It’s Time to Draw a Line in the Water by Phil Jones

Was there any Australian who did not cringe with shame when it became public that Australia had been spying on the Timorese in an effort to gain an advantage in the negotiations taking place over the boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste and the future of the rich oil fields in the region? The disgrace and embarrassment worsened when agents of the Australian Government raided the offices of Bernard Collaery one of the lawyers acting for Timor Leste along with the home of a witness to the bugging, seizing material destined to support the Timorese case in the International Court of Justice.

It seemed almost unbelievable that a country that had struggled so heroically against oppressive Indonesian rule and violence, had been supported by Australian military forces following its struggle for independence, experienced bloody internal divisions and was struggling to overcome crippling poverty could be treated in such a duplicitous manner by its rich and prosperous neighbour that prided itself on “the fair-go”.

It is argued that the spying gave the Australians an unfair advantage in the negotiations over the position of the boundary effectively denying Timor-Leste of billions of dollars of potential revenue. The product of the negotiations was the CMATS Treaty (Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea) and came into effect in 2007. At the time, Australia demanded that no dispute over the boundary be referred to a third party for 50 years. During a period of considerable political instability in Timor this provision was agreed to. Given the spying, the Timorese now argue that the treaty should be rewritten, a definite boundary should be drawn between the two countries and that boundary should be based on current International Law of the Sea.

If the present International Law of the Sea were applied and a definite boundary drawn, it would be located along the median line, mid-way between Australia and Timor-Leste providing this emerging young country with the lions’ share of the oil and gas deposits and the opportunity to develop a resilient and stable economy over the years ahead.

Timor-Leste now wants to reopen the negations on the boundary line and 2015 will be the year in which Australians can help right an injustice. Readers are invited to write to their local Federal Member and to the Attorney General, Hon. Senator George Brandis urging them to agree to the Timorese request to reopen negotiations on the boundary and to agree to a position more consistent with the International Law of the Sea. The point could also be made that it is in Australia’s best interest to ensure social and financial stability within Timor-Leste.

As for what’s in it for the average Australian? Perhaps a little more pride in our nation.

For further information: