Steve Cannane The lawyer who helped expose an Australian spying operation on its ally Timor-Leste was given a chilling warning by the Federal Government, just months before charges were filed against him for breaches of the Intelligence Services Act.
In a legal letter obtained by the ABC, Bernard Collaery was warned that if he disclosed secret information about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in his book, due to be published next year, he could face "a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment".
The letter from the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) warns he does not have approval to make "broader disclosures about ASIS staff members and ASIS activities, much less to the world at large".
It points out Mr Collaery agreed to particular rules including a "secrecy undertaking" so that he could legally represent an Australian spy.
Mr Collaery, and his client the former intelligence agent known as Witness K, are due to face court next month over allegations not contained in the letter.
The pair is accused of conspiring to communicate secret information to the Government of Timor-Leste some time between May 2008 and May 2013.
Mr Collaery is also accused of sharing information with ABC journalists about the 2004 operation which saw Australia bug Timor-Leste's cabinet room during maritime boundary negotiations over oil and gas reserves worth an estimated $40 billion.
Those conversations allegedly occurred after the December 2013 raid on Mr Collaery's office, where a legal brief was seized.
The timing of the prosecution, more than four years after ASIO agents first raided the homes of Mr Collaery and Witness K, has legal and political experts asking the question: Why now?
Former Victorian premier and adviser to Timor-Leste, Steve Bracks, told the ABC the prosecution is "political".
One of Australia's most senior lawyers, Nicholas Cowdery QC, has questioned whether the prosecution is in the public interest and said the long delay is highly unusual.
Mr Collaery's book is expected to be explosive: shining a spotlight on Australia's relations with Timor-Leste since World War II and exposing decisions made by a series of senior politicians and diplomats.
Monash University Publishing would not be explicit about the book's contents, however director Dr Nathan Hollier said it would raise important questions about "the integrity of systems of government in Australia".
The book has alarmed those at the highest levels of Australia's foreign intelligence service.
According to the AGS letter, the warning was sent following a request from Paul Symon, the head of ASIS. ASIS would not comment due to legal proceedings.
A copy was also sent to the lawyers of Witness K, who was a senior ASIS officer at the time of the Dili bugging. Mr Collaery was angered that his proposed book triggered a warning from the Government that he could face a lengthy jail term.
The Canberra-based lawyer fired back a response, describing the original letter as a threat:
"You might conclude that it was unwise to accept an instruction to forward a letter to me in which you acknowledge my awareness of the law but warn me, in a manner intended to convey a threat, of the penalties for a breach of the law."
Two weeks after Mr Collaery responded to the AGS letter, he and Witness K were given court summons over the revelations relating to the 2004 spying operation.
The prosecution had to be approved by Attorney-General Christian Porter following advice from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).
Mr Porter insists Mr Collaery's book and other "external factors" have nothing to do with the decision to approve the prosecution.
In a statement to the ABC he said: "The decision in this matter was made within months of me taking on the portfolio and was based entirely on the request from the independent CDPP." Mr Collaery was unavailable for comment.
Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks believes the prosecution has been triggered by other events. He says Witness K and Mr Collaery are being prosecuted because Australia has only recently renegotiated a deal with Timor-Leste over maritime borders.
"Why wouldn't they do this previously? Why wouldn't they do that while the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea compulsory conciliation was going on? Why did they wait until it was resolved to do this?"
Mr Bracks is close to Timor's first president, Xanana Gusmao, and has acted as a special adviser to the fledgling country. "I've got no doubt it's political," he said.
At the time of the 2004 spying operation, Australia was in negotiations with its impoverished neighbour over maritime boundaries covering lucrative oil and gas deposits. The Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS treaty) was finally signed in 2006. Protest
After the spying operation was made public, Timor-Leste claimed its maritime treaty with Australia was invalid and took legal action in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
"They wanted to know our weakness and they took advantage of our weakness," Mr Gusmao told the ABC in 2015.
Timor-Leste dropped the case after Australia agreed to enter genuine negotiations over maritime boundaries.
A new agreement, giving Timor a larger share of territory and oil and gas revenue, was finally signed in March this year and approved by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on May 7. Three weeks later Witness K and Mr Collaery were summoned.
The Attorney-General said the treaty and the negotiations around it had no influence on his decision.
"The decision was based on my consideration of the CDPP's independent assessment of the evidence," Mr Porter said. "External factors played no part in my consideration of the matter."
Questions about the delay in prosecuting Witness K and Mr Collaery are further complicated by changes in personnel at the top. Since the pair first had their homes raided in 2013, a new CDPP and new Attorney-General have been appointed.
When the brief of evidence was delivered in 2015 to the CDPP, George Brandis was the attorney-general and Robert Bromwich was the Commonwealth DPP.
When Witness K and Mr Collaery were finally summoned to court this year, Sarah McNaughton had been the CDPP for two years, and Christian Porter was Attorney-General.
The ABC understands both CDPPs gave formal advice to then-attorney-general Brandis about whether to prosecute Witness K and Mr Collaery. It's not clear whether the CDPP's legal opinions differed nor why Mr Porter approved a prosecution and Senator Brandis did not.
In a statement to the ABC, Mr Porter said: "I will not discuss the substance or timing of evidence provided to the CDPP in the matter." Mr Brandis was unavailable for comment.
Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery is calling for more transparency around the decision to prosecute Witness K and Mr Collaery.
While there was no legal obligation on the government to explain why it had taken so long to prosecute the pair, he said they should do so to protect public confidence in the law and the office of the CDPP.
"The population needs to have confidence that what is being done on its behalf is being done properly and it can't have that confidence and it can't make that judgement unless it gets the information," he said.
Mr Cowdery has previously given advice the bugging operation conducted by Australia was illegal.
Regardless of the merits of the case, he believes the decision to prosecute is not in the public interest, a key criteria in prosecutions such as this one.
"We see too often circumstances where some official wrongdoing occurs. Somebody exposes that, may have some involvement in it as well, and it's the person who exposes it gets prosecuted while the officials [who planned and authorised the bugging] get away scot free."
Australia bugs Timor-Leste's cabinet room during negotiations over a maritime border covering lucrative oil and gas deposits.
The two nations agree revenue from the oil and gas project will be split evenly in the CMATS treaty and permanent maritime border negotiations put on hold for 50 years.
Timor-Leste government finds out about the spying operation and approaches the Australian government, led by then-prime minister Julia Gillard.
