Donald R. Rothwell The announcement on the weekend by the Timor Sea Conciliation Commission is the first indication that Australia and Timor Leste are making real progress towards resolving their maritime boundary dispute.
If this process reaches a successful outcome, a permanent maritime boundary will have been drawn in the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor Leste for the first time. However, the conciliation still has some steps to complete. A formal treaty will need to be negotiated, signed and ratified before a new legal framework exists.
The catalyst for the dispute was the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty, negotiated by Australia and the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) in the lead-up to East Timor's independence. That treaty was based partly on a precedent the 1989 Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and Indonesia.
The 1989 treaty agreed on a joint development zone for the Timor Sea, providing for a 50/50 sharing of oil and gas revenue. Importantly, existing continental shelf boundaries concluded in 1972, which lay to the east and west in the Timor Sea, were not disturbed. The result was an unusual set of maritime boundary arrangements for the region.
However, this approach was justified because of developments in international law, following the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the contested oil and gas riches of the Timor Sea.
The 2002 Timor Sea Treaty was a variant of this approach, though the joint development area was smaller and the royalty split was 90/10 in favour of Timor.
While the treaty provided some continuity from the previous regime, it left many issues unsettled. There was no permanent maritime boundary and no clear timetable for one to be finalised. There was no clarification of the status of the Greater Sunrise field that straddled the northeastern quadrant, and no clear framework for oil and gas development for the direct benefit of Timor Leste.
These issues formed the basis of Timor's campaign of the past decade to bring to an end what Dili considered to be an unjust series of associated treaties.
Since October 2016, the Timor Sea Conciliation Commission has met with the parties on six occasions. The most recent meeting concluded on August 30 in Copenhagen. There a breakthrough occurred, which has given confidence that a maritime boundary delimitation in the Timor Sea will be concluded.
Final details remain to be settled, but it seems a package of measures has been agreed. This includes the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field, the establishment of a "special regime" for Greater Sunrise, and mechanisms for resource development and revenue sharing.
It is anticipated that the conciliation will conclude by October. By this time the parties may have negotiated a treaty instrument to give effect to these arrangements. If not, treaty negotiations will still be able to take place independently of the conciliation. At this rate of progress, a treaty signing ceremony could take place by the end of the year.
This outcome represents a considerable political victory for Timor Leste. It has been able to force Australian into a third party conciliation, thereby circumventing Australia's preference for negotiated maritime boundaries. It has also been able to force Australia to abandon its support for joint development in the Timor Sea in favour of a permanent maritime boundary.
While the direction of that boundary remains unknown, international law would support a median line midway between the Australian and Timor coasts, subject to some technical adjustments.
It would appear that Australia has also made concessions on Greater Sunrise. The extent of these remains confidential.
Whether the eastern lateral boundary of the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty has been modified in favour of Timor Leste is unknown. Whatever that outcome, legal mechanisms will be required to resolve the transfer of sovereign rights to Timor from the previous arrangements.
The outcome will be a major achievement for Timor Leste's goal of settled boundaries, both land and maritime, with its major neighbours Australia and Indonesia. How Indonesia will react to these proposed arrangements remains unknown.
Australia's most complex maritime boundaries are with Indonesia. These have been carefully negotiated since the early 1970s, but reflect evolving legal rights and entitlements, some of which are out of step with international law in 2017. The challenge that may loom is whether Indonesia will use the precedent of a new Australia-Timor Leste treaty to reopen previously settled maritime boundaries with Australia.
Bec Strating Last Friday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) announced a 'breakthrough' in maritime boundary conciliation proceedings between Timor-Leste and Australia. The two parties 'reached an agreement on the central elements of a maritime boundary delimitation' and on a 'Special Regime' governing the development of Greater Sunrise and the allocation of resulting revenue.
While a number of issues remain, the PCA's announcement suggests that Australia and Timor-Leste have found a pathway for resolving the longstanding dispute about boundaries and Greater Sunrise.
Overall, news of the breakthrough in negotiations is a good sign. However, it is important to note that the agreement has not been finalised.
In April 2015, Timor-Leste initiated UN Compulsory Conciliation (UNCC) proceedings under Annex V of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to assist in resolving the long-running dispute. Despite the non-binding nature of the conciliation, both states appear to have entered talks in good faith. As part of the 'confidence building measures' that emerged from the meetings held in Singapore, both states agreed to terminate the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS). CMATS was intended to establish a framework for the joint development of the contested Greater Sunrise gas field (at one time estimated to be worth US$40 billion) and put a moratorium on permanent boundary maritime delimitation. As a quid pro quo, Timor-Leste scrapped two international legal proceedings against Australia.
Over recent years, Timor-Leste's government has reinvigorated its pursuit of permanent maritime boundaries, arguing that they are necessary for completing sovereignty. The dispute with Australia was mainly over where boundaries would be drawn. Australia favours principles of 'natural prolongation', which provides it seabed territory extending to the Timor Trough. In contrast, Timor-Leste favoured a 'median' line, which is supported by contemporary international maritime law.
However, the key boundary for establishing possession of Greater Sunrise is the eastern lateral. The line preferred by Australia (which would place roughly 80% of Greater Sunrise in Australian waters) is based on principles of 'simple equidistance'. Timor-Leste claimed that the eastern lateral boundary should be located substantially to the east, which would place Greater Sunrise in Timor-Leste's possession.
As I wrote in February, the most pragmatic course of action for resolving the dispute would be for Australia and Timor-Leste to compromise though bilateral negotiations based on median line principles.
An expedient negotiated settlement with Australia was in the interests of oil dependent Timor-Leste. The hydrocarbon revenues from the shared development in the Timor Sea are projected to disappear sometime in the early 2020s. A prolonged legal battle through international courts could have been highly problematic for Timor-Leste's economic future, and potentially required Indonesia's participation.
One commentator suggested that Timor-Leste's Greater Sunrise claim was based on UNCLOS, but that it ultimately accepted a 'lesser deal' because of its urgent need for gas revenues to stave off economic collapse. But UNCLOS provides little guidance on the placement of the eastern lateral boundary beyond demands for equity. Timor-Leste's claim was supported by a legal opinion commissioned by Petrotimor, an oil and gas company with a vested interest in shifting the line eastward. Timor-Leste's 'compromise' needs to be understood at least partly as resulting from the fact that its ownership claims over Greater Sunrise were legally dubious, a fact compounded by the recent PCA ruling in the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines.
As for Australia's decision to compromise, the termination of the CMATS made it difficult to avoid boundary discussions while simultaneously defending the primacy of the 'rules-based order' and imploring China to uphold the South China Sea PCA ruling. Additionally, it's also in Australia's interests to enhance Timor-Leste economic viability rather than risk an aid-dependent state on its doorstep.
A key question leading into this negotiation was whether Timor-Leste would be satisfied with permanent maritime boundaries that would only give it part of Greater Sunrise, or whether it would go for broke and refuse to settle for anything less than all (or most) of Greater Sunrise. Timor-Leste had reinvigorated its pursuit of permanent boundaries after its arguments for a pipeline failed, and reoriented its foreign policy to say that delimitation was 'the only acceptable solution' to the dispute.
It's clear Timor-Leste has compromised on its eastern lateral boundary claims. What this means for the division of resources and the development plans of Timor-Leste remains unknown. A significant question mark hangs over the future of Timor-Leste's planned pipeline to the south coast and its mega development project, Tasi Mane. More information should come to light in October following the finalisation of the agreement and consultation with various stakeholders.
Michael Leach In a major joint announcement on Saturday, Timor-Leste and Australia declared they had reached an agreement on "central aspects" of a maritime boundary determination. Since April last year, the two countries have been involved in a Compulsory Conciliation Process under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, initiated by Timor-Leste.
While full details remain confidential until a further announcement next month, the agreement will create permanent maritime boundaries and revised resource-sharing arrangements in the yet-to-be-developed Greater Sunrise oil and gas field. This is a major step forward for the resolution of the long-running dispute between two neighbours.
Most importantly, it seems highly probable that Timor-Leste has secured a median-line boundary in the Timor Gap, creating a permanent maritime boundary for the first time. While many in Australian foreign policy circles have assumed that Australia would limit its negotiations to revenue sharing, and wouldn't countenance permanent maritime boundaries or depart from its older claim for the "natural prolongation" continental shelf boundary, the ground appears to have shifted.
If this proves to be the case, it will represent a major victory for the small nation and a clear endorsement of the UNCLOS Compulsory Conciliation process. A median-line boundary will place 100 per cent of the present Joint Petroleum Development Area in Timor-Leste's sovereign waters, where current treaties divide the revenue from existing fields, such as Bayu-Undan, 90 10 in its favour. This is an important outcome for Timor-Leste's sovereignty, and will be hailed as a major victory in Dili, but it's important to remember that these fields are nearing the end of their life.
Far more financially significant is the as-yet-untapped Greater Sunrise field, worth in excess of $40 billion. While Timor-Leste has respectable legal opinion suggesting that the entire Greater Sunrise field could be in its maritime waters under UNCLOS, this was always a trickier proposition, as the field straddles the eastern lateral (or side) boundary of the Joint Petroleum Development Area.
Unlike the relatively straightforward and media-friendly median-line principles governing the east-west boundary, the north-south laterals involve far more complex technical considerations, with competing options for baselines and offsets. While Timor-Leste was clearly entitled to more of Greater Sunrise than current treaties allowed for, the lateral boundaries question could have opened up a minefield of differing interpretations.
