Time to Draw the Line

Screenings of "Time to Draw the Line" were held at various cinemas on United Nations Social Justice Day, 20 February, 2017.

At Burwood Event Cinema, one hundred people viewed the film, riveted by the extraordinary tale of Australian dealings over the resources of the Timor Sea. Further screenings can be found here.

Some of the audience at "Time to Draw the Line" at Event Cinemas, Burwood, 20 February, 2017

Some of the audience at "Time to Draw the Line" at Event Cinemas, Burwood, 20 February, 2017

                              

No Complacency

The recent news that Australia has agreed to negotiate maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste is welcome, but there are many loose ends and unknowns. Given the history, we cannot afford to be complacent.

FORMAL PETITION to HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Here is the Formal Petition available to be signed on paper. Get local groups to sign, for example, churches, service clubs, schools. This will be presented to Parliament in August.

VISIT MPs

We encourage you to continue to make arrangements to visit your Federal MP. A suggested letter asking for an appointment,  a list of discussion points and other resources are available.

Members of the NSW Forum are keen to assist with visits to MPs if necessary, and are happy to accompany people to such meetings. Send us a message through the form on the resources page.

NO COMPLACENCY

The Timor Sea issue is still very much alive, and that it cannot be forgotten simply because of a political promise of some future change. This matter is not over until there is a fair and permanent border between our two nations. Nothing less will do.

Till we see justice in the Timor Sea.

Sister Susan

2017

 
 

And so into 2017. May I take this opportunity on behalf of the NSW Timor Sea Justice Forum to thank you for your interest in and support of East Timor's maritime boundary aspirations. 2016 was a year of major developments and we have chronicled some of them in the latest blog post "And now ... 2017"

As I see it 2017 is a year to ramp up the pressure, visit our local Members of Parliament and make sure that Canberra knows that we support a prompt and proper resolution of this issue. Representatives of our Government are finally, reluctantly, talking about this issue in the forum provided by the UN Conciliation. They need to know we care and we are watching. 

Timor is looking for a  boundary that is consistent with international law. They showed clearly in The Hague opening statements what they think that would look like, based on the three step process established in international maritime arbitration. 

2017 could see this issue finally move closer to a proper resolution - but - it is certainly not a forgone conclusion and it is not a time to 'take our foot off the pedal.'So there will be more events, more interventions in Canberra, more film screenings and more visits to Members of Parliament. Please stay on board! Timor needs you.

Check out our page on what you can do - and be in touch. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks again for your support in 2016 - and here's to a wonderful 2017 for our Timorese friends. May it be the year which sees some long overdue justice on the boundary issue and a year of peace, development and achievement for our 'neighbours to the north'.

Viva Timor-Leste!

6 January 2017

Till we see justice in the Timor Sea.

Sister Susan

Anniversary of 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 by the diminutive figure of First President Francisco Xavier Amaral this day 41 years ago - 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.

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.

 

Now What?

It looks like there is some hope of an agreement being brokered between Australia and East Timor that would finally see a maritime border. The most recent press release coming from the United Nations Conciliation Commission after meetings held in Singapore in early October was certainly very upbeat, saying "All agreed we should aim to reach agreement within the time-frame of the conciliation process." With the report of the Commission due on the 19th of September 2017 that means they would need to have made serious progress on an agreement within the next 7 months.

So is it time to pop the cork on the champagne and put our feet up?

Well I wouldn't recommend it. Years of observation make me a little sceptical.

The Australian team would have been quite shocked by the Commission's Decision on Competence announced on the 26th of September. My impression watching the Opening Statements webcast was that they were confident, perhaps even a little 'cocky'. The Decision was a resounding knockdown of their considerable effort to extricate themselves from the process, a vindication of East Timor's position that the issue needed proper discussion. It was a strong message from the Commissioners that they were determined to do their utmost to try assist in achieving a resolution of the dispute.

In the light of that it would have been foolish for Australia to be seen to continue 'resisting'. But Timor has been played by Australia before and one of the tactics has been to use time. When there were discussions about the boundary around the time of independence one Australian diplomat assured the Timorese that it could take a least a hundred years. At other times there has been pressure to agree quickly using arguments such as  "the window is closing" or because "you are running out of money". Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, who kept a very low profile after the Decision, has continued to remind us all that the process is not binding. With East Timor's Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the first 6 to 8 months next year perhaps there is a hope on the Aussie side that by September the political environment in Timor will be more favourable. 

Having said all that I do have some hope because although the process is 'non-binding', a brokered agreement is binding. I would think that such an agreement is likely to concern a timetable and mutually agreed principles for delimiting the border, rather than a final determination of where the border lies. Whatever it is, my hope is that the Timorese get a fair border and soon.