Timor-Leste launch action in The Hague to overturn the CMATS treaty.
Bernard Collaery and Witness K's homes are raided with a warrant issued by attorney-general George Brandis.
The Timorese government agrees to drop the case in The Hague when Australia agrees to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.
Christian Porter takes over as Attorney-General from Senator Brandis.
Australia and Timor-Leste sign a new agreement on maritime borders.
Letter sent to Mr Collaery, warning him about the contents of his upcoming book.
Mr Collaery and Witness K charged for breaches of the Intelligence Services Act.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie uses parliamentary privilege to expose the charges.
Helen Davidson, Dili The actions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery were a valued part of the "collective effort" that led to the historic maritime boundary treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste, the Timorese foreign minister has said.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Australia, the foreign minister of Timor-Leste, Dionisio Babo Soares, said the two nations were at a new stage of their relationship after the historic signing of a maritime boundary treaty, but Timor-Leste was not forgetting the past.
The treaty, signed at the United Nations in March, followed decades of fractious negotiations about the boundary, which would determine lucrative oil and gas rights, and a lengthy conciliation process under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
In one of the most significant episodes of the negotiation process, Australia was revealed to have bugged the offices of Timorese negotiators during critical talks.
A former employee of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service known only as Witness K, and his lawyer, Collaery, are being prosecuted for their role in the revelations, which has drawn condemnation from members of Australian parliament, human rights and legal groups, and the former Timor-Leste president, Jose Ramos Horta.
Asked if the maritime border treaty could have been reached without the intervention of Witness K and Collaery, Babo Soares said there were many contributing factors.
"First of all is, of course, the political will. Second is the acting in good faith not only by politicians but also the people of Australia at large," he said.
"We've seen a lot of support from the civil society in Australia the Timor Justice Campaign, we've seen also the support of the veterans of Australia who think the 'fair go' should be negotiated through Unclos."
"But we also value very much the intervention of the individuals that you have touched on, and this is all part of concerted efforts that have contributed."
In a historic visit to Timor-Leste last month Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said the prosecution was a domestic law enforcement matter for Australia.
Babo Soares said the Timor-Leste government respected Bishop's statement and the sovereignty of Australia, but his government would be following the issue closely.
"As this actually falls under the jurisdiction of Australia we will respect the laws of the country," he said. "This is a matter for Australia to resolve."
However he said Timorese people and civil society groups were free to express their dissatisfaction with the prosecution and many had done so.
Australia's tactics in seeking a greater share of the Greater Sunrise fields have repeatedly drawn criticism, most recently after newly declassified government documents revealed it was a driving factor in Australia's early recognition of Indonesia's invasion in the 1970s.
Babo Soares said Bishop's visit marked "a new chapter for the relationship", and Timor-Leste intended to "look ahead".
"It doesn't necessarily mean that we are forgetting the past or burying the past, but we are using it as a reference to actually improve our future relations."
The two governments released a joint communique following the July ministerial visit pledging, among other things, to strengthen security and defence partnerships and to deepen collaboration on maritime security.
Babo Soares said the collaboration would involve Timor-Leste working with Australian defence and customs agencies in response to transnational crime such as drug smuggling, and protecting assets in the Timor Sea including the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields when they are developed.
The maritime boundary treaty mostly determined the split of resources between the two countries, but a difference of 10% depends on whether the resources will be piped to Darwin or Timor-Leste for processing. Timor-Leste a mecca for whales, but they face threats
Timor-Leste is insisting processing must take place there, but operators of the joint development, including ConocoPhillips and Woodside, have opposed the suggestion.
Timor-Leste is the second most resource-dependent nation on earth, but the reserves currently accessed are predicted to run dry by 2022-23. Babo Soares dismissed concerns and suggested printed reports about the state of the Bayu-Undan fields were exaggerated.
He pointed to economic diversification projects funded by the government, to reduce reliance on oil and gas.
Regardless, the extraordinarily long time it has taken to determine rights over Greater Sunrise mean it is essentially impossible it could be developed in time for the revenue to replace that of Bayu-Undan.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has held the position for five years but made her first official visit to Timor-Leste, a country Australia helped found, only two weeks ago.
In promising a "new chapter" in the bilateral relationship, Ms Bishop aimed to end a period of testy ties over the placement of the maritime boundary and the division of a lucrative US$65 billion (S$89 billion) in oil and natural gas reserves.
But the conciliatory move has been undermined by a spy scandal that threatens to do more damage.
About five years ago, a former Australian spy revealed that Canberra had bugged Dili's Cabinet offices during sensitive negotiations over the maritime boundary in 2004.
Australia has now angered Timor-Leste by announcing it would prosecute the spy known only as "Witness K" and his Australian lawyer, Mr Bernard Collaery, for revealing state secrets.
Witness K, reportedly a former head of technical operations for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, allegedly helped to install listening devices under the cover of office refurbishment work that was part of Australia's aid programme. The decision to prosecute the duo has been denounced by prominent figures, including current and former Members of Parliament and judges, as well as Human Rights Watch.
A legal expert at the University of New South Wales, Professor David Dixon, said Australia's actions were vengeful and "shameful". "Their real offence was not breaching secrecy, but embarrassing Australia," he wrote in Fairfax Media newspapers last month.
For Australia, the prosecution has revived a long-running debate over the nation's approach to Timor-Leste. Australian activists were at the forefront of the campaign to secure the nation's independence from Indonesia and the Australian military led the peacekeeping effort as Indonesia withdrew in 1999.
Canberra's subsequent close ties with the fledgling nation grew as its military remained in Timor-Leste until 2013 to help quell civil unrest.
But the maritime boundary dispute seriously frayed relations. It was brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration but finally ended when the two countries signed a treaty in March.
The new treaty will deliver 70 to 80 per cent of the revenue from the undersea resources to Dili and the remainder to Canberra. This was more favourable to Timor-Leste than the original deal, which split the reserves between the two. The treaty paved the way for warmer ties and for Ms Bishop's visit.
Asked about the prosecutions, Ms Bishop said the move was "a domestic legal issue" and not directed at Timor-Leste. But the prosecutions have cast a new shadow over Australia's handling of ties with its small, poorer neighbour.
Former Timor-Leste president Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has urged Canberra to drop the prosecutions, saying the duo had not committed treason. "It was a case of moral conscience... that had zero impact on Australian national security," he said.
