourage you to read it.

Dear Chair, Deputy Chair & Members,

We attach via email our submission to your Parliamentary inquiry into Consequences of Termination of the Treaty between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste (RDTL) on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS).

Our submission expresses how we the Veterans, known in our country as former Combatants, think and feel about the conflict between Australia and Timor-Leste over Australia’s refusal from 1999 on to settle permanent maritime borders with RDTL.

We also wish to inform the Committee that we the Veterans of Timor-Leste and the Veterans of Australia, have a deep and abiding relationship that grows deeper year by year. This year 2017 will be the third year our Veterans have visited Australia at the invitation of the National RSL and respective State Branches to participate in ANZAC Day and associated activities. Our Chief Veteran Kay Rala Xanana Gusmȃo comes on each visit.

We also have a close relationship with the War Widows of Australia and both the RSL and the War Widows have visited Timor-Leste and participated in our similar commemorative activities. Further we have met with your Veterans Affairs Department who have showed us how the Veterans are honoured and cared for in Australia. It is impressive.

We also note that it was the NSW RSL who in 1975 at their State Branch called upon the Australian Government to help us after we were invaded by the Indonesian military.

We also have a very close and special relationship with Sparrow Force Australia’s first Commandos, who survived due solely to the efforts of our civilian citizens. Over 40,000 and estimated to be up to 60,000 civilians were murdered by the Japanese Imperial Army for looking after Australian soldiers. The Australian soldiers called it a Debt of Honour they owed to all Timorese and felt it keenly and many took that to their graves. The few remaining alive honour this and their families are carrying on their legacy; as do some of the soldiers serving and retired who were part of Interfet in 1999 and the ISF in 2006.

CMATS termination and its consequences is but one part of a much bigger story, well known to all Timorese from the poorest to the richest; from Dili to Baucau, to Batugade, to Same and so on right around the country.

We fought and paid dearly to reclaim our independence, our sovereignty, for the right to claim back, know and call our borders our own. We know that the Australian Government also values its borders. So we know that you will understand why it is that we take our borders so seriously, enhanced by our particular history.

We have not yet finished that journey to full independence and for us we feel that we cannot without marking our maritime borders, especially with Australia, who has long denied us our right. Firstly by saying yes we shall do the borders with you and then not, and pushing the agreements we now have, and then by stopping us from going to international courts like the ICJ and ITLOS.

Australia did this just when our independence was reclaimed. That is took away the right for us to seek to have any dispute on maritime borders with Australia taken to those courts. We are told that this is legal but it is not quite neighbourly. It also made us believe even more that what Australia was claiming to be their area in the Timor Sea was not right, as if it was they would have been happy to have the international court deal with it if the countries could not agree. We still believe this and now have much better legal information to support our belief. We are also saddened that our leaders and our government have had to be preoccupied with this matter using our scant resources financial and human. You would know that we could find plenty of things to expend these resources on.

It is good to note that the respective governments RDTL and Australia have reached a shared understanding of the termination of CMATS for three reasons. 1. It shows that progress has been made through the good offices of the Compulsory Conciliation Commission. 2. That a United Nations procedure is working to equalise a bigger more powerful state with a smaller less powerful state for the purposes of state to state negotiations. 3. It removes one area of discord in this long running conflict over not settling permanent maritime boundaries.

We further noted that when RDTL and Australia announced in January their respective positions on the ending of CMATS, that both also announced that they would work to settle permanent maritime borders by the end of the Compulsory Conciliation Commission’s term in September this year.

Coming from Australia we were pleased to read that, but remain cautious as Australia has said before it would do this, but never did, and in our view never had any intention of so doing. That is why we ended up with the agreements regarding the Timor Sea and some 18 years later as yet no permanent maritime borders.

The Australian Government made it clear in 1999 at our restoration of independence, that the settling of permanent maritime borders with our country was not their intention. What the government did make clear was that they simply wanted to continue the terms of the Timor Gap Treaty of 1989 between them and Indonesia. A treaty that was done with a neighbour that the United Nations and the Security Council did not recognise as being lawfully in then Portuguese Timor.

The matter of our illegal occupation was listed as well on the United Nations Committee that deals with decolonisation. We saw the Timor Gap Treaty as illegal, so it could not continue. That was made clear by our leaders. But as successive Australian Governments had extended formal recognition to Indonesia to be able to continue negotiations on resources in the Timor Sea, we were not surprised. Disappointed bitterly, yes.

CMATS obviously has not worked, as it is now some ten years since it was signed and nothing has happened at all. It became another area of conflict, with no proper provision in it to settle conflict. This was reinforced by the Compulsory Conciliation Commission who said in their decision on whether or not they had the right to exist after Australia objected to their very existence, that CMATS was an agreement NOT to settle disputes. That is what the Australian Government has achieved, putting RDTL in a position where it had no access to international courts or no way to get Australia to sit and settle maritime borders. The Compulsory Conciliation Commission was one provision of the law of the sea (UNCLOS) that Australia could not remove itself from, and RDTL had to action it to get Australia to sit at the table with it.

CMATS did not become what it was referred to at its outset-a creative way to get over not marking maritime boundaries. We the Veterans saw it as a creative way for Australia to get access to sea territory and resources, we believed to be ours and still do. However we know that Timor-Leste leaders were stuck, and had to agree to these arrangements, as Australia had time and wealth on its side.

Our view is that all it did was delay what we have a right to do and that is to have our borders marked, both land and sea. We have been doing that with Indonesia and yes there is one bit of land border left, where it is not so easy, but the goodwill and the good teams are in place working towards agreement. That ideally should have happened between our two countries but Australia refused to do so, by saying well we cannot agree. International law we are told is clear on how maritime boundaries are marked when countries are close, under 400 nautical miles apart and their coastlines are opposing.

That is our two countries. The border starts with the marking of what is the median line that the experts seem to call equidistant.

We believe that Australia would not agree because according to the law that makes the median line the starting point, that Australia's position is one that would give Australia more than it is entitled to under the law. We have listened to lawyers and technical experts in the law of the sea, and international law and know that Australia cannot continue to say that they can have our seabed resources that are within 30 nautical miles of our coastline. You ask every villager in Timor-Leste and even they know that is not right. I am told by our Australian friends, many Veterans like us and they tell us that they say the same and that if you ask any taxi driver or the people at the pub on Friday night, they say the same.

