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Edging closer to a just regime in the Timor Sea

  • 05 March 2018


On Tuesday the governments of Timor Leste and Australia will sign a maritime boundary treaty in New York in the presence of Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations. This day has been a long time coming.

It will be a day of great celebration for the Timorese, especially their leaders Xanana Gusmao and Agio Pereira. They've taken a big gamble and it seems to have paid off. They have not come away with all they wanted, but they have secured a legal framework for the development of the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea more favourable than any previous framework on offer.

Having fought hard to maintain the previous framework, the Australian negotiators have acted honourably, and their political masters have been sensible agreeing to the new framework. The Timorese and Australian negotiators have taken boundary delimitation as far as possible without having the Indonesians at the table to help finalise the maritime boundaries at those points in the Timor Sea where all three countries have an interest.

Basically the Timorese and Australian negotiators and their political masters have taken the boundary agreement as far as they can without infringing on Indonesian concerns. Some of the agreed boundary lines will need to be provisional, awaiting Indonesian agreement at the edges where all three countries have an interest.

Not everyone will be happy with the deal. Some of the Timorese, as well as some of their more strident Australian supporters, will continue to be upset that the agreed maritime boundary does not place the whole of the Greater Sunrise deposits of oil and gas within Timor's exclusive jurisdiction. The critics will think that Gusmao has traded sovereignty for revenue.

The deal is complex. The details of the border will be known this week but the details of the Special Regime for Greater Sunrise and the pathway for the development of the resources will not be known for some time to come. There's still plenty of room for mistrust and misunderstanding. We Australians must avoid a repetition of the mistakes of the past and we need to maximise the prospects for prompt development of Greater Sunrise.

Once signed, the treaty will need to be ratified. Before it can be ratified at the Australian end, the treaty needs to be considered by JSCOT, the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.


"This new treaty does not provide all the answers. But it's a better basis