The federal government's decision to prosecute the pair was revealed in Parliament in late June by independent MP Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence official who famously came to prominence in 2003 after resigning and speaking out against assessments of Iraq's weapons programme in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
He and three other MPs also urged the police to investigate the initial decision to spy on Timor-Leste. He said Mr Collaery and Witness K were "political prisoners".
"It's time to get to the bottom of this shameful chapter in Australian history when we sold out an old friend for commercial gain," he said. A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2018, with the headline 'Spy row a threat to Australia's ties with Timor-Leste'.
Christopher Knaus New South Wales Labor will move a motion to condemn the "entirely inappropriate" prosecution of former spy Witness K and his lawyer, breaking with the silence of their federal colleagues.
The motion is to be moved by NSW's shadow attorney general, Paul Lynch, with the support of the Labor caucus. It will call on NSW's lower house to regard "the current prosecution of former Australian spy Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery as entirely inappropriate".
It also urges state parliament to congratulate Witness K and Collaery for "their roles in exposing the bugging by Australia of the cabinet room of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste".
Federal Labor has so far remained silent about the case, despite pleas for them to take up the cause of Witness K and Collaery. Last month, the former Victorian premier Steve Bracks called on Labor to voice its opposition to the prosecution, which he described as "shocking".
Lynch told Guardian Australia the pair appeared to have been targeted because they caused Australia "embarrassment". He said the prosecution would have a "deadening effect on free speech" and said such issues should be "broadly discussed including in parliament".
"You shouldn't prosecute whistleblowers. It makes it less likely that wrongdoing will be exposed in the future," Lynch said. "And you have a sense that they're really being pursued because of the embarrassment they've caused with a rich and powerful nation trying to take advantage of a poor nation."
It was revealed in June that Collaery and Witness K would be prosecuted, with the consent of Australia's attorney general, for unlawfully disclosing intelligence secrets.
The charges relate to their role in exposing a bugging operation mounted by Australia against the government of Timor-Leste in 2004. The mission involved Australian secret intelligence service operatives placing listening devices in Timor-Leste government buildings to give Australia the upper hand during sensitive negotiations over lucrative oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The actions of Witness K and Collaery led Timor-Leste to challenge the oil and gas treaty in the permanent court of arbitration. A new treaty was signed this year, one that was widely seen as giving Timor-Leste a fairer deal.
Collaery maintains that the pair did nothing wrong and raised their concerns about the spy operation through appropriate channels. Witness K went to the inspector general of intelligence services to voice his disquiet and was given approval to contact his lawyer, Collaery.
The prosecution has been roundly condemned by judges, human rights groups, anti-corruption advocates and Timor-Leste's former president Jose Ramos-Horta.
Speaking to a rally in Melbourne last month, Bracks said Labor should commit to dropping the prosecution if they win government. "Why would the Australian government go to the extent of choosing to proceed with a prosecution against Witness K and Bernard Collaery?" he said.
Michael Leach When the newly formed Change for Progress Alliance, or AMP, secured an outright majority at Timor-Leste's 12 May election, the prospects for stability seemed promising.
The new Alliance brought together three parties Xanana Gusmao's CNRT, former president Taur Matan Ruak's Popular Liberation Party and the smaller youth-oriented KHUNTO to secure thirty-four out of parliament's sixty-five seats.
Although he didn't lead the largest of the three parties, Ruak was appointed prime minister the following month, with Gusmao proposed as minister of state advising the prime minister. Fretilin's Francisco Guterres was still president, having won that post in March last year, with unprecedented support from Gusmao, in what would prove the final chapter of a period of major party cooperation. With the election of a majority government, hopes were high for a period of stability.
But this first experience of genuine "cohabitation" between a Fretilin president and an AMP government under Timor-Leste's semi-presidential system has already disrupted expectations. The rocky start has revealed the potential extent of presidential power in Timor-Leste's semi-presidential system, and generated speculation about potential problems within the governing coalition.
Tensions first came to a head in June when President Guterres refused to agree to the appointment of twelve of the government's forty-one proposed ministers, citing corruption investigations. The obstacle in the case of the sole nominee associated with the Popular Liberation Party a strictly bureaucratic matter involving resignation from the military was soon resolved, reducing Guterres's refusals to eleven, nine of whom are CNRT figures and two from KHUNTO.
Though Gusmao was not among them, he boycotted the swearing-in-ceremony in protest, accusing the president of "unprecedented, unusual, seditious and politicised" behaviour. Another ministerial nominee joined the boycott, though other CNRT ministers attended.
For his part, the president says that he merely asked the prime minister to review the nominees in the light of the evidence provided, arguing that they might undermine public faith in the government. Gusmao responded by issuing a statement signed by a judge that nine of the impugned nominees had no charges pending, and withdrawing and replacing the two facing court hearings. This was a reasonable step that distinguished between actual and potential charges, but it had the unfortunate political side-effect of adding detail to the accusations against the would-be ministers, some of which were unrelated to corruption.
Seizing on the politics of the moment, Fretilin reintroduced a 2014 anti-corruption bill into parliament on 10 July. Meanwhile, parliament had denied the president permission to make a scheduled state visit to Portugal. While it was argued that the business of state meant that the timing of the trip was bad, parliament's move was another clear sign of cohabitation tensions.
Presidential power in Timor-Leste has frequently been underestimated, and partly remained latent under the previous, non-partisan presidents. They have certainly used their veto powers, and often made strong criticisms of government agendas, but this is the first time that the two major parties have faced off in this way. Although presidential vetoes of legislation are reversible by parliament (vetoes of executive decrees laws are absolute), vetoes in many substantive policy areas can be reversed only by a two-thirds supermajority, making the power far more substantial than it appears at first blush.
Guterres's predecessor, Taur Matan Ruak was often highly critical of the 2015-17 national unity government, but he faced a government controlling more than two-thirds of the seats. Under Guterres, Fretilin holds twenty-three seats just enough to block a two-thirds vote. As a result, the possibility of a presidential veto will be ever-present for the AMP government.
These events have also raised speculation about tensions within the government itself. In his role as leader of the largest alliance party, Gusmao has been highly critical of the president's actions; but Ruak is in the more complicated position of having also rejected a ministerial nomination when he was president. Indeed, exchanges between the president and the PM have been cordial throughout the current controversy, and Ruak appears relatively sanguine about Guterres's move. It may be that the prime minister doesn't want his government tied to ministers, none of them from his own Popular Liberation Party, who are under a cloud. It is also true that his party was less than successful in securing senior ministries beyond the prime ministership, of course especially in key economic areas.