We remain puzzled as to why Australia would do this. We are hopeful though that with Australia having to justify its position on natural prolongation of the continental shelf, as we see it called, it will be seen as unsustainable as it must be to the experienced Compulsory Conciliation Commissioners. We think that this must be the first time that Australia has had to try and justify its position with law and we are told and we believe that they will not be able to do this.

In conclusion we want to thank JSCOT for giving us the opportunity to say how we feel, and we hope that JSCOT Members accept our submission in the spirit of our Veterans to Veterans friendship and goodwill that we feel towards Australia, despite our difficult history. We often look to Australia for many things and we hope to do this in terms of international law as well, once we have our maritime borders done.

We believe that the consequences of CMATS termination are positive as it does allow our countries to talk and negotiate, so that has to be a good consequence. We hope that members of the committee can look beyond CMATS itself and see that it is a small part in a relationship that has had highs and lows, and we hope that more highs are coming.

We thank you and invite you to please visit and for those who have already to visit again. We the Veterans will make you very welcome in the Timorese way as our honoured guests. We are also ready to talk to you as well at your Committee.

Yours in solidarity and friendship

Jorge Alves ‘Wemoris’ Veterans National Secretariat, Taskforce for National Interest 

Response to Saturday Extra

On the 18th of March Rebecca Strating was interviewed by Geraldine Doogue on the Saturday Extra program on ABC Radio National. The program can be heard here.

No where in the discussion was there mention of the reasons for Timor-Leste taking up the CMATS Treaty's provisions for termination, other than the non-exploitation of the resources within 6 years of signing. Omission of the alleged Australian spying on the Timorese negotiations before the signing of CMATS is unfortunate, as this was the catalyst. The discussion this morning completely exonerated Australia through this omission, insinuating that the whole termination procedure was the responsibility of Timor-Leste. 

The Timorese have dropped the espionage case as part of the effort to bring the sovereignty issue to a close, but as an Australian, I haven't dropped it. It is an utter disgrace. 

Again, in the short discussion of the 2002 signing of the Timor Sea Treaty, there was no mention of the Australian withdrawal from the two international bodies which oversaw maritime boundary discussions, an act which Australia accomplished just two months before Timorese independence. This act suggests that Australia knew full well that the arrangements would not have withstood international scrutiny. The result was that a small nation just emerging from illegal occupation was forced into dealing with the sophisticated legal machinery of Australia. That resembles bullying to me. 

Furthermore, Australia has benefitted to the tune of 2 billion dollars from a now depleted area on the western side of the JPDA, Laminaria-Corallina, which is 1 billion dollars more than we have spent on aid in Timor. We got all the tax revenue and Timor got none. In effect, Timor is the one who has given us aid.

Nowhere in the discussion was there mention that the termination of the CMATS Treaty is a step towards Timor-Leste securing the final part of its sovereignty, its border with Australia. The final comments alluded to that in passing, but in a way which suggested that the resources should be determined first, then for the parties to look into sovereignty. The only way to determine who owns what is to decide on sovereignty, surely. Anyone who has installed a backyard fence knows that. If the maritime boundary was set in accordance with international law, then Timor would have 100% of the Greater Sunrise area, not the 50% which Australia was claiming. 

The comments about Australia having a "fragile state" next to us should the Timorese go ahead and claim their sovereignty rankles very much with Australians who understand the deceit and greed displayed by Australia regarding East Timor over decades. Rather than engaging in "what if", more benefit may be found in investigating the level of Australia scholarships offered to the Timorese, and calculating the benefits of a major increase in that level.

 I can just image the hoo-haa, the angst, the horror, if any nation tried to do to Australia what we are doing to Timor-Leste.

 Anyway, as an Australian, I think the government has to duty to finalise our border. There's 1.8% missing: the bit opposite the coast of Timor-Leste.

Submission to Joint Standing Committee

Certain Maritime Arrangements - Timor-Leste Submission 17


Consequences of termination of the Treaty between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS)


Timor Sea Justice Forum NSW (TIMFO)

10 March 2017

Contact: Susan Connelly rsj

The Timor Sea Justice Forum NSW welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the termination of the CMATS Treaty. (See Appendix 1 for comment on the National Interest Analysis (NIA) provided as material relevant to matter.)

The Forum would be very pleased to have the opportunity of a representative appearing in person and giving evidence.

1. Background

The CMATS Treaty was negotiated between 2004-2007. It dealt with the resources of the Great Sunrise area, the majority of which lies in a disputed area, with the remainder in the Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) which is governed by the Timor Sea Treaty of 2002. Because the area lies partly in a disputed area (82%) and partly in the JPDA (18%), it was decided that the CMATS Treaty was necessary to treat the fields as a single entity. See Appendix 3 for map.

In 2012-2013 the Timorese government alleged that the negotiations over CMATS had been compromised because of Australian espionage. It was alleged that listening devices had been installed in the Timorese Prime Minister's office in conjunction with an AusAid program through which Australia was assisting Timor-Leste to rehabilitate its infrastructure after the violence during the Indonesian military's withdrawal in 1999.

As a result of the allegations, Timor-Leste declared the Treaty null and void and took Australia to Court in The Hague. Subsequently, Timor-Leste reiterated its requests for formal discussions with Australia over the finalisation of the maritime border, but Australia refused.[1]

Following the spying allegations, and in order to pursue a fair and permanent border, Timor-Leste had no option but to invoke compulsory conciliation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and Timor-Leste and Australia are now involved in that process. CMATS provides for termination under certain circumstances, the terms of which have been legally met.[2] Australia has agreed to the termination, and Timor-Leste has agreed to not proceed with the espionage case against Australia.[3]

2. Overview

The consequences of decisions regarding the termination of the CMATS Treaty are serious and will be long-lasting.

2.1 Consequences of not supporting CMATS termination

First, if the parliamentary committee recommended against termination it would contradict the announced intentions of the Australian government. Such an action would delegitimise Australia's current negotiations in the conciliation commission, and would jeopardise future negotiations. It would show a profound lack of goodwill and good faith, and undermine the confidence building measures that have characterised the deliberations so far.[4]

Not to proceed with the termination of CMATS would reverse the process towards final resolution of the Timor Sea issues. It would prolong the life of a running sore which has influenced Australian decisions detrimental to the Timorese people's welfare and the Australian people's integrity for decades. It would destroy what little regard many have for the capacity of Australian governments to treat smaller and weaker neighbours with dignity and good faith. It would further erode any trust in Australia which the government and people of Timor-Leste may have salvaged up to this point, increasing the already substantial mistrust of Australia in this shameful process.

