Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, April 20, 2004
TO BE AN AGENT OF A FOREIGN POWER used to be considered shameful, if not criminal. Now even leaders of Australian political parties boast of it.

Australia must give East Timor its oil and gas

"The boundary was rigged with former Indonesian dictator President Suharto. Its illegitimacy is recognised by Prime Minister Howard who has withdrawn the International Court's jurisdiction," Senator Brown said.

"The loss in royalties for East Timor may be $8 billion over coming decades: a robbery of the region's poorest country by its richest neighbour.

Sounds pretty straight forward, and indeed it is, but not the lying way Lord Bob-Brown puts it.

It just so happens Australia's economic zone extends to the edge of its continental shelf, and that shelf happens to end just a short way off the coast of Timor.

The government of East Timor is not happy with that. Neither was Indonesia when it ran the place.

Australia spent twenty years negotiating a deal with Indonesia. That involved substantial concessions from Australia's reasonable claims. It involved a zone operated jointly and a zone of Australian control well within our continental shelf.

Australia has now given the new government of East Timor 80% of the proceeds of oil and gas produced in the joint zone, and 20% from the Sunrise field in Australia's exclusive zone.

But East Timor wants more. It wants to have more of the Australian continental shelf, and it's prepared to hold up work in the joint zone, to which it has already agreed, to back its ambition.

Not a big surprise. East Timor has failed to attract signficant foreign investment on-shore for one simple reason. It can't offer secure title to land. That's a problem only the government of East Timor can solve, but it's too darned hard.

Much easier to play Australian domestic politics. Much, much easier.

Look at how the usual suspects line up! The NGOs, the anti-globos, the Labor left, the usual sponsors of national defamation.

let the Australian government know that it is no longer acceptable to seize territory or resources belonging to another nation shriek the organised emails, sent to our embassies by people who just know its true, because look what happened in 1788.

As in other matters where grievance is turned into a moral bludgeon to be used on this country, like Aboriginal health and poverty, the question is not good policy, good law or good behaviour. It's the moral vanity of the proponents.

Gillian Triggs, director of the University of Melbourne's Institute for Comparative and International Law, said the Howard Government's case was strong and maintained the arguments put up by East Timor contained a significant number of myths.

Triggs says international tribunals have found that it is not the job of international law to "refashion nature". Nor does equity necessarily require equality, she adds.

Those myths are getting strong support on the ABC, where a news service described East Timor's claims as its 'legal rights', and in Henny Herald, where Tom Allard editorialises in the news pages "The existing boundaries favour Australia... Several lucrative oil deposits are in Australian areas despite being nearer to East Timor". (page7 today). And, of course, in the Age.

Just like Christmas Island, which is much nearer to Java than to Australia, and there are a lot more poor people in Java than in East Timor. Poverty is the other leg of the East Timor propaganda campaign.

"We would not like to be a failed state" Xanana Gusmao told the Guardian, playing for a Pacific solution.

If poverty creates territorial claims then it follows that

* the Torres Straits island all go to PNG
* All Indian Ocean territories go to Indonesia, as well as half Australia's continental shelf. And, just to keep the peace,
* Tasmania goes to China, if they could afford to support it in the manner to which Senator Harradine has made it accustomed.

Not that this will stop Oxfam, the Greens, the 'labor movement' and all the others whose main occupation is giving away other people's money to boost their own self esteem.

As the East Timor campaign increases the rhetorical temperature, its leaders resort to more and more outrageous claims, all of them repeated without qualification by their volunteer agents in Australia.

President, Xanana Gusmao, suggested at a school that students discuss the question ?Why has Australia stolen USD$1 billion worth of oil from the Timor Sea?

- Jose Ramos Horta accused Australia of stalling on maritime boundary talks so that all the oil will be gone by the time the boundaries are agreed

- And Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri compared Australia?s ?illegal occupation of the Timor Sea? with the former Indonesian occupation of the land, which they resisted for 24 years.

With friends like that, who needs citizens like Helen Hill?

Auntie titles Helen Hill's op-ed piece this evening Australia's 'Illegal Occupation' , quoting without acknowledgment East Timor's failed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Ms Hill, who is a sociologist from one of the Dawkins universities, concludes: You don?t struggle for 24 years for independence just to sell yourself off to another neighbouring country.

Quite right. And neither should Australia. And no citizen with an ounce of intelligence should expect it to.

And our national broadcaster should not be giving editorial support and op-ed space to ignoramuses who think we should hand over territory, to anyone, as a form of foreign aid.