CNRT figures added to the impression of division at a press conference last Tuesday when they restated their faith in the ministerial nominees, making a point not only to the president but also explicitly to the prime minister. The CNRT also threatened action against the president if he doesn't install the ministers within ten days, but with Timor-Leste's equivalent of impeachment also requiring a two-thirds vote of parliament, it isn't clear how this would be done.
In a further development, Gusmao announced in late July that he wouldn't be joining the government as a minister. The decisive factor appeared to be the president's decision to refer an emergency budget measure, drawing US$140 million from the country's petroleum fund to top up state coffers for July and August, to the Court of Appeal to test its constitutionality. The government argues the measure is necessary to address a slowdown in the economy as a result of "duodecimal" measures in place since early 2017, which have essentially frozen government spending and prevented new programs being funded until a budget is passed.
Gusmao's withdrawal has worried many Timorese, who fear it foreshadows further instability. But it may be that he is giving the AMP government space to advance its agenda without being distracted by the standoff with the president, in which he has become a central figure. That theory is backed by government sources, who are adamant that communication between Ruak and Gusmao continues without any problems. As the government also notes, Gusmao remains in charge of Maritime Boundary Office and is very active in advising government on this issue. It may be that Gusmao is saving his political energies for another day, and has made a de facto acknowledgement that the president can't be forced to alter his stance, and that a political response is required.
Some commentators argue that the president has exceeded his power, and one of them has even called for his resignation, earning a rare rebuke from East Timorese civil society. (On that commentator's argument, the previous two presidents would also have had to fall on their swords: in addition to Ruak's high profile intervention in 2012, Jose Ramos-Horta has recently revealed that he quietly but successfully rejected two ministerial names in 2007.)
Some common Anglophone presumptions do not readily translate to Timor-Leste's semi-presidential system. The East Timorese constitution doesn't grant a Westminster-style supremacy to parliament; rather, it emphasises the interdependence of the four sovereign bodies of parliament, government, president and judiciary. The nature of these separations and interdependence is, clearly, still being tested.
An examination of similar constitutional systems suggests that presidential objections to ministerial nominations have and do occur, though they are not commonplace. In Portugal, recent presidents have asked for certain ministerial proposals to be reconsidered, though more in the low-key vein of Ramos-Horta's action. Portugal's Jorge Sampaio (president from 1996 to 2006) strongly objected to the nominee for foreign affairs minister, and also asked for ministers to be removed after scandals emerged, and the government obliged in both cases. Though the president can't nominate ministers, as Guterres has acknowledged, some Portuguese commentators suggest they do have a latent power of refusal, though not in the case of the prime minister.
While it is possible that Timor-Leste's Court of Appeal could one day review Guterres's recent action, it appears more likely that it was an unreviewable political decision one for which the president is ultimately accountable at elections and can only be resolved through discussions with the prime minister. As to the wider politics of the standoff, it is notable that there has been little public clamour in support of the rejected ministerial nominees. Even some veterans traditionally supportive of Gusmao have argued that investigations can take time to get to court, and formal charges shouldn't therefore be needed to disqualify certain nominees from senior positions of public trust.
The scale of Guterres' objection to ministries is certainly unprecedented, and defenders of the government have been on stronger ground noting the same tests were apparently not applied by the president to the Fretilin-led government's ministry in 2017. But Guterres seems to have had the best of the encounter thus far. He is clearly not afraid to exercise such powers as the president possesses, and obviously sees his role as guarantor of national institutions, a position for which there is some constitutional support. He has also justified his position as one that protects the judiciary by preventing ministerial immunity for impugned nominations. The government has countered that the presumption of innocence and the separation of powers have been offended.
Whatever the outcome of the Guterres's actions, Gusmao' s support for his presidential bid last year now appears a major political miscalculation. The appointment of Ruak as prime minister was a popular one, solidifying the AMP, but also means that the president has no ongoing constitutional obligation to talk to the CNRT's leader.
In better news for the government and following the passage of its program last week the Court of Appeal has found that the government's withdrawal from the petroleum fund was constitutional. The long-overdue budget has passed the council of ministers, and went to parliament last week. While still focused on the controversial Tasi Mane oil and gas project on the south coast, the government also proposes major increases in health spending and clean water access, which will be welcome news to many in civil society. In the current environment, any presidential veto of the forthcoming budget unless it comes with specific and highly circumscribed requests for parliamentary review might prove less politically popular than his stance on the eleven ministerial nominees.
Kerrin Thomas An Australian dentist and a small group of volunteers have managed to check more than 1,200 mouths in just two weeks on Timor Leste.
That amounted to 527 extractions and 406 fillings for Charmaine White, from Narooma on the New South Wales south coast, and her volunteers.
Dr White was on her second trip to Timor Leste to provide dental services as part of the Timor Leste Dental Program a joint initiative of Rotary, Lions, and the Carmelite Nuns who are based there.
Conditions in Timor Leste were challenging for the small team of volunteer dentists, nurses and translators, navigating difficult roads and dealing with power blackouts. Dr White said many people in Timor Leste chewed betel nut to get relief from toothaches.
The chewing of betel nut has been linked to oral cancer, and a musician who recently came to Australia from Papua New Guinea for surgery to remove a cancer from his mouth says he's now scared to chew it. "It's like their form of [paracetamol] but it's addictive as well," she said.
"So what would happen to the children is they would wake up in the middle of the night with a toothache and there's no [paracetamol] so the grandmother, usually, would say 'Have some of this, it will help the toothache go away' and that's what they do but then the kids get used to it.
"And then you get the oral cancers and there's no treatment over there for oral cancer. If you want treatment you have to go to Australia. If we can stop the toothache or alleviate the toothache, the betel nut doesn't get chewed, then the oral cancer comes down."
Many of the 1,200 children Dr White and the team treated during the two-week trip were seeing a dentist for the first time. "Our main focus was to get the children out of pain, some of them would have had toothache for months, if not years," she said.
She estimates about 75 per cent of the children she saw had good teeth but about 25 per cent had issues. And there was a recognition in the team that the children may never see a dentist again.
"You might have to take three permanent teeth out because you knew you may be the only dentist they'd see in their lifetime," she said.
"That was pretty hard, when you've got little eight-year-olds and you're taking three teeth out in one sitting, and they've never seen you before but they are so stoic, they're so brave."