2.2 Consequences of supporting CMATS termination

Second, however, the termination of the CMATS Treaty is an opportunity for Australia to move towards redressing historical errors, to enhance Australian international standing, to assist the economic viability of a small but strategic neighbour, and to protect regional security.

3. History

The history of successive Australian governments' dealings with East Timor is a deeply flawed saga, with the exception of the eventual upholding of Timorese rights at the end of 1999. The matters of the Timor Sea have been closely intertwined with government decisions and actions for decades.

3.1 Timor Sea influence on Australian decisions

Underlying the Australian support of the Indonesian invasion and occupation (1975- 1999) existed the ongoing desire to exploit the resources of the Timor Sea in a way that was favourable to and easy for Australia. For example, in 1974 government officials stated:

"Indonesian absorption of Timor makes geopolitical sense. Any other long-term solution would be potentially disruptive of both Indonesia and the region. It would help confirm our seabed agreement with Indonesia. It should induce a greater readiness on Indonesia's part to discuss Indonesia's ocean strategy." [5]

Ambassador Woolcott wrote from Jakarta on 17 August 1975:
"It would seem to me that this Department (Minerals and Energy) might well have an interest in closing the present gap in the agreed sea border and that this could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia by closing the present gap than with Portugal or independent Portuguese Timor."[6] 

3.2 Timor Gap

Australia speedily bestowed on Indonesia official recognition of sovereignty over Portuguese Timor in 1979 and ten years later divided the resources of the Timor Sea Gap area 50/50 with Indonesia, despite the illegal and unrecognised nature of the annexation. More recently, the desire for maritime resources from the area has moved Australia to continue to pursue claims to resources to which it is not entitled under current international law, e.g. the now depleted Laminaria-Corallina fields.

3.3 Withdrawal from UN instruments

Just two months before the declaration of Timorese independence in 2002, Australia withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdictions of UNLOS and the International Court of Justice, thus forcing Timor to deal with Australia without recourse to a recognised judicial umpire, and to evade international measures for deciding where boundaries should lie.[7]

4. Australian International Standing

4.1 Recent Statement

Australia's poor record of observing international standards in relation to the Timor Sea is further illustrated currently regarding the South China Sea. Official Australian advice concerning problems in that area is that international standards should be followed. The Foreign Minister has said:

"..we urge the parties, the claimants to resolve their differences peacefully, negotiate as long as the outcome is in accordance with international law, or resort to arbitration as the Philippines did through UNCLOS."[8]

Nevertheless, the Foreign Minister has taken pains to point out that in the matter of the Timor Sea, the findings of the compulsory conciliation, conducted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration of which Australia is a member state, are "non-binding".[9]

See Appendix 2 for further comment involving the "non-binding" nature of the process.

If the Australian government was as enthusiastic about observing negotiations and resolutions concerning the Timor Sea as it is about the South China Sea we would be accorded greater respect by other nations in our region, and the world at large. The readiness to appear to cooperate only when it suits leaves Australia vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy from neighbouring nations, thus reducing trust. There is already enough scepticism about Australia's position, goodwill and intentions concerning the conciliation negotiations. Perhaps government officials do not yet realise the depth of contempt for Australia which remains as a result of the alleged spying, both among Australians and Timorese.

The opportunity now exists for Australia to act as it speaks, and operate according to international norms to finalise the maritime boundary with Timor-Leste.

See Appendix 2 for further comment on the avenues open to Australia to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion.

5. Economy

5.1 Disparity between the two nations

The termination of the CMATS Treaty opens the way for the delimiting of a maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste, a move which will have effects on the economies of both nations. In this regard it is important to consider the relative wealth of both. Timor-Leste is proud of its advancement on the Human Development Index (HDI) to number 133,[10] while Australia is at Number 2. The GDP of Timor-Leste in 2016 was $4.975 billion dollars while Australia's was $1,188.764 trillion dollars.[11] Obviously, the disparity reflects far more than difference in population (Australia: 23.1 million; Timor-Leste: 1.2 million).

While there is nothing in this matter which should be considered from the point of view of “charity”, the extreme disparity between Australia’s and Timor-Leste’s prospects underlines the importance of a swift and fair resolution.

5.2 Justice

If the setting of a new boundary is done fairly, the Timorese would gain at least the bulk of the resources of the giant Greater Sunrise fields, valued in the range of $40 billion.

These fields are East Timor’s last remaining natural resource to provide the wealth needed to provide education, health, infrastructure and job creation for future generations of Timorese people. Rather than Australia taking 50% of this wealth (under the 2006 CMATS Agreement) or 80% (under the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty), we should simply agree to a median line border which would ensure that the Timorese received that share Greater Sunrise which is due to them under international law.

5.3 Indonesia

Concerns have been raised in some quarters about Indonesia's rights in regard to the Timor Sea. If Indonesia has problems, then Indonesia has the capacity to address them in appropriate ways. These matters should not be used to prolong or obfuscate the proceedings involving Timor-Leste. Indonesia is not the problem here. The problem has been, and remains, the Australian unwillingness to act fairly in regard to Timor-Leste. The complicated factors involving the lateral boundaries affected by median line delimitation are not insurmountable if good faith and willingness to engage honestly are valued principles.

5.4 Strengthening relationship with Timor-Leste

The termination of the CMATS Treaty allows for Australia to put right our present relationship with the Timorese people. This can be done by immediately negotiating a new border in good faith, finalising it as soon as possible, and ensuring that median line principles prevail as the basis of decisions, alongside observance of all relevant and current United Nations Conventions.

6. Regional Security and Stability

6.1 Economic basis of security

In economic terms, it is in Australia’s long-term national interest to have neighbouring nations such as East Timor which are stable politically and whose populations have growing standards of living so the people live in hope and optimism rather than anger and despair. This brings peace to our immediate region.

Moreover, it is to Australia’s long-term economic interest to have a growing middle class in neighbouring countries such as East Timor. The people of East Timor can then purchase more of our exports and avail of our services such as tertiary education. A growing and prosperous East Timor is to the benefit of both countries.