So for us? Well I think now is just a great time to let more and more people know about what is going on. The Time to Draw the Line movie is going to be one way to do that and we will keep you up-to-date on its screenings. Also because there is a low or zero 'care factor' among most of our politicians we need to raise this issue in their consciousness, and more than ever now that the conciliation process is underway. It is important that they have a sense that people are watching and looking for a real outcome that delivers an 'international law maritime boundary' in a reasonable time frame.  We have sample letters on the site for your local member and other activities in the pipeline to make sure our politicians are paying attention and there is some sense of accountability around this issue.

So keep the champagne on hand but don't pop the cork yet!

Keep following on Facebook and Twitter

Commission to Proceed

26 September 2016

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

This means the challenges of Australia to the commissions existence have been overcome and the proceedings concerning the establishment of a maritime boundary between Australia and East Timor will continue. The Government of Timor-Leste responded with a media release saying  “Timor-Leste welcomes this decision. This process is an opportunity to set a good example in our region and we will engage with respect for the commission and its recommendations, ever conscious of the importance of maintaining the best possible relationship with our close neighbour Australia.”

More to come in a blog post and plenty on the Facebook page too.

Not Waiting

We should hear about the decision of the Conciliation Commission in response to Australia's challenge to its existence in the next two or three weeks.

But I am not waiting for this. 

Whatever decision is made by the five commissioners will not be a decision about the merits of Timor's position or about where a boundary between our two countries would be drawn. 

It will be a technical decision about the suitability of the commission to hear the issue based on the relevant articles of the Untied Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS].

The fact is that regardless of the upcoming decision there is still an unresolved  dispute with our neighbour.

It remains a source of bitterness, is unnecessary, reflects poorly on Australia and could be resolved now by our Government. Fan of Labor or not, had Labor made it over the line in the July election we would already be in direct negotiations with the Government of East Timor to establish the maritime border between our two countries.

It is possible and it will happen, sooner or later. But sooner would be much better.

JB Contrasting.jpeg

It is deeply disappointing to me that our Government is so determined to avoid this UN process when we are so vocal about the value of UNCLOS as a mechanism to solve maritime disputes in the South China Sea. There is a clear and uncomfortable contrast in the language applied to the two disputes shown in the picture here. I have written before on why it is in Australia's national interests to enter into negotiations with Timor and one reason is to leave this hypocritical double standard behind.

Now is the time to ramp up our efforts rather than playing wait and see. You will be hearing more from the Timor Sea Justice Forum and the Timor Sea Justice Campaign in the coming weeks. I recommend to you the new crowd funding campaign being undertaken by our friends in the TSJC to support the advocacy work. We encourage you to ask your local member what their position is on establishing the maritime border with East Timor. Information about  a range of activities over the remaining months of 2016 coming soon.

Reputational Damage

It has been an interesting couple of weeks! 

The award handed down regarding the South China Sea, the noble expression of the Australian Government's support for international law, public scrutiny of the inconsistency of these statements with its position on Timor and the first procedural meeting of the Conciliation Commission.

You might like to read a blog post  about Australia, the South China Sea and the Timor Sea we have here on TIMFO called "Do as I say, not as I do." 

And there are also interesting days ahead, particularly with the first meeting of the Compulsory Conciliation Commission where they 'get down to business.' This, according to the press release issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, is to begin on the 29th of August and  is when "the Parties will address the background to the conciliation and certain questions concerning the competence of the Commission." 

I take this to mean the moment when Australia tries to wriggle out of this Conciliation process by challenging the 'competence' of the commission.

If that is in fact what the Australian team is going to attempt then the Turnbull Government should hang its head in shame. The procedure is there under UNCLOS to assist when there is an impasse. Timor-Leste could not have brought these proceedings unless Australia had knocked out the independent umpire and refused to engage on the issue.

If we try to wriggle out of this it would fly in the face of the Government's public comments about the value of UNCLOS to resolve disputes.

We  would suffer reputational damage as a good international citizen and diminish our ability to speak with credibility on international law and the South China Sea.

Now What?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting days ahead.

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

Don't be fooled

So here we are a little more than half way through what is feeling like a long election campaign. Thankfully this election there are distinct policy positions from Australia's two major parties when it comes to the maritime border of East Timor. 

East Timor, Labor, the Greens and key independents want one.

The Coalition does not. 

We compiled some of the statements that have been made by the parties in our latest blog post Aussie Elections & Timor Boundaries. Any complaints or clarifications please be in touch. We have referenced all statements with links to relevant articles and quotes.

Now before I sign off, here is something that surprised me.  After all the years of intransigence and game playing that goes on behind the scenes on this issue you would have thought I would have known better!

On Monday the 2nd of May we heard that Australia had responded to the initiation of Compulsory Conciliation by appointing their two conciliators to the five person panel that is to consider the current impasse and try to bring the parties together. 

Although I believe this commission is necessary, I was a little pleased that Australia had responded as required by the UN convention.

Then last weekend it was revealed in the Saturday Paper that the Government of Australia was trying to scuttle the Commission before it can begin its work.