Working in Timor Leste was rewarding for Dr White but also challenging. "I sit on the plane [coming home] and I think 'I could do so much more if I was here in East Timor', but it's quite exhausting," she said.
"You're having to pack up and move heavy equipment [almost] every day and then you get a room with louver windows and it's noisy because all the children want to see what's happening in the room where all the noise is coming from.
"Then the power goes out so you've got to set up the generator and then you've got to get the gas ring going with the pressure cooker to sterilise all the instruments. You're on your feet all day... so it is totally different to working here in a very sterile, infection-controlled environment."
But one exchange with a principal whose school was visited by the program two years ago helped highlight why her work was so important.
"He said 'Your team came to our school two years ago and none of the parents complained, everyone was really happy, all the children felt better, there were less sick days because they weren't home with toothache, and we're so pleased you've come back to our school again'," she said.
"I thought that was really nice because you go and then you don't get to the same school again, so to know that the other teams were effective, that's really good."
Estevao Nuno The government through the Secretariat of State for Arts and Culture (SEAK) is ready to support the construction or rehabilitation of the sacred houses of Timor-Leste.
Secretary of State Teofilo Caldas said the law allows the government to support the sacred houses across the country.
"The Secretariat of state is ready to help and once it is finalized we will support with $1,500 or $3,000 and for its inauguration," he said in Dili.
He said there are almost 20 sacred houses across Timor-Leste with some houses burnt in 1999 that have not been repaired until now.
"Timor has 10 to 20 sacred houses altogether. One Uma Liurai [Traditional King Sacred House] each, for example in Ainaro-Manutasi, they have the houses of Terala-Lau, Baha Lala, Baha Tilu sacred houses and others, but they have only one main sacred house," he said.
Meanwhile, the chief of suku of Gricenfor, Francisco S. de J. B. Boavida, agreed with this support and said this is a positive step from the government for the people.
"As a chief of suku and as a Timorese I am happy with government's initiative to support the sacred houses," he said.
He said this is a good initiative because many sacred houses, especially those in rural areas have been damaged and need government support to rebuild.
"This is a good plan and as the chief of suku I am in support of rural areas that need government help not only money but also with materials," he said.
On the other hand, member of Commission G of the National parliament, MP Sabino Soares Guntur, said sacred house are a part of the culture and Timor's culture needs to be preserved.
"It is very important for Timor-Leste because through culture, people respect each other and it makes us live in harmony. It also helps us know our identity and where we are from," he said.
He urged the development of laws and regulations that ensure the preservation of Timor's culture handed down by the ancestors.
"Because we are now in the modern era but we should still know and preserve our culture," he said.
Australia is trying to reboot its troubled relations with historical friend East Timor, with Julie Bishop the first foreign minister to visit in five years.
Julie Bishop kept to her daily routine of a morning run this week when visiting East Timor's capital Dili.
A kilometre or two east of Dili's CBD, the Foreign Minister was greeted by shanty towns across the road from the beach.
They highlight the extreme poverty and immense task still ahead of East Timor's bid for economic independence, more than 16 years after becoming an independent nation.
Australia was East Timor's close friend and neighbour then, leading the military confrontation of pro-Jakarta militias involved in mass murder and war crimes against the East Timorese people.
Ms Bishop's visit was her first to East Timor since becoming foreign minister five years ago, and the first by any Australian federal minister in that time.
The countries' relations have deteriorated over disputes about oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap earning Australia criticism internationally for perceived bullying and culminating in a spying scandal when it was revealed Australia allegedly bugged East Timor's cabinet office during negotiations.
Former East Timor president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta said last week the Australian government should drop its criminal charges against the men who exposed the spying, whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Colleary whose only crime was revealing a powerful country spying on an an "impoverished one".
This week's talks were about "embarking on a new chapter" now a maritime boundary agreement at the UN has been signed, with annual ministerial meetings to be held, said Ms Bishop.
"We want to see a confident, prosperous and independent Timor-Leste, that is strong and stable with opportunities for its young people," Ms Bishop told AAP in Dili.
East Timor's Foreign Minister Dionisio Babo Soares said Ms Bishop's visit and the maritime deal were milestones between countries with strong, historical "people-to-people connections in times of need".
"Minister Bishop and I had a very candid, fruitful discussion on a range of issues to open a new chapter and commit to friendship and revitalising the partnership," he said.
The relationship is a complicated and unequal one, with Australia one of the world's richest countries and East Timor, only an hour's flight from Darwin, one of the poorest.
But it's an important relationship many Australians feel morally obliged to, dating back to World War II and then the Whitlam government's inaction when Indonesia invaded.
Ms Bishop attended a solemn ceremony with Australian and East Timorese military officials and local schoolchildren at the Dare World War II memorial that commemorates the courageous East Timorese civilians who fought and died supporting Australian diggers in the Battle of Timor.
She held talks with president Francisco Guterres Lu'olo and Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak.
She also visited projects that Australia funds, as East Timor's biggest aid donor, contributing $91 million this year and similar annual amounts since independence.
What Australia takes for granted, in terms of infrastructure such as roads and decent internet, education and health standards that stop malnutrition and unsafe births, remain significant problems here.
As well as widespread murder, displacement of people and a humanitarian crisis, the Indonesian military destroyed more than half of its fixed infrastructure, including most schools, when it left East Timor, making sure it was worse off than when it invaded in 1975.
Violence by men against women and children is another major problem in East Timor, with the Australian-funded Nabilan program reporting that 59 per cent of women experience violence from an intimate partner, compared to one-in-six in Australia.
Up to 77 per cent of children report abuse and trauma. Trying to change social norms around gender inequality and male entitlement were the challenges, Nabilan team leader Anna Yang said.
The dire state of its economy and lack of industry from years of colonialism doesn't help. Three-quarters of its population is under 35, with idle young, unemployed men seen throughout Dili's streets.
Australian Mark Notaras, a former international development worker who has founded the Agora food studio restaurant and training centres mentoring young East Timorese in various skills, says the "youth bulge" is the country's biggest challenge.
"Providing training opportunities is great but not if there's no jobs or local private sector to absorb those youths," he told AAP.
The seasonal workers program that brings people to Australia, will be increased from 914 East Timorese workers this year to 1500.
The young people involved go to Australia in six-month stints and earn local wages, enabling them to send thousands of dollars back to East Timor, where the average income is less than $2 a day.
Adelio Alex told AAP he had recently returned from working as a kitchen-hand and bartender at a hotel in Broome and had previously worked on oil rigs, but was struggling to find work in Dili.