6.2 Vacuums tend to be filled

The economic prospects of the Timorese people directly affect regional security and are of concern to Australians given Timor-Leste's geographical proximity. If Australia does not fulfill its obligations as a fair neighbour, there are others which may desire to fill the vacuum.

The contributions of China to the development of Timor-Leste are easily seen. Important government buildings, and now extensive roads are part of the assistance now being given to Timor-Leste. As well as calling on the China to obey international law in the South China Sea, Australia is well advised to consider carefully the influence which that nation already wields in the region, and may wield in the future if Australia pursues policies which alienate neighbours.

6.3. Completion of Australia's border

Nearly two per cent of the Australian border remains incomplete, that is, the section directly opposite the coastline of Timor-Leste. It is interesting that a modern and rich nation such as Australia has not undertaken to finalise its borders. Australians have the right to a compete border. See Appendix 3 for map.

7. Conclusion

In all, the termination of the CMATS Treaty is a crossroads for Australia. Decisions can be made as to the best way of approaching all the attendant problems. The Australian government could choose to operate from a position which interprets "national interest" narrowly and greedily, or it could choose to make decisions which observe both the spirit and the letter of international law and which therefore benefit the most vulnerable.

If the Australian government takes the latter course, Australia would contribute to the development which Timor-Leste has been denied for so long as well as ensuring the prosperity and stability of a very close neighbour whose history is tightly entwined with ours.

The Timor Sea Justice Forum NSW urges the Joint Standing Commitee to support the termination of CMATS. This is an important and necessary step towards resolving this long-term difficulty with our poorest neighbour.

We encourage the committee to go further and recommend that the government move as quickly as possible to finalise negotiations for a fair and permanent border with Timor- Leste.

8. Recommendations

8.1  That the committee upholds the government's decision to terminate the CMATS Treaty in full

8.2  That the committee urges the government to take all appropriate steps to finalise the maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia

8.2.1  according to current international law and standards

8.2.2  using median line principles

8.2.3  in good faith

8.2.4  with all possible speed

The Timor Sea Justice Forum NSW (TIMFO) thanks the Committee for considering our submission. We would welcome the opportunity to appear at a committee hearing.

Appendix 1

Significant inclusion and omission from NIA

It is interesting that the National Interest Analysis (NIA) [1] provided is careful to note that in the Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA), 90% of the resources go to Timor-Leste and 10% to Australia. It would be unfortunate if the intention to include that percentage share was to suggest that there was an underlying "generosity" on Australia's part, or that Timor-Leste was receiving the best end of a bargain. In fact, if international standards had been applied in 2002 when the Timor Gap Treaty was re- negotiated as the Timor Sea Treaty covering the JPDA, 100% of the resources would be Timor's. Furthermore, there is no mention of the considerable downstream benefits which Australia gained from the exploitation of Bayu-Undan in the JPDA. Yet between Point 6 and Point 7 of the NIA there is a very large historical Timor Sea gap, that is, there is no mention of the alleged espionage by Australia on the Timorese negotiators involved with the CMATS Treaty. These allegations occasioned Timorese legal challenges, caused Australia well-deserved embarrassment, and contributed to the termination of the CMATS Treaty. The fact that Timor-Leste has withdrawn its legal case against Australia in this regard has done little to remove suspicion from the minds of Australians who are increasingly frustrated and disappointed over successive governments' treatment of our wartime friends.

It may be argued that spying allegations are irrelevant to this exercise, but then one wonders why there is mention of Timor's share of the aforesaid upstream benefits, which appears equally irrelevant. Both the omission and the inclusion have the effect of putting Australia in a positive light.

Given the history of the way Australia has treated the Timorese people from World War II onwards, any such attempts to enhance positive Australian images and ignore the less positive simply repeat the historical Australian sacrifice of Timor for national gain. They remove from "national interest" anything which involves fairness or integrity.

Appendix 2

Comment on Articles in Annex V

According to the rules of the Conciliation under the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Australian government could indicate to the Timorese government that it is willing to come to an amicable solution and finalise the Timor Sea question without waiting for the determination of the Compulsory Conciliation.[1] If the Australian government, through the words of the Foreign Minister,[2] can choose to isolate and emphasise the "non-binding" nature of the findings of the conciliation, as defined in Article 7,[3] it could equally well isolate and emphasise the freedom to bring the matter to speedier and friendlier conclusion, granted by the conciliation process in Article 5.

Appendix 3






End Notes

These notes are for references without hyperlinks

[5] Wendy Way, ed., Australia and the Indonesian Incorporation of Portuguese Timor, 1974-1976,(Canberra: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2000), 58.

[6] Way, ed., Australia and the Indonesian Incorporation of Portuguese Timor, 314.

Foreign Minister, China and the Timor Sea

In a doorstop interview with journalists in Washington DC this week Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was asked to clarify Australia's position on the South China Sea.

She was forthright in her response. For me this was the most interesting part:


So how is this position consistent with Australia's approach to the Timor Sea?

1. Resolving Peacefully? ... yes. No one has brought their guns to town!

2. Negotiating as long as the outcome is in accordance with international law? ... well this remains to be seen.

It appears that negotiations are now taking place facilitated by the Conciliation Commission - BUT- will the outcome be in accordance with international law? Will Australia agree to a boundary that respects all of Timor-Leste's entitlements as provided for under UNCLOS? One that follows the three step approach to boundary delimitation accepted in case law? 

This is "the area of the Timor Sea claimed by Timor-Leste as subject to its exclusive sovereign rights under international law" Anything above the black line is irrelevant to the Australia/Timor-Leste boundary negotiations and is yet to be determined with Indonesia. 

This is "the area of the Timor Sea claimed by Timor-Leste as subject to its exclusive sovereign rights under international law" Anything above the black line is irrelevant to the Australia/Timor-Leste boundary negotiations and is yet to be determined with Indonesia. 


3. Or resort to arbitration? ... not possible. Bishop recommends this in the South China Sea knowing full well that Australia denies East Timor this option because of its 2002 withdrawal from jurisdiction. So this is a blatant case of 'do as I say ... not as I do". In other words - hypocrisy. Australia was dragged unwillingly into the Compulsory Conciliation [non binding] now underway. It refuses to participate the arbitration process [binding] that it suggests others use to resolve their disputes.