Importantly, shifting the laterals might also involve renegotiating aspects of the previously settled 1972 Australia-Indonesia boundary, an outcome Australia has sought to avoid at all costs. Despite Timor-Leste's opening bargaining position, therefore, compromise in this area was always a strong possibility, in favour of a bigger win represented by a median-line boundary and increased upstream revenues. Such revenues from Greater Sunrise will be especially critical to Timor-Leste's future.
Earlier treaties placed 20 per cent of Greater Sunrise in the Joint Petroleum Development Area, giving Timor-Leste just 18 per cent of future revenues under the 90-10 split. The subsequent and now defunct Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, or CMATS, increased Timor-Leste's share to 50 per cent, but delayed permanent maritime boundary negotiations for fifty years. Though Timor-Leste acceded to CMATS, it had no option for an adjudicated settlement as Australia had withdrawn from international dispute resolution jurisdictions, putting the issue firmly in the realm of power politics.
With the 2006 treaty process marred by damaging spying allegations against Australia, Timor-Leste opted for the final avenue open to it: a compulsory (but non-binding) conciliation process, which has never previously been employed under the UNCLOS treaty. In January this year, the country announced it would terminate CMATS, and Australia agreed not to challenge that move. It was a win for Timor-Leste, but it was also a high-stakes gamble, reverting the young state's guaranteed share of Greater Sunrise revenues to 20 per cent pending a new negotiation.
The gamble appears to have paid off. It is highly likely that the renegotiated agreement will see a substantial increase in Timor-Leste's share of the future Greater Sunrise revenues from the 50-50 offered under CMATS, while allowing for joint development of the field under a special regime for Greater Sunrise. The final agreement will also determine the contested issue of where the pipeline from Greater Sunrise will land for downstream processing in Australia or Timor-Leste or whether it will be a floating platform, as preferred by the commercial partner Woodside.
From Australia's perspective, the fact the agreement appears to retain the current "trilateral" endpoint markers of the Timor Gap will also be considered a win, as it means the 1972 boundary with Indonesia will not need to be revisited. This was Australia's baseline position. While some critics might see the outcome as a retreat from Timor-Leste's opening gambit, no one should doubt the strength of Australia's earlier resolve to delay maritime negotiations indefinitely or, failing that, to stick to its longstanding continental shelf claims. Australia was defending the existing arrangements as recently as last year, and even now many in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade remain convinced of the merits of that position. The agreement therefore represents a major shift for Australia. Labor's change of policy in early 2016 clearly had an impact behind the scenes, shifting a previously bipartisan consensus. Recent pressure from the United States for a resolution of the maritime boundary dispute, with the South China Sea controversy in the background, provided further incentive for Canberra to reach an agreement.
The resolution of this long-running dispute opens the way for a major improvement in relations between the two neighbours, which have been at a low point in recent years. As Kim McGrath's timely new book, Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea, shows, Australia's role in the Timor Gap has been a sorry one since the 1960s, when Australian authorities issued exploration permits north of the median line in the 1960s with no clear legal basis an act that was challenged by the colonial power, Portugal, but later accepted by Indonesia in return for concessions on East Timorese self-determination and support for Indonesia's controversial "archipelagic principle." As McGrath makes clear, our foreign policy was unduly determined by the desire to close the Timor Gap along the same favourable lines determined in 1972 with Indonesia.
Saturday's outcome is a major achievement for the East Timorese negotiating team, led by former PM Xanana Gusmao and minister of state Agio Pereira, backed by the Maritime Boundary Office and its legal team. While Fretilin narrowly won the 22 July election, and will lead a new cross-party government, it is understood that there has been no interference from the incoming government, which has been at pains to respect Gusmao's stewardship of the well-advanced process.
The maritime frontiers strategy was firmly in place before the election, with September's session in Copenhagen always likely to be the make or break. In the end, the breakthrough became evident when Gusmao finally revealed the sort of outcomes acceptable to Timor-Leste. The Conciliation Commission itself is to be congratulated on producing a workable compromise from potentially heated negotiations.
While many following the issue will reserve judgement until the final parameters of the deal are known, the East Timorese maritime boundary team returns to Dili today, no doubt to a substantial popular welcome. A new government is expected to be announced early this week and formed later in the month, with a few major surprises likely.
Analysts have cautiously welcomed a new maritime agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste.
The deal ends a long running row between the two nations that's stalled a multibillion-dollar offshore gas project in the Timor Sea. The details will remain confidential until they are finalised next month.
In a joint statement, negotiators for Australia and Timor-Leste have welcomed the agreement announced by the international Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The leader of Timor-Leste's delegation, chief negotiator and former President Xanana Gusmao, has hailed the deal as a historic moment, marking the beginning of a new era in relations between the two countries.
Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the deal supports the national interest of both nations.
Kim McGrath has written a book on the issue, Crossing the Line Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea. She says given its previous position, the Australian Government has come a long way in a short time to come to an agreement.
"It's quite remarkable that just two years ago, even probably 12 months ago, Australia's position was to still defend these series of previous treaties, including one that was tainted by allegations of spying and maintaining that all of that was fgine and there wasn't any need to re-negotiate arrangements in the Timor Sea," she said.
"We're still waiting on the detail and there will be a lot of interest when that's finally revealed."
Central to any deal is the carve-up of money from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field. The deal outlines a maritime boundary, as well as revenue sharing arrangements for the field, estimated to be worth over $60 billion.
Earlier this year, Timor Leste ended a 2006 treaty with Australia, which split revenue 50-50 after allegations of spying on Timor Leste cabinet ministers.
While the details of this latest agreement remain confidential, the court says it addresses the field's legal and revenue issues.
Timor-Leste may have welcomed the deal, but international politics expert Professor Damian Kingsbury, from Deakin University, says it's been forced into to it because of its perilous financial situation. "Australia has behaved reprehensibly," he told SBS World News.
"In 2002 it forced East Timor into an unconscionable deal over the Timor Sea, essentially stealing East Timor's resources.
"And what we are seeing now is Australia again bullying East Timor into accepting a deal that's not entirely in East Timor's favour. But East Timor is desperate. It needs the revenue from that field so it's not really in a position to hold out any longer."
Kim McGrath says the Australian stance on an oil and gas field that lies much closer to the shores of Timor-Leste has caused considerable resentment in the fledgling and impoverished nation.
"It's been quite toxic. In Dili there there's graffiti around the streets of a kangaroo hopping away with oil. It's something that's had a low profile and not much awareness in Australia but in Timor-Leste, just about everyone across all political persuasions has been very interested in this issue because it's an economic lifeline for them."
And she says the issue is of far more significance to Timor-Leste than it would be to its bigger neighbour.
"What is at stake in the Timor Seas is a drop in the ocean in Australia in terms of our access to oil and gas revenues but for the Timorese it means schools, hospitals, desperately needed medical services and jobs for young people."
According to Professor Kingsbury, Australia still looks set to get a sizeable chunk of revenue from the Golden Sunrise oil and gas field, even though it lies in Timor-Leste's waters under international law. "So Australia has done very well out of this at East Timor's expense. Australia should have drawn a line in the middle which would have given East Timor the oil and gas field.
"As it turns out, there will be a boundary, the Golden Sunrise field will be divided. East Timor's not going to get the deal it should have. Having said that, it does look like it will get much better than a 50/50 deal and that will help secure East Timor's economic future, which does give it some certainty."
Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok Australia and East Timor have reached agreement on developing billions of dollars of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea, ending years of bitter disagreement.
A deal has been reached on a maritime boundary as well as sharing arrangements for the $US50 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hailed the agreement struck in confidential talks at The Hague as a "landmark day" in relations between the two countries.
Xanana Gusmao, the hero of East Timor's struggle for independence and leader of his country's delegation in the talks, described it as an "historic agreement that marks the beginning of a new era in Timor-Leste's [East Timor's] friendship with Australia".
He said it will "help us achieve our dream of full sovereignty and to finally settle our maritime boundaries with Australia".
Mr Gusmao had demanded that gas from Greater Sunrise be piped to a yet-to-be built industrial complex on East Timor's remote western coast.
A joint statement released on Saturday said the countries have agreed on establishing a "special regime" for Greater Sunrise that addresses legal issues and is a pathway to the development of the field and the sharing of revenue.
The two parties also agreed on "central elements" of a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea, it said. The deal will be finalised in October under the watch of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Until then details will remain confidential.
Michael Leach, an expert on the Timor Sea from Swinburne University of Technology, told Fairfax Media that while the full details are needed to understand "the full parameters" of the agreement "it is clearly a major step forward for resolution of the long-running dispute".
Professor Leach said the announcement was a "clear endorsement" of a conciliation process triggered by East Timor under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. The negotiations were the first of their kind under the UN convention.
"A resolution to this dispute clearly opens the way for a major improvement in relations between the two neighbours, which have been at a low point in recent years, with no ministerial visits since 2013," he said.
Participation in the conciliation process was compulsory for both countries but the outcomes are not binding.
The agreement will be seen by the Timorese as a huge victory by Mr Gusmao who doggedly pursued a better deal for his country. Mr Gusmao's party was narrowly defeated at elections in July.
Agio Pereira, East Timor's agent in the proceedings, said "this agreement was made possible because of the strength and leadership" of Mr Gusmao who had "secured the future of our nation".
The key breakthrough in negotiations came on the night of August 30, the anniversary of the UN-supervised 1999 referendum when Timorese voted to break away from Indonesia and become the world's newest nation.