They plan to challenge the competence of the Commission and stop it in its tracks.

Here is a message that we are not to be fooled.

If anywhere in the election campaign you hear any  Coalition candidate says that the issue is 'before the commission' or that 'we will have to wait and see what the commission says' - please someone ask the question - 'But aren't you trying to stop the Commission before it even begins?'

The fact is that the Commission would be unnecessary if Australia would just come to the table. The old policy has run its course. The arrangements were built on bad blood and it is time for Australia to turn the page on this one.

Regardless of the party that wins on July 2, it is time to draw the line.

Interesting Weeks

A very interesting couple of weeks have passed. On the 11th of April we heard that East Timor had given notice to the Australia that they had initiated Compulsory Conciliation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. It is shameful that the Timorese have to go to such lengths to encourage Australia to come to the table and talk on the issue of maritime boundaries. 

Then on the 29th of April we held a special event in Sydney featuring H.E. Xanana Gusmão where he talked about the "Wall of Silence", the refusal of the current Government of Australia to engage with East Timor to negotiate. For many of us that event confirmed our campaign as necessary and reinvigorated our passion for this cause.

On Monday the 2nd of May we heard that Australia had responded to the initiation of Compulsory Conciliation by appointing their two conciliators to the five person panel that is to consider the current impasse and try to bring the parties together. That was in the nick of time since the 21 day deadline for the appointment was on that very day.

Then, just when we might have had some hope that the Commission might offer a way forward, the thinking of the Government, expressed by the Head of DFAT in a Senate Estimates hearing on Friday the 6th of May, brought a dose of reality. Mr Peter Varghese, said "we don't believe there is any basis to revisit the arrangements."

It seems that the Government of Australia has no intention of participating in this Conciliation process to find an amicable solution on maritime boundaries. Most likely they will have their top taxpayer funded lawyers working overtime to get out of it.

We hope that the Compulsory Conciliation can break the impasse but from this response it is clear that the pressure for change must remain and intensify. When the Head of DFAT trots out lines about how generous things are we can be sure - they don't get it!

And then of course on Sunday our Australian Federal Election was confirmed to be held on the 2nd of July. Please ask your local member and candidates what their position is on East Timor. This is an important time for us to send a message that for us this issue matters and that it is now time to right the wrong and draw the line in the Timor Sea. We have some materials that might help you in our Come on Aussie page.

Finally please come to our meeting on Wednesday the 11th of May if you are in Sydney so that together we can set out our next steps and continue to support our close neighbours in this issue.

International Solidarity

This week begins a week of international solidarity with the Timorese people. Protests will be held in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Dili, Manilla, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and through an online campaign running out of the USA. The protests have been organized this week marking the 14th anniversary of   Australia's withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the ICJ and ITLOS on the 21st of March 2002. This "Carve Out" only weeks before the restoration of East Timor's independence was a deliberate and cynical tactic to deny the our newest neighbour access to "an independent umpire" in matters related to its maritime borders.

The Timor Sea Forum is organizing the protest in Sydney and you can find further details here.

All are protests are urging the Government of Australia to:

  • Resubmit to the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice
  • Immediately open negotiations for a permanent maritime boundaries based on the median line principle
  • Return all revenues taken unilaterally from the Timorese side of the halfway line

Last week a protest was held in Australia's capital city Canberra on Tuesday the 15th of March and we have compiled a report of that event here. It was held early to coincide with a "sitting day" of National Parliament and this enabled the participation of members of Parliament.

Momentum Building

Update

The Maritime Boundary Office in East Timor has launched its own website today, in three languages, and with a wealth of information on the issue of the yet to be determined maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste. The map below is from their site and shows what a boundary determined under international law would look like. You can download this map here.

Momentum

Momentum.

Building.

Today there was a peaceful demonstration in Dili calling on the Australian Government to negotiate a maritime boundary with East Timor. More are planned in Dili and a big one is coming up in Melbourne next month.

Last week at a Symposium on Maritime Boundaries in the Timor Sea we learned that the Government of Timor-Leste has officially requested Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to engage on this issue.

The week before last the Australian Labor Party announced a policy to negotiate maritime boundaries with Timor-Leste and to submit itself to third party arbitration or adjudication if mutual agreement was not achieved.

Hallelujah, the years of bipartisan policy to not engage are over.

It has certainly been a good start to the year.

But will it change anything?

My hope is that Mr. Turnbull, a strong advocate for International Law and the role of courts to resolve maritime boundary disputes, will lead on this issue when he responds to the Government of Timor-Leste.

And he will respond - I am told that as a matter of protocol he must.

But East Timor will be wary. And they should be. The Government of East Timor suspended court cases, at Australia's request, to allow for "talks" once before and their expectations were not met. They were disappointed.

A charming response will not be enough. The Timorese will expect something substantive and will not look kindly on delaying tactics.

Interesting times.

We supporters need to keep pressing. Inertia takes a lot of energy to overcome.