Another worker, Louisa, worked at the Cable Beach Resort and had found a job since at a hotel back home at Balibo. "I really liked it because I gained new experience that I haven't done in my life, Broome is a nice place and everyone was very friendly," Mr Alex told AAP.
East Timor won't become another Bali because it doesn't have the waves but it has tourism potential with world class diving and hiking, beaches with whales and dolphins plus potential in agriculture including coffee, fisheries and forestry. It is offering 10-year-plus tax breaks to try and attract foreign private sector investment.
East Timor's ambassador to Australia Abel Guterres believes the country is ready to take off economically but it's critical it gets the development of the Greater Sunrise gas fields right.
Now they have secured the gas, the challenge is to negotiate with and stare down global companies Woodside, Shell and Conoco Phillips to ensure East Timor benefits and gas is piped there to be processed rather than in Australia. "As a small country, it will play a transformational role for the economy," he told AAP.
Paulina Quintao The general director for Tourism Jose Quintas appealed to all citizens to be responsible for keeping the capital, Dili, clean and beautiful because doing so will attract more tourists to Timor-Leste which will also raise the country's national revenue.
He said the national strategic plan 2011-2030 states that the tourism sector is key for the future economic prosperity of Timor-Leste, therefore there needs to be a plan and integrated intervention program by line ministries with the contribution from society to raise the economic standards of the country.
"We ask every Timorese to strengthen the country's stability and keep clean the city because we are a small country that tourists love to come and visit but people will leave disgusted if all they see is a dirty environment," he said in his office, in Farol, Dili.
He said a clean environment will not only benefit the tourism sector but also public health.
He added for any country, the tourism sector is a major industry, but it is complex because it required not only tourist attractions but also adequate infrastructure, public transport, telecommunication, clean water and security.
As an example, he mentioned the 2006 crisis that engulfed Timor-Leste, as a result the number of international visitors drastically decreased. Since then the number of visitors has been increasing gradually each year.
"Timor-Leste is a new tourist destination in the Asian and in the Asia Pacific region so everyone wants to come and visit," he added.
He said the numbers of tourists have increased annually and yet the tourism sector is not able determine its contribution to the tourism industry because there isn't an integrated revenue system about the revenues collected from the tourism sector.
He added Tourism Timor-Leste has already had coordination meetings with the Timor-Leste National Bank of Commerce (BNCTL) and other development partners to try and develop an appropriate system that reports on revenue collected from the tourism sector and its contribution to national economic growth.
Meanwhile, the program manager for community tourism at Haburas Foundation, Pedrito Vieira, said the issue of waste in urban areas is an ongoing issue that has not yet been resolved because there is no concrete action from the government on a waste management system.
"The traditional Taibessi Market is a potential destination for tourists to visit because they want to see how the Timorese people go about their business, but the market is in very poor condition, full of rubbish and no toilet," he said.
He said not only the markets but also other tourism attractions including parks also have very poor facilities, they lack especially toilet facilities and are full of waste that can be harmful to tourist's health.
He recommends the government applies a waste tax in Dili municipality so that the citizens in urban areas can contribute towards supporting waste management using local resources.
On the other hand, the Secretary of State for Environment, Demetrio de Amaral de Carvalho, said there are some positive efforts made by the government including in establishing an Environment Awareness Brigade in every suku to provide education and help families to manage household waste.
He added the brigade will help identify the problem and work with the households to create a strategic plan on waste management, including develop waste management infrastructure and create rubbish containers in every household.
"We raise awareness especially related to the environment sector. We go down and talk to the community and we inform youths so they can go down to the base and together with the families be responsible for adequate waste management," he said.
He said also that brigades have been established in all municipalities to help the government raise awareness to communities on how to look after the environment, including for example to combat illegal hunting, cutting down trees, and traditional slash and burn practices.
Ian Morse The people of East Timor (also known as Timor-Leste) join the world in mourning the death of international diplomat Kofi Annan who died in Switzerland at the age of 80 on August 18, 2018.
Annan left a legacy of global peacemaking during international crises that defined the post-Cold War era. His peacekeeping efforts in East Timor are often forgotten, but in the small coastal capital city of Dili, candles were lit for the former United Nations (U.N.) secretary-general who had negotiated peace in the nation following two decades of violent occupation from Indonesia that began in 1975.
East Timor is part of a Southeast Asian archipelago (close to Australia) comprised of roughly one million people who gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 and joined the U.N. in 2002.
Facebook user Joao Martins posted about the candlelight tribute:
"Dozens of Timorese conducted candle light vigil in remembrance of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who passed away 2 days ago and his contribution to the Independence process of East Timor during his time at UN. Thank you Mr Kofi Annan and May his soul rest in peace in heavenly God's Kingdom."
Outside East Timor, tributes for Annan flooded news outlets and social media. However, some called out Annan's missteps in foreign affairs when he served as the head of U.N. peacekeeping, citing the war in Iraq and atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia.
In 1975, the Indonesian military invaded East Timor and occupied the region, imposing Indonesian language and culture. They silenced all dissent, leading to atrocities such as the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991 when 250 East Timorese independence fighters were shot to death.
Throughout the occupation, the Indonesian military separated roughly 4,000 children from families in the resistance, taking the children as a way to "weaken and humiliate" their enemies.
Fifteen years of peace talks had amounted to nothing until Annan took the U.N. helm in 1997 and pledged to resolve the crisis in East Timor. By August 1999, Annan and Indonesian president B.J. Habibie were speaking daily, according to historian Geoffrey Robinson's book "If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die: How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor".
On September 4, 1999, Annan talked late into the night with Habibie, who was putting up a fight against Annan on the other side of the world.
The week before, Annan and Habibie had negotiated an independence referendum that shocked and angered the Indonesian military. After 24 years of brutal occupation, nearly 80 percent of East Timor voters had voted for full independence from Indonesia.
Annan knew he could not operate a peacekeeping mission without Habibie's consent and contacted world leaders to put pressure on Indonesia. Annan secured support for an intervention alongside Australia on September 12, 1999.
Habibie eventually accepted the referendum results and pleaded for peace and security, but his government lost control of the military, and reports of massacres poured in throughout East Timor.
Three hundred thousand people fled into West Timor, but thousands of people died in assaults around the country, including the deaths of 200 people in a single day inside the Suai Church in the southwest region.