If there is to be consistency in Australia's talk on the South China and its actions in the Timor Sea it should:

1. negotiate a border entirely consistent with the three step approach developed by case law which uses the middle line as a starting point. 

2. not entertain wheeling and dealing over Greater Sunrise Development 

3. agree to submit to international arbitration if the current negotiations fail to reach an agreement by the September finish of the Conciliation Commission.

It is time for the Government of Australia to step up and show some consistency in the position regarding the South China Sea and their actions in the Timor Sea. If we are keen to be seen as a supporter of international law - then we must eliminate the gap between our words and actions.

75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dili

It's the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Dili on February 19. Yes, I know it's the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin too, but it's the bombing of Dili on the same day which always gets second billing, if remembered at all.

                           Australian soldiers and their loyal companions:                  Tom Nisbett, Evaristo, Rufino Alves Correia, Geoff Laidlaw

                           Australian soldiers and their loyal companions:
                 Tom Nisbett, Evaristo, Rufino Alves Correia, Geoff Laidlaw

Most Australians thought that Japan was going to invade Australia in 1942, and there are very many Australians who still believe it.  But actually, the Japanese did not intend to invade us at all. What they wanted to do was prevent Darwin being used by the Allies against the Japanese plans for expansion in South-East Asia.

Let us remember, that whatever the Japanese intention, the fact is that Australia was not invaded. The country which was invaded by the Japanese was Portuguese Timor. And one of the reasons they came was because Australia had invaded Timor two months earlier.

These invasions of Timor resulted in the deaths of at least 40,000 Timorese people, all civilians. (See James Dunn, East Timor: A Rough Passage to Independence, p. 22) Yet strangely, the invasions are hardly noticed. Instead we get news and commentaries and "what ifs" about the non-existent invasion of Australia.

                                                                  Australia wasn't invaded in World War II.  Timor was.  These are the facts.

The Australians were enormously successful as a result of the support of the Timorese throughout 1942. The Australian government recalled its soldiers at the beginning of 1943, and upon withdrawing, their courageous Timorese friends were left behind. The toll exacted on the Timorese for choosing to support the Australians was terrible indeed. Apart from direct killings and the burning of crops, livestock and villages by the Japanese, the Allied bombing raids on the Japanese positions in Timor lasted until 1945, which meant that the Timorese people endured four years of death and destruction.  Not Australians, Timorese.

No other nation on the face of the earth has lost over 40,000 civilians as a direct result of protecting Australian soldiers.

The very least Australia could do for these loyal war-time friends of ours is to agree on a border between our two nations.

And the very least we Australians can do is remember their courage and friendship, and work towards a just and permanent outcome on the border issue.

Something immediate you could do is to sign both of these petitions:

Petition to the Foreign Minister

Petition to the House of Representatives
Print this one and get people to sign. Instructions on the paper.

Many thanks everyone.

Sister Susan Connelly





Petition for Parliament


The NSW Timor Sea Justice Forum has initiated a formal paper petition to the House of Representatives. Here is a new flyer on the subject.

A group has formed as the NSW Petition Group for organisation purposes. Thanks to the 12 people who agreed to do this. A good, strong, workable group.

It is intended to be printed on one sheet, back and front. The back shows a map and describes the issue as simply as possible. Download it here.

The petition as it stands can’t be signed online, but must be printed and then signed, with the paper itself being returned/posted to me. 

However, it will go online in June on the Petitions Committee website, but can only be there for four weeks. 

The timing is such that the online signatures can then be combined with the paper ones and will be presented together. That was the advice I received.

There will be plenty of notice about this.

As a paper petition, this is designed to pick up some of those who do not, will not, or cannot access online petitions. 

There is no age limit on who can sign, and addresses are not required. 

You are encouraged to send it out widely. 

The Parliamentary Petitions Committee has given advice about this petition.  Here is the link to the Committee if you would like more information.

Petition to the House of Representatives

You can also sign the statement to the Foreign Minister on the Timor Sea Justice Campaign website in Melbourne too, as well as this formal Petition to the House.


An update from the Conciliation Commission

This morning in my inbox was another Joint Statement from the Governments of Timor-Leste and Australia and the Permanent Court of Arbitration [on behalf of the Conciliation Commission.]

It does not contain the big news of the first Joint Statement which came out on the 9th of January and told us Australia would negotiate maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste and CMATS would be terminated.

What is new in this latest statement is the confirmation that CMATS will be no more as of the 10th of April 2017 and that on the 20th of January Timor-Leste wrote to withdraw two arbitration cases it had initiated again Australia under the Timor Sea Treaty. One was the case referred to in the media as the 'espionage case' and the other a less well known case about pipeline jurisdiction. 

It seems that the withdrawal of these cases, like Australia's acceptance of the CMATS termination including the 'revival' clauses, is a 'clearing of the decks' for the border negotiation.

I hope so. 

The new statement, as seen in the quote above, strengthens the message that the parties are working towards concluding an agreement by the end of the conciliation period in September.

For that to happen Australia is going to have to abandon its outdated continental shelf claim up to the Timor trough and allow the discussion to be guided by international case law - which means starting with with the median line. As set out in our Myth Busting article the median line has been the basis of all Australia's boundaries with a maritime neighbours bar one negotiated in 1972.

It should be the starting point in the Timor Sea.

The Australian Government's acceptance of this principle is what will best demonstrate good faith and make possible an agreement by September. 

In the meantime we continue to advocate for the establishment of fair and permanent boundaries between Timor-Leste and Australia.

Myth Busting No 1 - Australia's Boundaries with neighbours and the Continental Shelf

The Australian newspaper, a News Corp publication, produced an unexpectedly positive editorial about the announcement on Monday of the Australian and Timor-Leste Government's intention to negotiate maritime boundaries. It also contained statements that need to be challenged. One promoted, perhaps unwittingly, the myth that Australia's boundaries with its neighbours are based on "the continental shelf principle". 

The editorial says:

"Australia argues that its maritime boundary should be drawn along its continental shelf, as it has always been. Timor maintains it should be an equidistant line between the two countries, a boundary that would give Dili most of the revenue flowing from the Timor Sea. Contemporary international law supports East Timor’s claim of equidistance. But the argument for it is complicated by consideration of our boundaries with Indonesia as well as Australia’s contention that the Timor Trough extending from close to the coastline of East Timor divides the two continental shelves. For decades Australia has based its maritime borders on the continental shelf principle endorsed by UNCLOS."

