A- A A+

The Copenhagen breakthrough in the Timor Sea

Frank Brennan |  03 September 2017

 

There has been an agreed breakthrough in the long running dispute between Australia and Timor Leste in relation to maritime boundary demarcation and control of the resources in the disputed area in the Timor Sea. The breakthrough came on 30 August, the 18th anniversary of the bloody referendum at which the Timorese voted for their independence from Indonesia.

Timor SeaThe terms of the deal remain confidential. But the Permanent Court of Arbitration which is overseeing the Conciliation Commission convening the two parties meeting in Copenhagen has issued a press release noting that they have 'have reached agreement on the central elements of a maritime boundary delimitation' and they have agreed to 'the establishment of a Special Regime for Greater Sunrise'.

It would seem that the gamble taken by the Timorese in January 2017 has paid off. Back then, the Timorese leaders decided to terminate the 2006 CMATS Treaty which had given them control over the fishing resources inside the disputed area and had increased their upstream revenue share in the Greater Sunrise deposit from 18 per cent to 50 per cent. In exchange for this, Australia won a concession that boundary negotiations would be suspended for 50 years.

In part, Australia did not want to upset the apple cart in Indonesia because earlier maritime boundary negotiations between Australia and Indonesia had yielded Australia a very good outcome. If the Timorese were to cut a better deal, the Indonesians might want to revisit some of their earlier arrangements.

CMATSallowed Australia to kick the can further down the road, putting off any further reckoning with the Indonesians. CMATS was a good deal for Australia and Timor Leste in 2006, but it reached its use-by date once the Timorese lost interest in the development of Sunrise without the prospect of onshore development in Timor. The Timorese claimed they had compelling legal advice from some of the leading international lawyers in the UK that they would be entitled to the whole of the Greater Sunrise deposit once maritime boundaries were negotiated according to the contemporary principles of international law.

Given that there is to be 'a special regime for Greater Sunrise', the parties must have agreed that the resource will still be shared between them, or at least that the resource still straddles both jurisdictions. This is a major concession by the Timorese. Presumably there will be an advantageous trade-off for them having made this concession after having constantly claimed that the whole of the Greater Sunrise would fall within their jurisdiction.

Welcoming the deal, former Timorese President and Chief Negotiator Xanana Gusmao has spoken about achieving 'our dream of full sovereignty' and finally settling maritime boundaries with Australia. He has hailed this as an historic agreement which 'marks the beginning of a new era in Timor-Leste's friendship with Australia'. Timor's agent in the proceedings Minister Agio Pereira, has given all the credit to Gusmao as the father of the nation. Australia's Foreign Minister has said that the agreement 'supports the national interest of both our nations'.

In the past, the sticking point has always been the downstream development of the Greater Sunrise deposit. The joint venturers in the past have favoured the use of FLNG, processing and freezing the gas on a floating platform in the Timor Sea. Their second option has been to pipe the gas all the way to Darwin, arguing that this can be done economically by linking up with the pipeline which already runs from Bayu Undan to Darwin, and on a moderately shallow ocean floor. The Timorese have long demanded that any settlement include the piping of the gas across the deep Timor Trough to the south of Timor Leste so that the processing might be done onshore, allowing them to export Timor Gas to the world.

 

"The announcement is good news for all persons on both sides of the Timor Sea who seek justice and reconciliation following upon the troubled and uncertain times since the Portuguese left their colonial heritage in 1975."

 

It is very good news that the two governments have reached agreement on 'a pathway to the development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue'. Given the stand-off in the South China Sea, Timor's agent Agio Pereira is right to express pride and satisfaction that 'with our joint success at resolving our dispute through this conciliation process, Timor-Leste and Australia hope to have set a positive example for the international community at large'.

The announcement is good news for all persons on both sides of the Timor Sea who seek justice and reconciliation following upon the troubled and uncertain times since the Portuguese left their colonial heritage in 1975. The parties still have a lot of work to do to finalise the agreement by October 2017. But this breakthrough is a tribute to Gusmao, Pereira and Bishop reaching out across the Timor Gap.

 


 

Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

 



Comments

Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Similar articles

'Equal laws and equal rights ... dealt out to the whole community'. How close 161 years on?

1 Comment
Frank Brennan | 04 December 2015

'Tonight, gathered here in the Southern Cross Club in the national capital, gathered as Eureka's children. We affirm that there is room for everyone under the Southern Cross. I hope you will return to Canberra carrying the Southern Cross flag when we proclaim the Australia Republic on 1 January 2020 which will be two elections after Australia last had a monarchist leader of a major political party. Tony Abbott is the last of his type. Whether the prime minister honoured to witness the proclamation is Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten or another matters not.' Annual Dinner for Eureka's Children, Southern Cross Club, Canberra, 3 December 2015.


It's time to put past victims and present and future children first

11 Comments
Frank Brennan | 01 March 2017

Make no mistake, our church leaders are not yet out of the blaze of the headlights. They don't have all the answers, not even in relation to matters peculiarly within their jurisdiction. Despite being put on notice, our most senior bishops could not even agree on the limits of the seal of the confessional and on what a priest should do if abuse were reported in the confessional by a child. It's not just our past leaders who needed help. Our present leaders also do.


Ensuring justice for all after the Royal Commission

3 Comments
Frank Brennan | 17 February 2017

The commission's forensic scrutiny of past actions of church officials in no way constitutes an interference with the freedom of religion. Its spotlight is to be welcomed, provided only that it is shone on a truly representative sample of all institutions which have been found wanting and provided the same light filter is applied to all institutions. I do however have a problem with the commission making findings on issues like the want of compassion when those findings are made only against a Church.


Looking for light amid Royal Commission's Catholic wrap-up

17 Comments
Frank Brennan | 06 February 2017

Listening to the media and our church leaders in recent days, we know that there is plenty of darkness ahead for our Church in the weeks ahead with the Royal Commission's so-called 'Catholic wrap-up'. We're told that the statistics will be terrible and we expect that some of our church leaders will appear, looking stunned and helpless. This morning, I think we need to reflect on these stark realities in the light of the scriptures. And this can be done only by holding the victims clearly in focus.


From Caracas to Rome: The story of Arturo Sosa

1 Comment
 | 07 November 2016

Two days after his election, the communications team of General Congregation 36 sat down with Father General Arturo Sosa to discuss his life and thought. The conversation introduces the new Superior General in a way that is more personal, to Jesuits and the wider Ignatian family around the world.