Professor Leach said the Labor Party's change in policy to favour East Timor, which shifted a previously bipartisan consensus with the Turnbull government, had an impact behind the scenes.
He said there was little doubt also that recent pressure from the United States for a resolution of the maritime boundary dispute, with the South China Sea controversy in the background, further pushed Canberra to reach an agreement.
Peter Taksoe-Jensen, chairman of the conciliation commission, said the negotiations "have been challenging and this agreement has only been possible because of the courage and goodwill shown by leaders on both sides".
Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong welcomed the breakthrough and said the dispute had gone on for too long.
She said Labor committed last year to reaching a binding international resolution, either through bilateral negotiation or international arbitration.
"This ruling vindicates Labor's position and brings an end to more than 40 years' uncertainty over this maritime border."
Jane Norman Australia and Timor-Leste have resolved their bitter and long-running dispute over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, in what is being described as a "landmark day" in the relationship between the two nations.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague today announced the parties reached an agreement on Wednesday over the disputed territory, which contains large oil and gas deposits worth an estimated $40 billion.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hailed the breakthrough as a "landmark day in the relationship" between Timor-Leste and Australia.
"This agreement, which supports the national interest of both our nations, further strengthens the long-standing and deep ties between our Governments and our people," Ms Bishop said.
Timor-Leste also known as East Timor initiated the compulsory conciliation process last year in a bid to force Australia to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary.
Former Timor Leste president Xanana Gusmao said the "long and at times difficult" process had helped the country achieve its dream of "full sovereignty and to finally settle our maritime boundaries with Australia".
"This is an historic agreement and marks the beginning of a new era in Timor-Leste's friendship with Australia," he said.
While the details remain confidential, the court said the agreement "addresses the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field... and the sharing of the resulting revenue".
In January, Timor-Leste terminated its 2006 treaty with Australia, which split revenue from the Greater Sunrise field 50/50 and delayed negotiations over a permanent maritime boundary for 50 years.
The country claimed the treaty was invalid because of allegations that Australia spied on cabinet ministers during negotiations to divide the oil and gas fields.
This week's agreement will likely be seen as a moral victory for Timor-Leste.
Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong welcomed the breakthrough, saying the court's ruling brings to an end "more than 40 years of uncertainty over this maritime border".
"The maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste has strained our bilateral relations and has gone on too long," she said.
The deal will be finalised in October. Until then, the details will remain confidential.
In 1989 Australia and Indonesia signed the Timor Gap Treaty when East Timor was still under Indonesian occupation.
East Timor was left with no permanent maritime border and Indonesia and Australia got to share the wealth in what was known as the Timor Gap.
In 2002 East Timor gained independence and the Timor Sea Treaty was signed, but no permanent maritime border was negotiated.
East Timor has long argued the border should sit halfway between it and Australia, placing most of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in their territory.
In 2004 East Timor started negotiating with Australia again about the border.
In 2006 the CMATS treaty was signed, but no permanent border was set, and instead it ruled that revenue from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field would be split evenly between the two countries.
Kupang A total of 13,000 ex-East Timorese residents proposed eight demands to the Indonesian government through the East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Provincial Government during a demonstration at Jalan El Tari Kupang in front of the NTT governor's office.
"We have eight demands to be submitted to the Indonesian government through this demonstration," said the coordinator of the protest Eurico Gutteres to reporters in Kupang, Monday (9/25/2017).
Eight demands from former East Timorese as well as pro-integration fighters when the East Timor separated from the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), among them, are asking for political certainty from the Indonesian government related to the citizenship status of the former residents of East Timor Province.
In addition, protesters demanded legal certainty from the Indonesian government in relation to 403 people whose names were put in the 'serious crime' list related to severe human rights violations during the East Timor poll in 1999.
"For this problem, we expect Mr. Wiranto to hear this. I am with 403 former East Timorese residents as well as Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto on the 'serious crime' list and [Mr Wiranto] can go anywhere, while we were banned everywhere," he said.
Some former East Timorese also requested compensation for 13,000 integration fighters of East Timor, including widows and orphans who remained loyal to the NKRI.
In addition, the awarding of the award certificates to 13,000 East Timor integration fighters who remain faithful to the NKRI, the appropriate appreciation to members of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), Police, and civil servants of East Timor Province.
In addition, they ask the Indonesian government to finalize the assets of Indonesian citizens left behind throughout the territory of East Timor.
Gary Cox In wealthy countries, free-to-air broadcast television may be giving way to marathon binge sessions on your favourite streaming service.
But in Timor-Leste, viewers are getting something extra in their terrestrial TV programming and it's proving a hit. A new locally-produced law and order drama is taking the fledgling nation by storm.
Laloran Justisa, or Waves of Justice, is a Tetum-language series that presents family tensions, football, music and love stories in combination with important human rights and democracy themes.
Currently broadcast nationally, there are also public screenings under way in remote villages from Maubisse, in the central highlands, to Fohorem.
"The shows sets a good example for us students as well as our families," class three student Sonia de Reigo explains. "When a relative stays with us to go to school, we should let them go to school, the housework can be done after school."
The show is part of a broader project where students are taking part in an art and writing competition.
Teacher Maria da Silva says the show engages students, making it a powerful education tool. "The show can motivate the students: they can learn from the series, the good and bad," de Silva said.
The show is the brainchild of Australian human rights lawyer Patrick Burgess, who runs Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR).
The project was developed in conjunction with the Timorese government and bankrolled by the European Union. Burgess wrote the scripts, while Dili Film Works produced the shows with the aim of delivering education through entertainment.
"People aren't going to watch it if there's not enough drama, love stories... and you're going to fail," Burgess told SBS World News. "You have to have that but if the messages are not clear you have also failed."
Sister Marcelina, from the Fohorem Church, says two of the show's characters, who are keen to assert their independence, offer some good coming-of-age lessons.
"From what I see in the two kids, they both are enthusiastic about the life in the city," Sister Marcelina said after a public viewing.
"But along the way, when they are faced with the reality of life, they couldn't go through with it.
"So this reflects the reality of life, where children have high hopes, but with the lack of support from family they decide to find their own place to live."
That's no accident. Burgess says there's a theme for each of the 20 half-hour episodes. "One might be domestic violence, one might be environmental pollution and those episodes can be used as training in schools, in government and the police," he said.
Burgess is no stranger to conflict and nation-building. He's worked on reconciliation after the Rwandan genocide, atrocities in Yemen and as UN Human Rights chief in Timor-Leste.
"There are a lot of village people who don't understand their rights, that they have the right to basics like schooling, education and that they shouldn't tolerate corruption by local officials and that nepotism is something that is not going to benefit anybody, so we put those in," he said.
The idea is modelled on a similar series The Sun, the Moon, and the Truth, also made by Asia Justice And Rights in Myanmar. Watched by seven million people, it was so successful it's now used to train all police officers.
"We had no idea it was going to be that successful. It has such an impact that the show is now used to train every new police officer in Cambodia," Burgess said.
"There's a scene with a domestic violence situation where an older cop says: 'You know this is a family problem', while the younger cop is pursuing the legal process, siding with the victim.
"Trainee cops are asked to assess that situation." The good-cop-bad-cop scenario in that series is also used in Waves of Justice too.
Fohorem Village Chief Fernando Ferreira attended the public screening in his community and says it demonstrates the right approach to law enforcement.
"I learned something from the movie, about the police capturing the suspect," Chief Ferreira aid.
"[They] lock him up in cell and [he's] brought to court. It shows the good cop/bad cop, which is a good example that reflects reality.
"If there were any cops here tonight watching, I hope they could learn something from the show. The shows set good example for us students as well as our families."
Thomas Ora, Dili and Michael Sainsbury, Bangkok Timor-Leste faces fresh political uncertainty after the youth focused Khunto Party pulled out of a three-way coalition two days before the Sept. 15 inauguration of the cabinet.
The move casts doubt over whether the now-minority government can last a full five year term.
The government now has to win over members from other parties to vote for its budget, if that gets voted down twice then fresh elections need to be called.
Khunto's senior adviser Jose Dos Santos Naimori said the party decided it could not work with the leaders of the coalition's senior partner Fretilin which scored the most votes of any party in the July 22 poll.
But the tiny nation's new prime minister, Mari Alkatiri who has begun a second term after having led the Catholic majority country from 2002-2006 claimed Khunto had internal problems that needed immediate attention in order not to disrupt the coalition.
"We've worked for one month for the coalition, but it had to end as Fretilin does not cooperate," Naimori told reporters on Sept. 14.
That means Khunto will now sit in opposition in Dili along with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and Popular Liberation Party.
Professor Damien Kingsbury from Brisbane's Deakin University questioned whether Alkatiri's coalition could last the distance.
"Now its back to a minority government, between Fretilin and PD [Democratic Party] which, until this latest deal, had a longstanding antagonistic relationship (PD left the government in 2015 after Fretilin was invited to join it), " he told ucanews.com.
"It will be interesting to see how they get along, and how long they last. [It] may be pragmatic enough for it to be workable, if a minority administration can be that."
Alkatiri who became the country's first prime minister in 2002 and resigned in 2006 due to political instability, assured the public that the government will last for five years.
"I guarantee that this government will last for five years," Alkatiri said during a media briefing following the inauguration on Sept. 15.
He also promised to include the country's finest people to hold important posts based on their competencies, even from opposition parties.
Two former prime ministers are in the first batch of 12 cabinet ministers inducted on Sept. 15.
President Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres inducted Alkatiri, 68, as PM; Jose Ramos Horta as Minister of State and Counselor for National Security; and Rui Maria de Araujo as Minister of Health, with one independent politician, Rui Gomes, appointed as Minister of Planning and Finance. Another 18 cabinet members will be sworn in next month.
Executive director of the HAK Foundation, Manule Monteiro, a seasoned observer of Timor-Leste politics, has confidence in the new government, indicated through the appointment of key people to the cabinet. "I believe it will last for five years," Monteiro told ucanews.com Sept.19.
He said Alkatiri has applied the principle of "the right man in the right place" by appointing ministers based on their competencies, not on power sharing. This is what the people have waited for."
"If Alkatiri does the same thing with the remaining 18 posts, I think the people will be happy, Fretilin will gain much support, and in no way will it stop in the middle of the road," he added.
Camilo Ximenes, a political analyst from Timor-Leste State University warned that a minority government faces a serious problem when it comes to passing legislation, particularly the state budget.
Article 112 of Timor-Leste's Constitution states that failure to pass the budget twice in a row, means another election must be held. "But it can be solved through building strategic and intensive communication with all political factions in parliament," he said.
Bishop Norberto do Amaral of Maliana appealed to Catholics of Timor-Leste, especially the political elite, and the 65 members of the House of Representatives, to unite and ensure stability.
"I urge all political elites to be humble and engage in a common dialogue to solve the basic needs of the people," Bishop Amaral told Jornal Nasional Diario Timor.
East Timor swore in a new government Friday, led by a returning prime minister who experts say will need to wean the country off its reliance on oil revenues and diversify the economy.
Mari Alkatiri, secretary general of the Fretilin party, was inaugurated with 10 members of his 30-person administration at a ceremony in the capital Dili.
Speaking to hundreds of party faithful, the 68-year-old pledged to maintain good ties with neighbours Australia and Indonesia and improve public services.
"I will create a better economy, education and health in Timor-Leste," said Alkatiri, using the official name for the country.
Impoverished East Timor, Asia's youngest democracy, is heavily dependent on dwindling oil reserves.
Reining in government expenditure on large infrastructure projects and ensuring the long-term sustainability of its national petroleum fund will be key tasks for the new government, said Professor Michael Leach, from Australia's Swinburne University of Technology.
"To avoid the resource curse it will have to diversify the economy, especially to provide jobs for the enormous number of young people it has," he told AFP.
About 60 percent of East Timor's 1.2 million people are aged under 25, according to the World Bank, and half the population live in poverty.
Fretilin, which won the July election by a narrow margin, did not receive enough votes to govern alone and has formed a minority coalition government with the Democratic Party.
With only 30 seats in the 65-seat house, the government will require confidence and supply from other parties in parliament.
"Though it is a minority government, its prospects for stability in the short-to-mid term are positive," Leach said. Several familiar faces will return to cabinet, including former president Jose Ramos-Horta and former prime minister Rui Maria de Araujo.
Alkatiri, a Muslim politician in the majority-Catholic country, was East Timorīs first prime minister following independence from Indonesia in 2002. He was forced to resign after civil unrest engulfed Dili in 2006.
Thomas Oro, Dili Muslim politician Mari Alkatiri, who quit as prime minister 2006 after four years as the mainly Catholic nation's first parliamentary leader after its independence, is set for a dramatic return to lead the government for the next five years.
The decision by the Fretilin-led coalition to endorse Alkatiri unanimously, ending the tenure of incumbent Fretilin Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo, came just a week after a coalition was formed between Fretilin, Democratic Party and Khunto and the installation of 65 new parliament members on Sept. 6.
On Sept. 12 party leaders were scheduled to meet President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, also a member of Fretilin for his rubber stamp approval.
Still, Alkatiri has not clearly agreed or rejected his nomination. "I respect the party's decision, but give me time. We will have to get approval from the president," Alkatiri said.
In his 2006 speech the 68-year-old Alkatiri said he was stepping down after heeding the call of President Xanana Gusmao to resign, to prevent further violence. Gusmao is now the country's effective opposition leader.
Asked about ministerial posts, Alkatiri denied speculation that this was the end goal of the coalition. "We formed a coalition but it is not for the sake of ministerial seats but participation in serving the people," Alkatiri told reporters Sept. 11.
Camilo Ximenes, a political analyst from Timor-Leste State University, said that Fretilin's decision to endorse Alkatiri is a right decision.
According to Timor-Leste election law, the secretary general of the winning party will automatically be entitled to the prime minister post.
However, Ximenes said Alkatiri's nomination is not only because he is Fretilin's general secretary but he has the capacity drawn from his previous experience.
"The most important thing for the new government under his leadership is to guarantee the stability until 2022," Ximenes told ucanews.com Sept. 12.
The only issue now, Ximenes said, is that despite his capability to be the prime minister, Alkatiri may still be traumatized by the political situation that forced him to resign in 2006.
Alkatiri spent decades in exile in the African Portuguese speaking nations of Angola and Mozambique where he studied law before returning to Timor-Leste and successfully running for parliament and becoming the country's first prime minister in 2002.
Therefore, it's crucial for Fretilin to maintain political stability for next five years, by solidifying its coalition with Democratic Party and Khunto, as well as building good relationship with opposition parties, Ximenes said.
In July's parliamentary election, Fretilin gained 23 seats, National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction 22 seats, Popular Liberation Party 8 seats, Democrat 7 seats and Khunto 5 seats.
The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and Popular Liberation Party under the leadership of former president Taur Matan Ruak has refused to ally with Fretilin and chose to be in the opposition.
"Fretilin has to strengthen the coalition and build up good political communications with the rest of the political parties," Alkatiri said.
Most importantly, to garner support from society, the next government should be able to address key sectors, such as healthcare, education, agriculture, and empowerment of village people.
"The education budget should increase from 6 percent to more than 15 percent, to improve the quality of Timor-Leste people to be able to compete in Asian region," he said.
Father Herminio Goncalves, head of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dili Diocese, said Timor-Leste Catholics welcomed anyone, including Mari Alkatiri, regardless of their religious background to lead the country, as long as they put people first, not the party's interest.
"As Asia's most Catholic country we should set as model for democracy," Father Gonclaves told ucanews.com. "The church needs someone who has principles and commitment to bring this country forward, out poverty and corruption," the priest added.
Chairman of the Democratic Party, Mariano Assanami Sabino, said being part of the coalition brings a new spirit to his party to work better for development of Timor-Leste community. "We are ready to work with the government for the people," he told reporters.
The new prime minister is scheduled to announce cabinet members on Sept. 15. They will take their oath on Sept. 22.
Nelson Da Cruz, Dili East Timor is set to swear in Mari Alkatiri for a second stint as prime minister, the country's president said on Thursday, with Asia's youngest democracy facing stiff challenges to boost a flagging economy heavily reliant on oil and gas.
Alkatiri, the secretary general of the Fretilin party, was East Timor's first prime minister after independence from Indonesia in 2002. He stood down in 2006 after a wave of unrest sparked by the sacking of 600 soldiers.
"Today I announce to all the people that the president of the republic... has nominated Dr. Mari Alkatiri to become the prime minister," President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres told a news conference.
Guterres called for people to remain calm and said Alkatiri would form a minority government. He expected Alkatiri's swearing-in to be held either later on Thursday or on Friday.
"The most important thing is the politicians need to think about how to maintain government stability in the future and ensure peace," he said.
Fretilin, or the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, won the most votes in July's election but failed to get an outright majority. It intends to form a coalition with the small Democratic Party.
It had been in a de facto coalition since 2015 with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, a party founded by former independence fighter Xanana Gusmao.
Alkatiri, who is a Muslim in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, spent several decades living in exile in Mozambique during East Timor's struggle for independence.
The next prime minister will face pressure to lift flagging oil production in the tiny nation of 1.3 million people, where unemployment and poverty remain high.
Dwindling output from existing oil and gas fields, compounded by the slumping prices of the commodities, have hit the government's budget and crimped its ambition to develop manufacturing as an engine for economic growth.
Australia and East Timor reached a breakthrough agreement earlier this month on a maritime border, ending a decade-old row that has stalled a $40 billion offshore gas project.
The long-running dispute has led the owners of the Greater Sunrise fields Woodside Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Osaka Gas to shelve the project.
East Timor's new parliament is ready to be sworn in next week but it's still unclear who will be prime minister.
The Fretilin Party narrowly claimed victory at the parliamentary elections in late July and is still in negotiations for the makeup of a coalition government. The talks are expected to continue over the weekend along with the jostling for ministerial positions.
Deakin University expert Damien Kingsbury said Mari Alkatiri and Rui Maria de Araujo were the likely contenders for the prime minister, both having served in the role previously. If Dr de Araujo gets the job, it's likely Mr Alkatiri will be the "power behind the throne", he said.
Former president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao is set to continue heading up his country's negotiations with Australia on a maritime boundary. The governments are taking part in conciliation in The Hague.
A final report is due to go to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in September but it's likely negotiating teams will report progress and ask for more time.
East Timor notified Australia in January that it wished to tear up a 2006 treaty which split 50-50 future revenue of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The reserve contains gas and oil worth an estimated $50 billion, but how the spoils will be divided up must now be revisited.
Boni Jehadin, Kupang and Ryan Dagur, Jakarta Neglected for almost two decades, pro-Jakarta Catholic Timor-Leste militias who relocated to Indonesia after the country's independence have demanded the government begin a process to remove them from the United Nation's serious crime list, which prevents them traveling abroad.