There are several parts of this quote that could be questioned but let's focus on the very last part which may lead people to incorrectly believe that Australia's borders with neighbours are based on "the continental shelf principle".

The fact is that almost all of Australia's maritime boundary delimitations with its neighbours are based on equidistance.  All of them in fact, if we are talking about the last four decades.

Keeping it simple, Australia has maritime boundaries with five of its seven maritime neighbours. They are New Zealand, Solomon Islands, France, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Boundaries are unresolved with Timor-Leste and Antarctica.

Australia's pre-eminent expert on international maritime delimitation, Professor Don Rothwell, presented a survey of the boundary treaty arrangements with all of our neighbours at a Monash University symposium last year. You can see a video of his presentation on the Monash webpage that recounts the event along with the slides used.

The table above simplifies what he says in the survey. Professor Rothwell nuanced his comments for each one so PNG was "predominantly equidistant", the Solomon Islands boundary "relies on principles of equidistance", the boundary with New Caledonia uses "a modified equidistant line" and the Indonesian arrangement in the Arafura Sea is "based on an equidistance line provision". He didn't specify with New Zealand but we know that it is based on equidistance. Alexander Downer confirmed this in his media release announcing the boundary delimitation in 2004 when he said, "The Treaty confirms the median line boundary between the overlapping EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones)."

The only boundary between neighbours based on "the continental shelf" that Professor Rothwell refers to is the boundary with Indonesia in the Timor Sea.

It is true that the continental shelf is an important principle for maritime entitlements, particularly when there are no overlapping claims, but the facts are clear:

Except for one exceptional case (Indonesia), all of Australia's maritime boundaries with neighbours have been negotiated by principles of equidistance.

The negotiation with Timor-Leste should be based on equidistance, which even the conservative Australian newspaper recognises as "supported by contemporary international law."


CMATS going, TST for now, Maritime Boundaries coming ....

CMATS is the treaty known as  "Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea" [2006], and the TST is the "Timor Sea Treaty" [2002].

Today a joint statement was released by the Government of Australia, the Government of Timor-Leste and the Permanent Court of Arbitration on behalf of the UN Conciliation Commission.

This is the first joint statement to come out of the conciliation process so far and is a significant one. Available on the Australian Foreign Minister website here.

There is some careful language around what presents as a commitment by the current Government of Australia to proceed with negotiations of a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste.

So there are qualifiers of time – “for the further conduct of the conciliation process” which is expected to end in September 2017, context – “under the auspices of the Commission”, and modality – part of a secret agreed “integrated package of measures”.

Still – this is something new and important.

Also significant is the announcement of the Timorese Government’s intention to terminate CMATS and more particularly Australia’s intention to accept this without contesting. An important point is their acceptance that three months from the initiation of the termination that CMATS is really dead.

The CMATS treaty had extraordinary provisions in its Article 12 that could in effect bring it to life again even after its termination. So called “Zombie” or “Phoenix” clauses. But the Australian Government has in this joint statement said that they have agreed that “no provision of the Treaty will survive termination. All provisions of the treaty will cease to have effect three months after the delivery of Timor-Leste’s notification.”

The Timor Sea Treaty will remain in place after the termination to manage current commercial activities in the Timor Sea.

So it seems the decks are being cleared for maritime boundary negotiations to commence in earnest.

How far will we get by September? Will it all grind to a halt once the Commission process is over? Is there any indication from the Government of Australia that they will respect international law jurisprudence and the 3-step method as the basis for proceeding?

Lots of questions – but for now what seems like a good day for Timor-Leste.

28th November 1975 - First Declaration of Timorese Independence

Today marks the 41st anniversary of Timor's independence proclamation. On this day in 1975 what was known as Portuguese Timor was declared to be the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. 


After 500 years of colonisation the hopes of the Timorese ran high. Sovereignty, liberty, dignity, self determination - at last.

Nine days later, with an Australian 'green light' Indonesia invaded and a brutal 24 year occupation began. 

Each respective Australian Government over those 24 years knew exactly what was going on, the atrocities taking place on our doorstep, a single hour's flight north of Darwin. 

Fear and greed and expediency rendered nearly all of our so called leaders silent. 

There was oil in the Timor-Sea.

It belonged to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste:

The new nation proclaimed on this day 41 years ago by the diminutive figure of First President Francisco Xavier Amaral - and Australia wanted it. 

Our leaders thought it would be easier to get it dealing with Indonesia regardless of the cost to the Timorese people.

So on this day - of all days - after our shameful role in this history of neglect and deals, lets call on our Government to do the right thing. 

Do the border, do it fair, do it now.

Aussies back the border

An independent poll has confirmed that most Australians want the Government to establish a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea in accordance with current international law, even if that delivers East Timor a substantial share of the oil and gas in the Timor Sea.

Think tank The Australia Institute commissioned a poll conducted by ReachTEL  on the evening of the 30th of August 2016 covering 10,271 residents  across Australia.

The question posed was this:

Now thinking about Australia's international relationships. There is currently no permanent maritime boundary between Australia and East Timor. Drawing a boundary in accordance with current international law is likely to deliver East Timor a substantial share of the oil and gas located in the Timor Sea. 

Should Australia try to establish a permanent maritime boundary in accordance with current international law?

In response 56.5% said yes, only 17% said no and 26.6% responded 'don't know'.

This is a greatly encouraging result. It is no surprise that for many the issue is not something they feel they know enough about to say yes or know. These are people that we need to reach with good information. If we remove the 'don't know ' responders and consider those who were ready to offer a yes or no - then 76.9% are responding in the affirmative. Bravo!


Ben Oquist, Executive Director from The Australia Institute said: 

“Fairness is a nationally defining trait for Australians. This polling suggests that most people want Timor-Leste to have a fair go with regards to resources in the Timor Sea. This shows there is public support for negotiations to mark the maritime boundaries between our two countries, as currently there are none.

“It would be terrible if Australia’s behaviour in this affair has the potential to undo the good will and strong friendship forged through our support of East Timorese independence. The Government should heed the public mood on this issue and enter future negotiations with a new spirit of amity and respect for international law.” 

The Australia Institute produced a media release on the 14th of November and  the ReachTEL data can be downloaded.