Annan ensured a U.N. intervention with support from Australian troops who restored calm on the island. Even after establishing stability, Annan insisted on peacekeeping forces in the country for nearly three years, delaying East Timor's independence until May 10, 2002.
Historian Robinson asserts that Annan's humanitarian intervention in East Timor was pivotal in securing the island's safety and stability.
During Annan's tenure as the head of U.N. Peacekeeping, he says that East Timor and the simultaneous conflict in Kosovo (1998) demanded a serious reflection on the politics of intervention. In his memoir "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace", he wrote:
"...the world had confronted two separate crises Kosovo and East Timor that had triggered a global debate on intervention and sovereignty, the rights of peoples and the responsibilities of states. I have combined my own intense diplomatic engagement on both crises with the UN playing a central role in the case of East Timor with a determination to reframe the question of intervention, and restore the United Nations to a central place in setting the boundaries of what states could do within their borders."
Marianne Jago, an aid worker and academic expert on East Timor, proclaimed Annan's role as crucial and unprecedented:
"Annan had determined to take an active role on the East Timor question. His predecessor Javier Perez de Cuellar had publicly indicated that he saw his role in the East Timor question as that of a 'go-between' rather than one of leadership and innovation."
By contrast, soon after he took office Annan contacted the governments of Portugal and Indonesia, and informed them of his desire to use his good offices to help find a solution to the question of East Timor.
She emphasizes how Annan's bold leadership in East Timor stood out as the most successful in his career:
"In contrast to Annan's own much-regretted reticence during the Rwanda and Srebrenica massacres, when as Head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and then as secretary-general, he submitted to the 'institutional tendency' of the UN Secretariat to 'follow rather than lead the Security Council', the Secretary-General's office was at the heart of intense international diplomatic efforts to coerce Habibie into accepting an international force in East Timor."
Jose Ramos-Horta, former president of East Timor and co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, last week praised Annan for his work in East Timor.
The East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, an organization that continues to advocate for reconciliation from decades of violence and occupation, expressed its lingering dissatisfaction with unresolved conflicts:
"Former #UN SG Kofi Annan died today. Nobel Peace Prize cited his efforts for #Timor in 1999. https://t.co/HoXOTjcNf8 However, his pledge on behalf of UN of justice and accountability for crimes agt humanity committed by Indonesia and others remains unfulfilled. pic.twitter.com/0HdsizLOYa ETAN (@etan009) August 18, 2018"
Estevao Nuno The executive director (CEO) of NGO Timor Aid, Florentino Sarmento, said the original culture of Timor, handed down from the ancestors will go extinct unless young Timorese develop an interest for its development.
He said culture is the country and people's identity but today's youth prefer modern culture rather than the original culture. "One day it will be extinct unless younger generations are involved in preserving our culture," he said in Dili.
He urged new generation of Timorese to contribute towards the preservation and development of Timor's culture handed down from the ancestors.
He said currently Timor Aid is making links between original and modern culture to show the world what Timor can do. "We use tais [traditional cloth] in novel ways that we can present at various events," he said.
He added Timor Aid is committed to engaging Timorese youth to preserve Timor's cultural identity. "We have to protect our country, our culture and show the world Timor also has its own culture," he said.
Meanwhile, the President of Dili Municipality Youth Council, Manecas Lobo dos Santos, appealed to the Timorese youth to take active part in sustaining traditional culture handed down from the ancestors to prevent it from extinction.
"To preserve our culture, youth females should approach their mothers and grandmothers and learn how to weave tais," he said.
"Do not be overly modern otherwise, or [culture] will go extinct." He added the in the municipalities young women are no longer interested in tais weaving.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Art and Culture (SEAK), Teofilo Caldas, said SEAK will work with Alola Foundation, Timor Aid, and UNESCO to facilitate training on culture for the youth.
"We raise awareness on Timor's cultural norms and then we provide training on how to integrate those norms into cultural activities to present Timor-Leste's identity to the world," he said.
"For example, handicrafts, cultural dances, cultural music, and cultural cloths such as tais. We can integrate these forms into the training."
He added the Secretariat of State intends to raise awareness on Timor's art and culture three times in a month to communities in the municipalities and to be able to directly observe art and culture services on the ground.
James Plested It says everything you need to know about the connection between big business, politics and national security. In 2004, then foreign minister Alexander Downer presided over an Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operation to install listening devices in the offices of the government of the newly independent, and desperately poor, nation of East Timor.
The operation, which was carried out under the cover of an aid project, aimed to give Australia an advantage in negotiations over a new maritime border between the two countries.
Among the main stakeholders in these negotiations was Australian oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum. Woodside leads a consortium of companies with rights to exploit gigantic reserves in the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, which lie in the Timor Sea around 150km from East Timor and 450km from Darwin.
The fields were first discovered in 1974. They're estimated to hold around 5.13 trillion cubic feet of gas and 225.9 million barrels of condensate (an ultra-light form of crude oil) worth a combined $65 billion at today's prices. East Timor's GDP is around $4 billion.
In 1975, Indonesia invaded and occupied East Timor after the latter declared independence from previous coloniser Portugal. Australia was among the strongest backers of the occupation. The Australian government was, in 1979, the world's first to formally recognise East Timor as part of Indonesia.
Greater Sunrise was the prize that successive Australian governments hoped to win in exchange for their unwavering support for the brutal Indonesian occupation, under which at least 102,000 Timorese are estimated to have been killed.
According to international standards, the maritime border between Australia and East Timor should lie midway between them. If this standard was applied, it would mean the Greater Sunrise field would lie on East Timor's side of the border. This is something that Woodside, and the Australian government, wanted to avoid at all costs.
During Indonesia's occupation, an agreement was struck on very favourable terms to Australia, with oil and gas revenue from the disputed fields to be shared on a 50-50 basis. When the Indonesians were forced out of East Timor in 1999, however, the agreement had to be renegotiated.
East Timor had been devastated by a 25-year occupation that Australia backed to the hilt. You might think there was merit to the Timorese government's claim that a new agreement should give them the lion's share of benefit from the development of the Greater Sunrise field.
The Australian government saw things differently. From the start, it played hardball. At one point in the negotiations, Alexander Downer reportedly shouted across the table "Your claims go almost to Alice Springs. You can demand that forever for all I care. We are very tough... Let me give you a tutorial in politics not a chance".
Perhaps part of the reason why Downer could be so "tough" was that, thanks to ASIS, he knew exactly what the Timorese negotiating strategy would be.