The grievance was one of a list of mainly economic frustrations that saw 1,000 former fighters on Sept. 25 take to the streets of Kupang, the capital of Timor where they now live, eking out an impoverished existence despite having fought for the country.
Their plight is in stark contrast to the hero treatment handed to senior members of the Indonesian armed forces including East Timor campaign leader, retired general Wiranto, who is now a minister in President Joko Widodo's cabinet.
Eurico Guterres, a former leader of the pro-Jakarta fighters, pleaded with the Indonesian government to fight for legal certainty for 403 East Timorese whose names are still on the U.N.'s 'serious crime' list related to atrocities during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.
He made the appeal to Wiranto, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs the commander during East Timor's bloody 1999 vote for independence.
"I am one of 403 former East Timorese as well as Mr. Wiranto who are on the 'serious crime' list. But now, Wiranto can go anywhere, while we are banned everywhere," he told ucanews.com.
In 2003, Wiranto with six other generals were accused by the U.N.'s Serious Crimes Unit of being responsible for training and arming pro-Jakarta militias that joined the Indonesian military in killing more than 1,000 people and forcing 250,000 East Timorese to flee their homes before and after the independence referendum.
Guterres said that although they were granted Indonesia citizenship after the war, they cannot leave Indonesia, including traveling to Timor-Leste to see family members because their names are still on the U.N. list.
He also noted that Widodo has never mentioned former Timor-Leste fighters in official statements.
"The president has never talked about ex-combatants who are living below the poverty line," he said. "A great nation is a nation that honors its fighters," he said. The protesters asked the government to provide compensation to 13,000 militiamen as well as a charter of appreciation for them.
"We also hope the government can provide the opportunity for the sons and daughters of militiamen to become members of the military, police and civil servants," they said in a statement.
Margarida Perera, 45, explained that her children cannot work in government agencies. "The reason is they are ex-East Timorese," she told ucanews.com.
Perera's husband died during the war and she has received no assistance from the Indonesian government for 18 years.
East Nusa Tenggara governor, Frans Lebu Raya, who spoke with the protesters said he "deeply understood the grievances of the ex-East Timorese" and promised to immediately raise the problem with Widodo.
Meanwhile, Natalius Pigai, commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights, said that to fulfill the protesters' demands, the Indonesian government must work with the Timor-Leste government.
"Regarding the status of 403 on the U.N.'s list, it first needs an official apology from the Timor-Leste government, then both countries can appeal to the U.N. to remove those people from the blacklist," he told ucanews.com.
Pigai said, the stalemate also applies to other problems, such as their assets in Timor-Leste.
"The two countries should sit together to solve these problems," he said. "In 2013, we submitted a recommendation to the Indonesian government, but it looks like there has been no progress," he said.
Jakarta Indonesia and Timor Leste have been committed to solving their border problem at Noelbesi-Citrana in Kupang district, East Nusa Tenggara province, a senior minister said.
"The dispute persists there. But it does not mean that it cannot be solved," Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto said here Tuesday.
Wiranto said at his meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi and Timor Lest Maritime Border Chief Negotiator Xanana Gusmao earlier in the day, both countries have agreed to go ahead with their plan to set up a Senior Official Consultation (SOC) to solve the border dispute.
The former Indonesian military chief said Xanana Gusmao, who was the first Timor Leste president visited the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs early 2017. At the meeting, both sides decided to set up the SOC, which was supposed to start working in March 2017.
However, Timor Leste asked for time until July 2017 to settle its internal democratic issue, causing the two countries to postpone the creation of the organization, he said.
"The settlement (of the border dispute) has been disrupted due to general election. As the election is over, we continue (the negotiations) again," he said.
He expressed hope that the border dispute can be solved amicably without causing tension between the two countries. (*)
Beijing Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday extended congratulations to Mari Alkatiri on his election as Timor-Leste's prime minister, China's Xinhua news agency reported.
In his congratulatory message, Li said China and Timor-Leste are friendly neighbors and have established a comprehensive cooperative partnership featuring good neighborly relations, mutual trust and mutual benefit.
Over the past few years, the two countries have continuously enhanced political mutual trust, carried out all-round pragmatic cooperation, and expanded people-to-people and cultural exchanges, Li said, saying bilateral relations are showing a good momentum with steady and fast development.
Li said he is willing to establish a sound working relationship and personal friendship with Alkatiri to jointly advance the China-Timor-Leste relations and bring more benefits to the two peoples.
Alkatiri, born in 1949, served as Timor-Leste's prime minister from 2002 to 2006. He has been re-elected for the 2017-2021 tenure.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to Timor-Leste's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri To congratulate him on his appointment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a media release on Monday (Sep 25).
In a letter dated Sep 22, Mr Lee wrote to Dr Alkatiri: "Timor-Leste has made great strides since its independence in 2002, including through your personal contributions during your first term as Prime Minister, and later as President of the Authority of the Oe-Cusse Special Administrative Region."
Returning prime minister Dr Alkatiri, secretary-general of the Fretilin party, was inaugurated with 10 members of his 30-person administration at a ceremony in the capital Dili on Sep 15.
In his letter, PM Lee also highlighted "warm and longstanding ties" between Singapore and Timor-Leste.
"Our friendship and cooperation predates Timor-Leste's independence. As small states, we share many common concerns and interests and have worked well together bilaterally and at multilateral fora," Mr Lee wrote.
He added that Singapore remains committed to providing capacity building to Timor-Leste through the Singapore Cooperation Programme. Mr Lee also invited Dr Alkatiri to make a visit to Singapore. (CNA/am)
Caitlin McGee Fifteen years since Timor-Leste gained its independence, there are growing fears it could face economic collapse.
Its main oil and gas reserve is nearly depleted and the government of the country formerly known as East Timor is pumping its savings into grand infrastructure schemes that critics say are wasteful.
In association with the Asia New Zealand Foundation, Newshub reporter Caitlin McGee went to Timor-Leste's capital city of Dili to report on the situation.
With rugged mountains hugging a pristine coastline, Timor-Leste is one of the world's unsung natural beauties. But for people living in the slums surrounding the capital, life is anything but idyllic.
"We have been abandoned by the government. For the veterans they were heroes in the past but now they have betrayed us," says Timor-Leste man Fortunado D'Costa.
"We supported the resistance movement but those who supported the Indonesian government are still living a good life. Today we have independence but we have nothing else. Just the peace and stability."
About 42 percent of Timorese live in poverty and the people picking through rubbish dump scraps are among the most desperate.
This year marks 15 years since Timor-Leste gained its independence after 25 years of oppressive Indonesian occupation. Since then, its leaders have stitched together a stable democracy and brought electricity to remote villages.
But they've struggled to reduce widespread poverty among the 1.1 million Timorese. Money or the lack of it is not the problem.
Timor-Leste has been blessed with oil and gas reserves. But they're now running out and the income they generate is set to vanish in the next 10 years because the government is pumping most of the money it's making from petroleum into grand development schemes.
The government has already spent about $300 million on the Tasi Mane Project a petroleum infrastructure project on the south-west of the country.
As well as the Tasi Mane Project the government is pumping hundreds of millions into developing an enclave called Oecusse and turning it into a special economic zone it hopes will attract foreign investment.
Again, it's proving controversial because the financial plans are vague. But the government says these big projects are necessary and money won't run out.
"People think that money is going to run out in 10 years' time but this is a prediction," says Timor-Leste politician Estanislau da Silva.
"We are developing the economy and I don't think that we will be left empty handed in 10 years' time. And this is the best bet that we are doing at the moment to diversify our economy."
The government admits it needs to invest more in education and health. Timor-Leste has the highest rate of leprosy in Southeast Asia and 50 percent of children are stunted from malnutrition.
Remembering the Balibo Five In the month of August, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA was proud to support the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) co-host two public events featuring East Timorese Journalist, Raimundos Oki who was in Australia undertaking a placement with Fairfax and the ABC. The strong relationship between Journalists in Timor Leste and MEAA is a very personal one for many MEAA members, dating back to the tragic history of five young Australian Journalists who were murdered in a town called Balibo, Timor Leste.
As we approach the 42nd anniversary of the deaths of Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham and Greg Shackleton (the Balibo Five) on October 16, 1975, APHEDA would like to pay tribute to these five Australian Journalists and their colleague Roger East who was also murdered in Timor Leste's capital city of Dili on December 8th of that same fated year.
Many APHEDA members are familiar with the story of the Balibo 5, whose murders preceded the brutal occupation of Timor Leste by Indonesian forces by a matter of months and whose journalistic pursuit of information about the suspected covert activities of the Indonesian army took them to the tiny town of Balibo, half an hour from the Indonesian border. Today, with the support of the Victorian Government, trade unions, construction companies and the Balibo House Trust (set up by family members of the victims) you can visit the town of Balibo and stay in the renovated fort which has been converted into a comfortable modern hotel overlooking the district with a clear view at night of the lights on the border. The money raised in the trust also supports local employment in the hotel, a primary school and recently a dental clinic for the people of the Balibo district.
Down the bottom of the hill from the fort, travellers can also visit the Balibo Flag House Museum where the red-painted Australian flag, a last-ditch effort to alert the invaders the Australians were there, is now preserved along with a moving exhibition in honour of the journalists and other local people who valiantly fought off the invasion and murder of thousands of Timorese people during the 25-year Indonesian occupation of Australia's nearest island neighbour.