AAP published a news piece which is titled New poll calls for fairness for East Timor

Other analysis done by us here at TIMFO looked just at the yes and no responders and found that of this group 80.4% of women voted yes, along with 84.1% of older Australians [65+] whom I think we can deduce have more memory of the history.


Also considering the same group, political affiliation did not create huge differences with 72.7% of L/NP, 82.6% of Labor and 86.1% of Greens responding yes.


Finally of the Yes or No group the ACT [81.8%] and Queensland [80%] responded most positively.


Creating Certainty Boosts Business


The Australian Timor-Leste Business Council has issued a press release following the premiere screening of the movie Time to Draw the Line at Parliament House in Canberra earlier this month. In the release the President of the Council, Mr. Denis Fernandez says:

 “The film is yet another timely reminder in how patient our Timorese friends have been with the Australian Government. The Timorese are continuing to struggle for state sovereignty because the Australian Government will not work with the Timorese to establish the maritime boundary under The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea”. 

ATLBC President Mr. Denis Fernandez & Timor-Leste Ambassador to Australia H.E. Abel Guterres

ATLBC President Mr. Denis Fernandez & Timor-Leste Ambassador to Australia H.E. Abel Guterres

The Business Council was established in 2002 and is the peak, non-profit organisation established to promote stronger business relations between Australia and Timor-Leste. It is a member based, national association with chapters in the Australian Captial Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

The Council has consistently put the position that finalising the maritime boundary would be good for business and in the recent press release Mr. Fernandez and put this view: 

"The ATLBC believes the certainty provided by the delimiting of the maritime boundary will be good for business in both Timor-Leste and Australia." 

Here at TIMFO we have put the position that it is in Australia's national interest to establish a maritime boundary with its near neighbour for at least four reasons:

  1. It would complete our maritime border work
  2. It would be good for Australian business
  3. It would enhance our international reputation
  4. It is good for regional security

In these months ahead when the Conciliation Commission is trying to help Australia and East Timor come to an agreement about the border it is a good time to remind our politicians that we want to see a border that is fair and settled as soon as possible because we know that certainty boosts business.

In the mean time, as the ATLBC will tell you, foreign investors are already taking advantage of 'first mover' benefits within Timor and opportunities await.

For more on the ATLBC visit their website.


Successful Sydney Screening

The new documentary "Time to Draw the Line" was screened last night at the Mary MacKillop Centre in North Sydney. The film was well received by a near capacity crowd who gathered in the Isabel Menton Theatre for the NSW Timor Sea Justice Forum's 'Special Screening.'

The film, which runs about an hour, is a great introduction to the issue of the maritime boundary between Australia and East Timor. There is no boundary or border, and the Timorese want one. 

Featuring mostly Australian voices on the issue, "Time to Draw the Line" does a fine job of presenting the current dispute in the wider context of the relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste going back to the second world war right through until the present day. To get a taste have a look at the short trailer. There is a Press Release about the film here.

People began arriving up to an hour before the screening which began soon after 6pm. Many old friends and supporters reconnected over tea and coffee in the theatre foyer along with some new faces and families.

I opened the proceedings with a short welcome on behalf of the forum and reminded all to keep up to date by checking into TIMFO regularly. Then Mandy King, who along with Fabio Cavadini are the film makers 'Frontyard Films', said a few words about this project, one that  is obviously very dear to their hearts. Mandy and Fabio have had a long relationship with East Timor and were involved in producing two significant films about the situation there in the late 80's early 90's, a time when so little was available.

Mandy expressed her hope that the film could be a tool to raise this issue in the consciousness of Australian people, most of who were unaware of this "unfinished business in the Timor Sea". She acknowledged the support of the Government of Timor-Leste in funding the project. Meanwhile, Fabio back in the projection booth, made sure all was ready.

Associate Producer Janelle Saffin then spoke briefly before we began the film. Janelle passed on the greetings of her fellow Associate Producer Ines de Almeida, the initiator of the film, who had returned to Dili following the premiere screening in Parliament House Canberra last week.

Janelle pointed out that the boundary was only a matter of time since the position to 'not negotiate' was no longer a bipartisan position in Canberra. She said that the news coming out of the Conciliation Commission recently should add to the momentum for a change in the position of the Coalition Government. 

A long and loud round of applause from the crowd as the credits rolled and then a quick wrap up to end the night. I mentioned the 'people power' in the room, our ability to keep up the pressure, the effectiveness of raising the issue with local members of parliament and the way people could  stay in the loop using the web and social media. 

As people left many picked up their free copy of the Policy Paper produced by the Maritime Boundary Office of the Government of Timor-Leste - a very readable and straight forward presentation of what the Timorese are seeking and why. This is available for download on our Resources page.

Time to Draw the Line Movie Premiere


Last night in Canberra was the premiere screening of the new documentary "Time to Draw the Line".

Close to 200 people attended a reception and premiere screening at Parliament House in Canberra with many then gathering after at East Timor's Embassy. I think this film is going to be a big help in explaining the Timor Sea story to people and why it is important that Australia and East Timor resolve the maritime boundary issue now.

Executive producers, Ines Almeida and Janelle Saffin and film makers Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini have managed to tell the story of Australia and Timor's relationship in a way that shares the highs and lows since World War II right up to the present day. The movie is fast paced using historical footage and current commentary from many Australian voices. I was pleased to be able to add to those voices

Ines Almeida, Janelle Saffin and Michael Stone at the reception

Ines Almeida, Janelle Saffin and Michael Stone at the reception

Janelle Saffin, former Federal MP for Page, was MC for the night and explained some of the background to the film. Fellow producer, Ines de Almeida, was the person who came up with the idea that a film, focussed on the Australian perspective, was needed to help bring together the puzzle pieces of the story of Timor's claim for justice in the Timor Sea.

Film makers Fabio Cavadini and Mandy King

Film makers Fabio Cavadini and Mandy King

Janelle Saffin said that both of them knew from the beginning that the film makers had to be Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini [Frontyard Films]. Mandy and Fabio are counted among the few filmmakers who produced material on Timor in the late 1980's and 1990's with Mandy co-producing the AFI nominated film  "The Shadow over Timor" and Fabio shooting and co-directing the feature length documentary, "Buried Alive - The Story of East Timor."

