21 Apr 2004, Comments (0)

It’s about oil: Again

Author: Helen

Can nations be selfish? Bloody oath they can!*

I remember someone saying that seeing Rumsfeld or Bush on the TV made them want to chuck a pillow at it. I think she was being much too nice. Next time I see Alexander Downer on the TV, I’ll be sorely tempted to shoot the thing, Elvis style. It’s just lucky for everyone I don’t own a firearm.


On Monday afternoon in Dili, a crucial meeting began. It is the second in a series to discuss the demarcation of a permanent seabed boundary between Australia and East Timor. This apparently simple matter is complicated by a great deal of history, politics, economic interests, legal disagreements, commercial rivalries and diplomatic manoeuvres. At times it even looks like threatening the relationships between the two countries.

In a nutshell, we (that’s Australia, as presented to the world by our wonderful representatives) want to manipulate the seabed boundary so we get the lions’ share of the oil and gas reserves.

The people of East Timor fought with Australian soldiers in World war II, many of them losing their lives in the process. In the 1980s and 90s we looked away as Indonesian militias intimidated and attacked the Timorese population. It took a major bloodbath in 1999 for the Federal government to reluctantly go in and help (compare and contrast their defence of the US “preemptive Strike” policy on the basis that the Iraqi population was suffering under Saddam Hussein).

Yet a smug, overprivileged Australian is seen bullying the Timorese to get an 82-18 share – that’s in favour of Australia – of the Greater Sunrise oil and Gas reserves. Here’s a transcript of Downer monstering the East Timorese PM Mari Alkatiri in 2003.

And they’re doing it again in 2004.

East Timor is now a country that badly needs a source of income. The East Timorese have been through a horrible, bloody time– and I’m not swearing for once– and are in the process of ground-up reconstruction. The country is minus infrastructure, schools, telephones, hospitals, the basics. We, on the other hand, are a wealthy nation. Could I suggest that the Greater Sunrise oilfield should be divvied up 82-18 in favour of Timor? Oh, I know, that’s just naive, that’s just unrealistic. Of course, as the richer country, we should take eighty percent. We have a lifestyle to maintain, don’t we? And there’s the nasty little matter of our oil addiction in general, which is a distasteful topic which only those traitorous greenies talk about. (Note: You might point out, quite rightly, that many poor and /or indigenous Australians still don’t enjoy a high level of material benefits. Would the 80% of the oil and gas revenues go to benefit them, specifically? Maybe. And maybe a pig just flapped lazily past my window.)

This is a disgrace. This makes me ashamed. This makes me want to shoot my TV. Alexander, are you pleased with yourself now that you’ve made us look like greedy, selfish Imperialist gits? Yeah, I know, a nation is not its government. But we are all complicit in this until we can get football off the front page of the news for a minute and wake up to the fact that we’re now the Asia-Pacific school bully.

What can be done? How calling the umpire for a fair go, Sport? That’s the Australian way. Sorry, not possible


If the overlapping claims of the two countries were to be tested in the Law of the Sea Tribunal or the International Court of Justice, Greater Sunrise would be largely in Timorese waters. So would the Corallima Laminaria Buffalo field, a lucrative oilfield from which Australia currently extracts millions in taxation revenues. But Australia withdrew itself from the jurisdiction of the International Court just before Timor became independent.

That’s not all. Did I mention Senator Vanstone? She and her predecessor Philip Ruddock are trying to kick out Australian residents who fled the massacres in East Timor in the 90s. I suppose DIMIA thinks they should be overjoyed simply because they were allowed to live in the community, instead of a detention centre, but the fact is that there are families with children who were born here or came here at such a young age that they have no knowledge of any other life. They are now asking that these families not be ripped out of the communities where they are happy and productive citizens, and the children taken out of school and away from their friends, to travel to a country which is not home to them.

And, of course, we have this ageing of the population ‘crisis’. So of course it’s a good thing to throw out families with young children. What’s that funny noise? Oh, it’s my head banging on the desk.

I’m familiar with the argument, “well, refugees shouldn’t stay here, they should go home to help rebuild their country.” Bullshit. They can’t rebuild their country if their life chances are adversely affected. Let those children grow up and get qualified in engineering, in medicine, in trades. There’s no guarantee, but family memory being what it is, there’s a good chance that many of them will be interested in working in some capacity to benefit their country of origin.

We should let them stay, and we should give East Timor the greater share of oil and gas reserves in the Timor sea so that the next generation of kids can have chances in life, too.

*Note: John’s treatment of this question is subtler and less throwaway than my careless reference. Go and read the whole post.

Comments (0)

  • Sedgwick says:

    Modern History 101 assignment.

    Once upon a time, long time ago there was an island close to Australia called Nauru. This little island was chocker with stuff called superphosphate.

    Did the Nauruans live happily ever after? Discuss. Compare and contrast. (Do not write in the margin and fold your paper neatly.)

  • jen says:

    ‘What’s that funny noise? Oh, it’s my head banging on the desk.’

    I feel like that when goodwill is unthinkable too – and it quite possibly is. And how simple minded I am to hanker for such a cornerstone.

  • Steve Edwards says:

    I think a better idea would be for Australia to build permanent military bases on East Timor, pick up the vast majority of their defence/security requirements and shift the regional balance of power away from Indonesia and towards Australia. We would compensate them with a permanent security presence, and have ourselves a productive and resourceful satellite state.

  • Norman says:

    A few inhabitants from BOTH ends of Timor may have played minor roles, Helen, but it’s hardly something to get you too excited. As for your approach to what International Law supposedly “establishes”, it’s obvious that you’ll never sit at The Hague, or anywhere else.

  • David Tiley says:

    History lesson. When the subject of Nauru came up at the Versailles conference at the end of WW1 – and it is Anzac Day – Billy Hughes was determined to get the place, for the super which he knew Oz farmers needed. Wilson was trying to remove colonialism mechanisms from the carve-up, and organised everyone else to oppose our Billy.

    The story, from memory, goes like this: Wilson said: “We speak for the whole civilised world. Who do you speak for?” Hughes was deaf and fiddled for a moment with his bakelite electrified speaking horn. Then he said:

    “I speak for sixty thousand dead.” Ethics 101. Was he celebrating them, or using them?

    Thanks, Helen, for putting this up.

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