However, family members of the Balibo Five are still fighting for justice. Initially, no information about what happened to the slain men was made available to their families and colleagues. Once their deaths were confirmed, however, it was suggested the five had been caught in cross-fire between the invading Indonesian army and local Timorese. Eventually following a coronial inquest in 2007, NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch brought down a finding into the death of Peters:
"Pinch found that Peters, in company with the other slain journalists, had died at Balibo in Timor Leste on 16 October, 1975 from wounds sustained when he was shot and/or stabbed deliberately, and not in the heat of battle, by members of the Indonesian Special Forces, including Christoforus da Silva and Captain Yunus Yosfiah on the orders of Captain Yosfiah, to prevent him from revealing that Indonesian Special Forces had participated in the attack on Balibo."
A war crimes investigation into the deaths of the five journalists was not instigated until two years later in 2009 and the secrecy around its content and results were never made public. Pressure from family members, friends and politicians such as Senator Nick Xenophon led to extremely limited information being publicly released on October 13, 2014, about the 'ongoing' nature of the investigation without any concrete detail or findings shared. Almost immediately afterwards on October 21, 2014, the Australian Federal Police announced it was abandoning its investigation due to "insufficient evidence to prove an offence".
In memory of the six who never returned from Timor Leste, MEAA established an annual scholarship through APHEDA to support keen investigative journalists from Timor Leste to undertake international study and work placements in pursuit of ongoing media. The second round of scholarship applications closed last month and the 2017 recipients of the Balibo Five Roger East Fellowship will be announced in October.
The solidarity between comrades was palpable in Melbourne and Sydney last month when Brother Oki (who last year was charged with treason for an article he wrote criticising the Timorese Prime Minister) explained his desire to become a journalist had been inspired by hearing the story of the five young Australians who were martyred in their attempts to share the story of the Timorese people with the outside world.
Khoo Ying Hooi Led by Mari Alkatiri, secretary-general of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) for the second time as the prime minister, the Seventh Constitutional Government of Timor-Leste was finally sworn in on September 15. Some interesting figures were appointed in the new government, such as former president Jose Ramos-Horta, who was appointed as minister of state focusing on national security and defense, as well former rector of the National University of East Timor (UNTL) Aurelio Guterres, who was appointed foreign minister.
The government was a long-time coming since parliamentary elections on July 22. After much negotiation, the new government composed of two coalition parties, Fretilin with 23 seats and the Democratic Party (PD) with seven seats in the 65-seat house. This minority government hopes to maintain stability and ensure peace. Alkatiri said the new government will be characterized by political inclusion and vowed to improve the lives of the Timorese people with efforts to reduce uneven development between city and rural areas, and fighting against corruption.
The earlier agreement on between Fretilin, PD and Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan (Khunto) fell apart when the youth party withdrew from the coalition at the last minute. It was also reported that they could not reach agreement in compromising the principle of proportionality that had earlier been agreed between the three parties.
The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) under the leadership of former revolutionary leader, Xanana Gusmao, together with the immediate ex-president Taur Matan Ruak's Popular Liberation Party (PLP) emphasized that it would support the new government.
In my two previous articles with Guteriano Neves in the lead-up to the election ("Timor-Leste Parliamentary Elections: Hard Choices, Hard Times" and "Young Voters Will Decide Timor-Leste's Parliamentary Election") the role of the youth was emphasized. In a subsequent article, "After Timor-Leste's Election, a Young Democracy Looks Forward," I wrote that, "whoever the next prime minister is, in five years' time he or she will face the thorny question of how to bring this young democracy a step ahead by diversifying its economic opportunities and development as well as moving away from its aid and oil dependency. Ultimately, the real test for this young democracy's survival is whether tolerance and understanding of the different aspirations of the people can prevail for the betterment of the country."
According to World Bank, about 60 percent of Timor-Leste's 1.2 million people are under 25-years-old. Speaking to youths about their views on the new cabinet and if they think Timor-Leste is moving in the right direction, living up to the democratic values politicians are always prattling on about, there appears to be a mixture of reactions. Generally they seem to either be neutral or supportive. Regardless, most felt that the new government should continue to focus on areas of basic need: quality education, clean water, health and infrastructure facilities.
Leoneto Elizario, working for the Secretariat of State for Vocational Training, Policy and Employment (SEPFOPE) thinks Timor-Leste is moving in a positive direction, the peaceful elections a measure of success. For Leoneto, the fact that Alkatiri, who is Muslim, is now prime minister of a predominantly Roman Catholic country, is a strong indication of how Timorese value their differences.
Leoneto hopes that the new cabinet can focus on public administration reform, health, education, and job creation.
Miqueias Mendonca Tilma, a student at the Dili Institute of Technology (DIT), remains hopeful, despite the political uncertainty inherent in a minority government, that the new government can generate more opportunities for the unemployed youth.
As for Marcos Pinto, who is currently working in the natural resources sector, the new government's lineup is ambitious and that could be a good thing. He supports whomever runs the government, hoping it can continue to provide security and safeguard the interests of the people rather than engage in power struggles. He also hopes the government will focus on education, agriculture and infrastructure. For him, these areas are crucial to overcome problems such as food security.
Fernando A.T. Ximenes, a final-year student from the National University of East Timor (UNTL) thinks the long negotiation process to form the government proves that generational transition remains an unfinished task. Despite several new faces, the cabinet is led and filled with elders and dominant institutional figures. He does not think the new cabinet will dramatically change the country's current economic development pattern.
While some critics have expressed concern over the sustainability of the minority government, the surprising electoral results for Khunto, a youth party focused mainly on issues like unemployment and the support for the government from the newly formed PLP, which also has a large youth contingent, is indicative of the growing role of Timorese youth in politics.
Youths will shape a crucial part of Timor-Leste's development, and their role is indispensable. This is something the new government should recognize, and it should take measures to address the issues which most concern the country's youth. The youth should not be left out of the progress that Alkatiri, and his government, hope to achieve.
Guteriano Neves After almost two months of intense political theater among the Timorese political elites, the new government was finally sworn in on September 15, 2017 with the new minority government model.
While the process is not completely finished and the new government is filled with some old faces, most of them are new. There is hope that the new government will bring new ideas to the country's looming challenges to reverse some of the trends in term of public spending, improving basic infrastructures and creating jobs for high number of young people. However, the biggest challenge is to overcome the institutional crisis that underpins ongoing political uncertainty and threatens the stable government.
Timorese went to the election two months ago with hopes that there will be significant changes for the development path that the country is taking, and addressing some of the real problems that people are facing. Issues like youth unemployment, access to education, basic services and infrastructures, and low incomes are widely seen as the biggest development problems faced by the community.
These were confirmed by polls conducted by The Asia Foundation (TAF) before the election, as well as the International Republican Institute (IRI). According to TAF's survey, economic issues, diversification in particular, were the biggest problems identified by the respondents, although the sector has the highest budget allocation. The lack of basic infrastructure, like roads and bridges, is still seen as a big problem. The gap between Dili and the rest of the country is also obvious in terms of individual income and access to social services. Therefore, the current government has to meet the people's high expectation by approaching alternative policies.
Within public administration, the new government faces the tremendous challenge of controlling ballooning costs. Currently, it costs more than $1 billion to maintain the public administration functioning. It is equivalent to around 60 percent of the domestic economy, measured by non-oil GDP. At the same time, the growing public administration has become increasingly consumptive and inefficient during the past ten years. Allegations of corruption and nepotism is also undermining public trust.
When it comes to foreign policy, the immediate goal is to get integrated into the ASEAN community. The recent election boosts the possibility for Timor-Leste to get access to ASEAN. But the real challenge is how to use its foreign policy as a tool to strengthen domestic development, while the improvement of people's well-being can strengthen Timor-Leste's profile at the regional and international level.
The return of some familiar faces former president Jose Ramos Horta, new Prime Minister Marii Alkatiri, former Prime Minister Rui Maria Araujo and Rui Gomes to the cabinet does give people some hope. Rui Maria Araujo, trained as a doctor, is hoped to be capable of addressing the country's health issues. He was the minister of health during the first government in 2002-2007, when the country did not have petroleum revenues. Having headed the pro-poor unit at the United Nations Development Program, Rui Gomes has essential knowledge on alleviating poverty in the country and solving other macro-economic challenges. The new Prime Minister Marii Alkatiri himself is well-known for being a rigorous decision-maker. After sworn in, he made commitment to change public investment, prevent growing migration to Dili and address subsistence agriculture.
Although Timorese political elites decline to admit an institutional crisis, it is obvious that the current process indicates that. By institutional, I mean the rules that shape the political actors interact, including the distribution of power. The election shows that the Timorese institutions are not clear yet about how to address the balance of power, as the society becomes more complex and dynamic.
Before the election, many predicted that Timor's politics would not change much, as the Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste Independente (Fretilin) and the Xanana-led Conselho National da Reconstrucao de Timorense (CNRT) would continue to form a coalition government. However, after two months of back and forth negotiations among political parties in the parliament, only the Democratic Party which has seven seats in the Parliament agreed to form a coalition with the Fretilin. Kmanek Haburas Unidade Timor Oan (KHUNTO) which has five seats in the Parliament declined to participate at the very last minute. The result means that the current government does not enjoy majority support in the parliament. This so-called minority government is new in Timor's political context.
Although CNRT, which has 22 seats, has promised that they will vote for "national interests," "national interests" is a actually a very tricky term that can be used to justify different policy directions when needed. Taur Matan Ruak's newly established party, Partidu Libertacao Popular (PLP), which has eight seats, publicly stated that it will play the role of "constructive opposition", while the type of opposition didn't exist in the parliament in the last five years.