Mandy King said that the border issue needs to be understood more widely and thanked the Government of Timor-Letse for their funding assistance that enabled them to get the project to the stage of its first screening.

The Hon. Luke Gosling MP, Member for Solomon.   

The Hon. Luke Gosling MP, Member for Solomon.


The newly elected Member for Solomon, the Hon. Luke Gosling MP was the Parliamentary host for the event and as a spoke of his long friendship with the people of Timor-Leste and his pride in the Labor policy to negotiate the maritime boundary.

Mr. Gosling talked about his connection with Timor through his involvement with the Australian Defence Force and friendship with the Kenneally family who were well represented on the night. The late Paddy Kenneally features in the film. Paddy was a World War II Timor veteran who constantly called on Australia to deal fairly with Timor and to recognise the 'debt of honour' that he and other veterans felt Australia owed to the Timorese people. Paddy's wife Nora and children were special guests at the screening. 

The film honours the commitment of these veterans who wanted to honour East Timor by treating them fairly.

Liberal MP Michael Sukkar attended after being requested by one of his constituents, Lindy Yeates, one of the speakers in the film and one of the artists of the Mind The Gap Art Exhibition. The Hon. Warren Snowdon MP attended taking the opportunity to connect with old friends.

Many others came including commentators such as Fr. Frank Brennan, members of the Clergy such as Bishop Pat Power and Bishop Hilton Deakin, Ex Service personnel such as Michael Stone and Chris Perrin, Timorese community members and students, the list goes on ...

"Time to Draw the Line" was well received with long and loud applause from the audience and acclamation for the film makers and executive producers.

Radford College students

Radford College students

It was exciting that the film and the audience included the participation of young Australians. Students from Canberra's Radford College, which has a Timor-Leste visit program coordinated by Father Richard Browning, assisted with the logistics at the premiere. Students from the Australian National University who have taken an interest in the issue also came to learn more. 

H.E. Joao Goncalves

H.E. Joao Goncalves

Before MC Janelle Saffin closed the night, Timor-Leste's former Minister for Economic Development and currently lead in the Timor, Indonesia, Australia Growth Triangle initiative, Mr. Joao Gonclaves, expressed his hope that the Government of Australia would move quickly to solve this lingering issue, where Timor-Leste is only seeking its rights under international law.


Now looking forward to a special screening to take place next Monday in North Sydney. More about that here.

Nora Kenneally [left], Gerald Kenneally, Frank Brennan SJ, Joan Westblade LCM, Inacia Mafalda O. Carm.

Nora Kenneally [left], Gerald Kenneally, Frank Brennan SJ, Joan Westblade LCM, Inacia Mafalda O. Carm.

Give us a Border

   Australia's Maritime Borders - not complete because of the remaining 1.8% between us and East Timor. Map presented by Timor-Leste at Conciliation Commission Hearing 29/8/16


Australia's Maritime Borders - not complete because of the remaining 1.8% between us and East Timor. Map presented by Timor-Leste at Conciliation Commission Hearing 29/8/16

If there is one problem over which the Australian government has complete control, it is the matter of the non-existent border between Australia and Timor-Leste.

It is true that the United Nations Conciliation Commission has ruled that it does indeed have the jurisdiction to consider the case by Timor-Leste against Australia. Timor's aim is that an internationally recognised maritime boundary be established between itself and Australia in the Timor Sea.  However, while a report is expected in twelve months, the two nations could begin discussions in the intervening period and just get on with it.

The Australian government has said it accepts the decision that the conciliation should go ahead, but reminds us that any result is not binding. No, it's not binding; meaning that it is possible that if decisions were not to Australia's liking, then it could just walk away. My ears are reddening at the thought that my nation considers it appropriate to flog this horse any further.

There is a story around that Australia has been "generous" to its neighbour as though such "generosity" is a government initiative. It is not. It is not a generous act to take two billion dollars in tax revenue from a disputed area, as Australia has done. The Laminaria-Corallina fields are now nearing depletion, and since September 1999 Australia has received, not just the lion's share, but the totality of the revenue available. Timor-Leste received nothing. During the same period, Australia has spent $1.2 billion in aid to the Timorese. A little arithmetic shows how well we have done.[1] (Actually, neither nation should have received anything from that area; the revenue should have been put into trust until it became clear just where the border should be drawn.) More claims of generosity concern an area where Timor gets 90% of the revenue and Australia 10%. What is usually omitted is that 100% of the area lies on Timor's side of half-way. So in effect, Timor has been generous to Australia, not vice-versa.

What Timor reckons it would get with the application of international law. The border expected with Australia is the green line.

What Timor reckons it would get with the application of international law. The border expected with Australia is the green line.

Australian governments of both complexions have been derelict towards Timor, because of a tunnel-visioned interpretation of "national interest" which holds our nation in thrall to larger powers. In contrast, the work of Australian civil society involving hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians over decades in supporting the Timorese people has been consistent, effective and magnificent.

As Australians know, the Timorese are not asking for charity, in fact, they have never done that. What they require is a border, properly established under international law and recognised by the neighbours. Frankly, Australians have the right to demand the same, because 1.8% of the Australian border does not yet exist, and the missing portion is directly opposite the coastline of Timor-Leste.

Our nation now has the opportunity to take one last step in the journey towards becoming a true neighbour to Timor-Leste. We could accept that the modern, internationally acceptable way of settling this issue is to establish a border based on the median line, as we have done with other neighbours such as New Zealand. We could read some history and realise what an astute, patient and even stubborn people the Timorese are. We could read the current Labor Party policy, which is to undertake talks with the Timorese immediately, with or without a conciliation process. In that context, we could wonder when the next election will be, and ask ourselves what bludgeoning this dead horse does to our international standing. We could ask the question that if Australia expects China to abide by United Nations decisions in the South China Sea, why would we hint at the "non-binding" aspect of a United Nations process in which we have agreed to take part.

We could also think about that one image with which we Australians like to describe ourselves: fairness.

[1] La'o Hamutuk, "How much oil money has Australia already stolen from Timor-Leste?: A look at Laminaria-Corallina:  Updated 4 May 2016, accessed 17 September 2016. http://www.laohamutuk.org/Oil/Boundary/laminaria_revenues.htm; Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee, Inquiry into Australia's Relations with Timor-Leste Submission No 22, 2013: 4, accessed 17 September 2016, http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=jfadt/timor_leste_2013/subs.htm