The ASIS bugging of the Timorese government's offices was brought to light by the agent responsible for the operation. Known only as "Witness K", he grew angry about the operation when Alexander Downer, upon his retirement from politics in 2008, took up a highly paid role as a consultant with you guessed it Woodside Petroleum.
To say Woodside has a lot of influence in politics puts it too mildly. During Downer's time as foreign minister, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was very much at its beck and call. The secretary of the department under Downer, Dr Ashton Calvert, took a place on the Woodside board immediately following his retirement in 2005.
Downer and Calvert aren't alone. The revolving door between Woodside and the upper echelons of the Australian government is a busy one indeed.
Labor MP Gary Gray, in office from 2007 to 2016 and minister for resources and energy under Julia Gillard, worked for Woodside as director of corporate affairs from 2000 to 2007. Ian Macfarlane, Liberal minister for industry, tourism and resources under John Howard and minister for industry and science under Tony Abbott, has served on Woodside's board since his retirement from politics in 2015.
As if these kinds of "inside Canberra" connections weren't enough, Woodside was, in the decade to 2017, among Australia's biggest political donors giving more than $1.4 million to the major parties.
The ASIS bugging operation was part of an organised conspiracy, led from the very top of the Australian government, to fleece some of the world's poorest people for the benefit of some its richest. The government's hardball approach on Greater Sunrise has prevented East Timor from gaining much-needed revenue to fund the infrastructure, health care, education and other services its people desperately need.
The real sting in the tail of this story is, however, what's happened to the major players in the 14 years since.
Downer, of course, has done very well strutting the world stage as a diplomat and consultant and, most recently, trying to secure the federal parliamentary seat of Mayo in South Australia as a family heirloom for his neoliberal culture warrior daughter Georgina. We can, at least, thank the good people of Mayo for ensuring he failed in this endeavour.
Woodside is riding a wave of bumper profits $1.3 billion in 2017. In light of this you might think they'd be grateful for all the taxpayer dollars that have been poured into defending their interests on the world stage. You'd be wrong.
In a speech earlier this year at the Woodside AGM, outgoing chairman Michael Chaney railed against the "populist" turn in politics that, he argued, was making it hard for the government to cut corporate taxes: "The erosion of public trust in the role of businesses is, I think, quite alarming, particularly if it is fuelled by populist politicians, who seek to impose a greater regulatory burden on corporations".
What about Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery, the people who brought the ASIS bugging scandal to light and the only people in this story with any vestige of basic human decency?
They're facing criminal charges for allegedly breaching the Intelligence Services Act, which prohibits any current or former ASIS employees from revealing anything about the agency's operations. This, according to the government, is an urgent matter of national security, and Witness K and Collaery may end up being jailed for up to 10 years for their "crime".
Bec Strating Last week, an Australian leader visited Dili for the first time in five years. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spent 36 hours in Timor-Leste as part of a four-country diplomatic trip around Southeast Asia.
For many commentators, this visit signalled an improvement in bilateral ties since the signing of the maritime boundary treaty. Australia is evidently more willing to engage with its neighbour now that the controversial issue has been resolved.
Yet tensions remain between the two states over the prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery, and the ongoing contest for the development of the Greater Sunrise complex of gas fields.
The latter dispute, over whether a pipeline should be built to transfer Greater Sunrise gas to the South Coast of Timor-Leste for processing, is the most pressing for Timor-Leste's economic future.
What is often overlooked is that the maritime boundary did not provide Timor-Leste with "control" or "ownership" of Greater Sunrise, as it remains subject to joint development. Further, the maritime boundary resolution has enabled Australia to deal itself out of that dispute while presenting itself through this example as committed to the "rules-based order".
Sophie Raynor rightly pointed out that Australia has effectively washed its hands of the Greater Sunrise gridlock (Julie Bishop's new Timor-Leste chapter). It now presents itself as "pipeline neutral", and as a mediator between Timor-Leste and the venture corporations led by Woodside.
Certainly, Australia would be hoping that this diplomatic visit would provide ballast to its claims that Australia and Timor-Leste have reached a "new chapter" in bilateral relations, even though the most materially substantive aspects of the Timor Sea dispute remain ongoing.
Yet Timor-Leste's leaders also have a role to play in this gridlock. During the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation, lead negotiator Xanana Gusmao was insistent that the pipeline was "non-negotiable". The report produced by the Commission engaged an independent expert to assess two models for development: one that employed the existing Darwin plant, the other based on a pipeline to Timor-Leste. It found that Timor-Leste would need a subsidy of US$5.6 billion to make their project feasible. This is around four times its normal yearly national budget.
Energy writer Damon Evans argues that Timorese leaders have been misleading the public about the viability of the pipeline. Reports written by energy consultants that have cast doubt on the viability of Timor-Leste's plans have either been criticised or buried by Timorese leaders. A recent report suggests that Timor-Leste is seeking to use its sovereign wealth fund to buy out ConocoPhillips' and Shell's billion-dollar interests in the Greater Sunrise gas complex.
Why are Timor-Leste's leaders so wedded to this development plan? There are other options available that would increase the nation's share of downstream revenue. If Timor-Leste does not get its pipeline, it will receive 80% rather than 70% of the asset, a difference of around US$3.1-3.5 billion (nearly half the subsidy required for the pipeline).
Is this devotion to the pipeline due to a genuine belief that oil industrialisation would enable Timor-Leste to become the next Singapore? (Let's not forget that when Singapore developed its economy, it was not competing with itself in Southeast Asia.) Or is it due to personal and/or political motivations?
What we do know is that publically, both states have provided little detail on the status of the Greater Sunrise negotiations. The joint communique produced in Dili only stated:
"[a]s part of a revitalised economic partnership, Ministers agreed to continue constructive discussions on the development of the Greater Sunrise resource, noting its importance for Timor-Leste's prosperity."
At the press conference, journalists were unable to get more than a vague statement of continuing talks. Foreign Minister Bishop was quoted as saying:
"[w]e want to work and collaborate with Timor Leste and the joint venture companies to find a pathway to develop the Greater Sunrise gas field."
It is the development of Greater Sunrise that is most pressing for Timor-Leste's future as an independent sovereign state. Yet, it appears at least on the surface that this remains at a stalemate.
If, as Timor-Leste's negotiators have reportedly suggested, they will seek to engage China's Belt and Road Initiative for the pipeline subsidy, we could see this "new chapter" in bilateral relations turn sour very quickly.