The current formation of a minority government, rather than a solution, is a reflection of the failure of negotiation among political elites. The outcome has not provided a sense of certainty or stability to the public. Instead, anxiety has appeared in social media and conventional media coverage.
People are worried that the current evolution of the government may have negative impacts on economy, particularly on the confidence of foreign investors, when Timor-Leste is in dire need of foreign investments to address, among other major issues, youth unemployment.
Under such political uncertainty, the prime minister will have to work harder to demonstrate the government's stability to the public; the members of the coalition parties will have to maintain their support base against the opposition parties in the legislative body.
In addition, an early election an election taking place before 2022 is not desirable for the country, which is in need of long-term goals to address its development challenges now. Any discussion of an early election will only divert attention and prove that the political elites do not have sufficient capacity to make political concessions and manage their own interests under the current circumstances.
Michael Leach Almost two months since the 22 July election, a new government will be sworn in today in Dili. Fretilin, with 23 seats in parliament, has joined with Democratic Party (PD) which has seven representatives, giving them 30 seats in the 65-seat house. As recently as Wednesday a majority government was expected until the five MPs from the youth-focused party Khunto withdrew at the last minute, surprising many in Dili by not attending the agreement signing ceremony. It appears Khunto made demands for ministries in excess of its size, which Fretilin would not meet as they compromised the principle of proportionality that had been agreed between the three parties.
While Khunto now appears to be out of the picture, the coalition signing ceremony between Fretilin and PD proceeded on Wednesday, and late on Thursday President Francisco 'Lu Olo' Guterres appointed Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri the new Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. The new government will be sworn in late today after the first formal session of the new parliament. It will include ministers from Fretilin and PD, and will also see with some independents appointed, including Jose Ramos-Horta, who will be a Minister of State with an additional role as advisor on national security. Prime Minister Alkatiri will also be the Minister of Development and Infrastructure, and the outgoing Prime Minister Rui Araujo will become Minister of Health. New faces in the ministry include the former rector of the national university Aurelio Guterres, who becomes Foreign minister. Senior PD figures will take central roles in the presidency of the Council of Ministers, and in Commerce and Industry, among others. It is understood the new PM has decided which portfolios wil be allocated to each party. Only twelve of 30 ministerial and vice-ministerial positions will be sworn in today.
The new Fretilin-led minority government formalises a shift from the previous government (which was based on an informal power-sharing agreement between the two largest parties, CNRT and Fretilin) and the end of a decade of governments led by the CNRT chief and former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. After narrowly losing the July election, CNRT has said its 22 MPs would serve in opposition, though it would support the government on key votes such as the budget.
It is understood CNRT will in effect offer the new government 'incidencia parlamentar', a Portuguese term for confidence-and-supply arrangements with parties that do not formally join the government. For his part, the President consulted opposition parties and has stated he is satisfied the new government will have adequate support on confidence, the government program, and budget, despite its minority status.
Perhaps most interestingly, while this leaves the CNRT and the immediate ex-President Taur Matan Ruak's Popular Liberation Party (PLP) formally in opposition, Fretilin's vision of a 'government of grand inclusion' will see certain individuals associated with both parties offered ministries. The practice of 'loaning' individuals from the opposition parties to serve in government started with the previous government. Whether these offers are accepted remains to be seen, but the offers will be significant in themselves. Though the character of the government has changed, some elements of informal power-sharing appear to continue. The new Minister of Finance, Rui Gomes, for example, was a Chief of Staff to former President Ruak and believed to be close to the PLP, though he has been appointed in a personal capacity.
The formation of government has been slow. Until early last week, it appeared Fretilin would form a parliamentary coalition with the PLP, which ran on a platform of greater government transparency and increased attention to basic development indicators rather than the megaprojects favoured by the outgoing government. Negotiations with PLP were, however, unduly protracted, and faltered over the issue of who would serve as President of Parliament (approximating the Speaker).
In the end, Fretilin's candidate for President of Parliament, Aniceto Guterres, won narrowly by 33 votes to 32, indicating that three members of PD or Khunto voted for the CNRT's Aderito da Costa. This outcome suggests the new parliament may be a lively one, providing more surprises and greater accountability over the executive than the previous, something Dili's civil society has been calling for.
Though many in Dili's active social media are uncertain about the constitutional implications of minority government, the constitution provides that the 'most-voted' party or the coalition of parties with a majority may nominate the PM, precisely because the latter is not always possible. For the government's minority status to trigger a change of government, its formal program would have to be rejected by parliament twice. Given the CNRT offer of 'incidencia parlamentar', and similar assurances from PLP and Khunto, there seems little chance the Fretilin-PD government program will not pass. While the potential for no-confidence votes remains inherent to minority status, there is presently no appetite for alternate coalitions among the non-government parties, with relations between CNRT and PLP perhaps the least amicable of any combination. The smaller parties are also averse to the prospect of early elections as they lack campaign funds, though the constitution prohibits another election for at least six months in any case. With these factors and Fretilin's efforts at inclusion, the prospects for stable minority government seem sound, at least in the short to mid-term.
Fretilin envisages this as a different model of democracy, one that favours Timorese-style inclusion over Western-style conflict, and builds on the consensus model of the previous government. For its part, PLP seems set on a more conventional idea of opposition, and many in Dili will welcome a strong opposition voice something Timor-Leste lacked under the power-sharing arrangement of the last government. In a move likely to be welcomed by civil society, Aniceto Guterres has promised a new anti-corruption law. There is also pressure from civil society to reduce the excessive infrastructure spending to make Timor-Leste's sovereign wealth fund more sustainable, and to diversity the economy to reduce oil and gas dependence.
Despite the chequered path to forming government, Mari Alkatiri's return to the prime ministership has proved largely uncontroversial. None of the five parties in parliament has opposed his candidacy, with the prevailing view that the Prime Minister should be the person with full authority in the most-voted party. Even the powerful Catholic Church a major opponent of the first Fretilin government has expressed support. The obvious alternative candidate was the current occupant, Fretilin's Rui Araujo, installed with CNRT's support in 2015. With Timor-Leste's political-military crisis only 11 years in the past, Alkatiri's ascension to PM is a sign not only of Fretilin's recent campaign success, but also of how consensus-style politics have reduced the temperature of conflict within Timor-Leste's political elite.
The 2017 election cycle represents a turning point for Timor-Leste in several respects. Though technically the seventh government since 2002, and the fourth parliament, it is only the second change in government leadership, with the other being the 2007 shift from Fretilin majority government to a CNRT-led coalition. It therefore represents the 'double turnover' moment since independence, in which the fundamental composition of the government changes for the second time. This is considered a key measure of democratic consolidation.
The new parties to emerge also suggest shifting political values in East Timorese society. The PLP appealed to younger voters more concerned with transparency and accountability, and less with the value of political stability favoured by older voters who witnessed the great upheavals of Timorese history. Part of the electorate also turned against megaproject-style developments in favour of basic development indicators. For its part, Khunto appealed directly to unemployed youth. Perhaps most importantly, the 2017 elections suggest that while participation in the independence struggle remains a powerful factor in political legitimacy, it does not compel new voters in the same way. For this group, issues like youth unemployment are more important.
Perhaps the key lesson of 2017 elections is that Fretilin appeared to detect this shift sooner than the CNRT. Where the CNRT campaign once again highlighted Gusmao's historical leadership of the resistance, Fretilin ran a disciplined campaign which instead emphasised development policy, and played to its leader's strengths. The PLP made its own critique of Timor-Leste's economic direction and was also led by a major resistance figure in Ruak, which saw it capture some of the non-Fretilin vote from CNRT. Finally, while Gusmao himself remains popular, other figures recently installed in the CNRT leadership team proved far less so.
Despite this week's surprises, the 2017 election cycle represents a substantial political victory for Fretilin, which now holds both the Presidency and Prime Ministership. Nonetheless, there are plural sources of power in the parliament, which will keep the new government more accountable than the old. Importantly too, Xanana Gusmao remains a senior figure in East Timorese politics, and Fretilin remains keen to have him inside the tent. The incoming government was at pains to emphasise support for Gusmao's continuing leadership of the maritime-boundaries negotiating team, and did not intercede in the recent negotiations in Copenhagen. The deal announced last week in the maritime boundary dispute with Australia appears to provide for a median 'east-west' boundary in the Timor Sea, and substantially increased revenue for Timor-Leste from the untapped Greater Sunrise, though it falls short of full East Timorese control over that field. If these outcomes are confirmed next month, it will represent a substantial (though not complete) win for Timor-Leste. Last Monday the East Timorese negotiating team, led by Xanana Gusmao, arrived home to considerable public fanfare. Gusmao may also be offered Chief of a new Tasi Mane development authority, the ambitious south coast development project sponsored by the former government, which will likely continue in scaled-back form.
In terms of policy, a Fretilin-led coalition should see increases in annual spending on basic development indicators like health, education and agriculture, reducing the emphasis on megaproject-led development, though the shift may not be as profound as a coalition with the PLP might have produced. While Fretilin will continue major infrastructure programs such as the Special Economic Zones for Social Market Economy in the exclave of Oecusse, the sheer scale of contract spending is likely to reduce. This will be a difficult transition and will see the political economy of Timor-Leste alter in ways that are beneficial for economic sustainability, but potentially challenging for political stability. An inclusive approach to governance will aid the transition.
Mari Alkatiri has said the incoming government will be characterised by political inclusion, by efforts to reduce uneven development between city and rural areas, and by the fight against corruption. Some have expressed concerns over political stability without the powerful combination of Fretilin and Gusmao. Yet a change in government may instead improve popular faith in institutions, tarnished by recent protests against the exorbitant government car fleet and the life pension scheme for MPs. While de facto power-sharing between the two major parties brought a type of political stability, a transition of power that is respected by all parties, and overseen by an active parliamentary opposition, might represent the more durable institutional form. How former leaders are accommodated in the new arrangements may prove the most interesting question, and may also be instrumental to the stability of the minority government.
Paul Malone The announcement by the Permanent Court of Arbitration last week that Australia and Timor Leste have reached an agreement on maritime boundaries will hopefully bring to an end a shameful episode in Australia's foreign affairs history.
The dispute undermined Australia's claim to be an upstanding member of the international community. As long as it continued Australia could not take the high ground and lecture other countries about bullying and exploitation of weaker neighbours.
Most Australians are rightly proud of the role Australia played in leading the multi-national peacekeeping force that restored order in East Timor in 1999 after Indonesian sponsored militia ran amok and threatened to destroy the newly established state before it had even begun.
But there's little to be proud of in the wheeling and dealing employed by Australian ministers and foreign affairs officials in earlier years when they manouevred to set a maritime boundary between the two countries that would materially benefit Australia.
The history since the mid-seventies is well documented by researcher Kim McGrath in her recently published book Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea.
As early as the 1960s the Minister for National Development, David Fairbairn declared that the boundary between Australia and the countries to our north should extend no further than the median line, regardless of the potential oil riches.
But the Department of Foreign Affairs opposed negotiations with Portugal which administered its colony of East Timor, arguing that the colony would eventually fall under Indonesian sovereignty. The department maintained this policy for decades.
McGrath reveals an August 1975 cable from Australia's ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott to his department head saying that Australia should not do anything that could be construed as criticism of the Indonesian plan to incorporate Portuguese Timor.
Not least amongst Australia's concerns were oil and gas field interests. Woolcott asks if the views of the Minister or Department of Minerals and Energy have been ascertained and points out that agreement on the sea border could be more readily negotiated with Indonesia, rather than Portugal or an independent Timor.
"I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but this is what national interest and foreign policy is all about," the man who would go on to head the Department of Foreign Affairs says.
McGrath quotes a number of sources saying that the Australian embassy in Jakarta was warned in advance that Indonesia would commence its East Timor destabilisation campaign on October 15, 1975.
But she also reveals that on October 14 Woolcott had dinner in Jakarta with the architect of the campaign, General Benny Murdani.
The Australian government was in turmoil in late 1975. Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who agreed with the foreign affairs department's position that East Timor would be incorporated into Indonesian territory was deposed on November 11.
With the Liberal-Country party coalition in government Woolcott cabled the department to remind new Liberal Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock that the Indonesians believed Peacock favoured the early integration of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia.
Indonesia launched its full scale invasion on December 7, 1975. The following week Woolcott told journalists that if Australia had helped form an independent East Timor it could have become a constant source of reproach to Canberra and "it would probably have held out for a less generous seabed agreement than Indonesia had given off West Timor".
McGrath says the Department of Foreign Affairs believed the Indonesian military engagement in East Timor would be over quickly and the Timorese would welcome being part of Indonesia. In the event the conflict raged for 25 years and cost at least 102,800 lives.
As the conflict raged former diplomat James Dunn documented the atrocities and his reports were published in Australian newspapers and sent to politicians and his former colleagues in Foreign Affairs.
On a copy of one of Dunn's papers on the atrocities an Australian embassy official wrote: "Everything is relative my dear chaps!"
This is not the only disgusting file note annotation. The Fretilin independence fighters issued a press release stating that Indonesians were daily torturing, raping and executing the captured population.
Next to this is written, "sounds like fun" and "This report is internally inconsistent. If the enemy was impotent, as stated, how come they are daily raping the captured population? Or is the former a result of the later?"
The recipient of this comment, another Australian diplomat added, "sounds like the population must be in raptures."
McGrath reveals another notation to a Dunn report that there had been a great deal of looting and raping of girls. Someone wrote, "How do you loot a girl? (misspelling?)"
Resistance leader Xanana Gusmao who was later to be elected president of an independent Timor Leste and lead the Timor delegation that has just negotiated the new maritime boundaries reported in 1978 that 140,000 Timorese were surrounded and subject to Indonesian napalm and scatter-bomb attacks.
At the same time the Australian government was happily negotiating the seabed boundary with Indonesia. The election of a Labor government in 1983 did not alter the policy of putting Australia's material interests first and foremost.
And in 1989 it all paid off. Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, with Richard Woolcott as his department head, signed the Timor Gap Treaty with Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas.
Indonesia conceded nearly 80 per cent of the Greater Sunrise gas field and gave Australia rights to another soon-to-be discovered oil and gas field.
Into his retirement Woolcott argued against independence for East Timor saying in 1999 that there could be substantial financial implications if the Timor Gap Treaty unravelled.
The newly independent state of Timor Leste was in no position to negotiate maritime boundaries on an equal footing with a powerful neighbour that had just played a positive part in enabling its creation.
Grossly unfair maritime boundaries were negotiated, effectively stealing oil and gas revenue from the impoverished state.
The details of the new Permanent Court of Arbitration agreement will be revealed next month. It's to be hoped that Australian negotiators have at long last done the right and honourable thing.
Damien Kingsbury Australia's agreement with East Timor to settle a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea appears to bring to an end a long-running and often bitter dispute, which has marred relations between the two countries. Indeed, with this deal, Australia has again bullied its tiny near neighbor into acquiescing to a deal that is less than what East Timor believed it was entitled to.
East Timor has agreed to the lesser deal because it has been facing major budget cuts to stave off medium-term economic collapse. Without a deal, the country could have been bankrupt before the end of the 2020s. Even under the agreement, revenues are unlikely to flow from the field until around that time.
The agreement now provides certainty around the development of the Greater Sunrise gas and oil field, and hence should help secure East Timor's economic future. It was the development of this field that was always at the heart of East Timor's dispute with Australia.
The agreement falls short of East Timor's original claim, that an equidistant boundary between Australia and East Timor would place all of the Timor Sea oil and gas fields, including Greater Sunrise, within East Timorese territorial waters. That claim was based on the international Convention on the Law of the Sea.
One difficulty with that claim is that it would have required an alteration to Indonesia's boundaries with Australia on either side of the Timor Sea. It now appears that Indonesia's existing boundaries will be retained, meaning East Timor's new boundary will be narrower than originally conceived and less than identified under the Convention of the Law of the Sea.
The narrower boundary will also leave a significant part of the Greater Sunrise field within Australian waters. The Greater Sunrise field was variously estimated to be worth up to $50 billion dollars at the peak of world oil and gas prices. Those prices have since declined and a new valuation will depend on what forward contracts can be signed.
While no specific details are available, the agreement that has been reached refers to a "pathway to the development of the [Greater Sunrise] resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue". Australia had previously offered East Timor a 50-50 split of revenue from the Greater Sunrise field, so it is expected that the agreement will increase East Timor's share of revenues.
The agreement also leaves open the question of the "pathway to the development" of the field. East Timor had argued for the processing of the natural gas at a refinery to be built on its southern coast.
The Greater Sunrise concession holder, Woodside Petroleum, argued against the south coast proposal, saying that it would require the construction of a pipeline across the Timor Trough, which is more than 3000 metres deep. Woodside also said that the refinery and infrastructure was economically unviable on East Timor's under-developed south coast.
Instead, Woodside proposed building a floating refining platform, which East Timor rejected, leading to the dispute. A further refining option is to back-fill existing Timor Sea oil pipelines as other local oil fields run dry in the next three to five years. Details on the place of refining will become clear when the agreement is made public in October.
East Timor currently survives by accessing funds from its petroleum sovereign wealth fund, currently worth about $16 billion. This funds almost all government spending and underwrites around 92% of the East Timor economy.
The intention was that the petroleum fund would be drawn on at a sustainable, interest-only rate. However, since 2008, successive budgets have exceeded sustainable income by around 200%, drawing on capital as well as interest.
Given that existing Timor Sea oil field are expected to be depleted by 2020-22, if East Timor were to continue spending at that rate, it would be bankrupt before the end of the next decade. Facing significant budget cuts in the face of declining revenues, East Timor has been forced to accept the lesser deal.
This follows Australia's position in 2002, in which then-foreign minister Alexander Downer brow-beat East Timor prime minister Mari Alkatiri into accepting a division of the Timor Sea between the two countries. If Alkatiri had not accepted that agreement, the new and deeply impoverished nation would have been immediately bankrupted.
While Xanana Gusmao was prime minister, he had argued forcefully for an equidistant boundary and full rights to the Greater Sunrise field. Fretilin's leader, Mari Alkatiri, had said that he was more amenable to a compromise, to help ensure that East Timor could adequately fund its future.
Xanana Gusmao's CNRT lost government in the July elections, with Fretilin leading the new government, expected to be sworn in this week. Gusmao was, however, retained by Alkatiri to negotiate the Timor Sea issue.
Alkatiri now being in charge, and facing further cuts to the next budget, explains East Timor's sudden shift of position. So East Timor now has a sovereign border and can expect a new flow of revenue once the Greater Sunrise field is developed and comes on stream.
Australia forced an inequitable deal with East Timor in 2002, was taken to the Court of Arbitration over this issue and has now forced East Timor to submit to another compromise agreement. It may be that the agreement heralds an improvement in Australia-East Timor bilateral relations but, in reaching it, Australia has little to be proud of.