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More talks needed on resource deal, while Australian government continues to take millions

Timor Sea Justice Campaign Media Release - June 2, 2005

Following comments from East Timor's PM, Mari Alkatiri, that further negotiations would be required to iron out details in a proposed resource sharing arrangement with Australia, the Timor Sea Justice Campaign (TSJC) has accused Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, of attempting to 'steam roll' the impoverished nation.

TSJC coordinator, Tom Clarke, said Downer's desperate attempt to get the issue off the agenda in response to the growing tide of negative public opinion, was a continuation of the bullying that has characterised the Australian Government's hardnosed handling of the dispute. "From the beginning, the Australian Government has approached this entire issue with bullying tactics. It's now trying to force East Timor's hand over very important details of the current proposal," Mr Clarke said.

The TSJC claim the Downer posse has mislead the Australian people, by suggesting the proposed resource sharing agreement was 'a done deal', while East Timorese NGOs and Government representatives still have significant concerns, particularly about suspending their sovereignty over the areas for up to 50 years.

The issue of gas and oil resources in the Timor Sea has been, due to some complexities, a difficult issue to explain to Australia's time-pressed society. The issue has three basic parts. One is the Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) that sits in the middle of the Timor Sea and is already covered by the Timor Sea Treaty. The second issue is the Greater Sunrise oil field which lies to the east of the JPDA and is what the current proposal focuses on. The third area is the Laminara, Corallina fields that lie to the west and have not been addressed in any agreement.

The Australian Government is continuing to take half a million dollars every day from the Laminaria, Corallina fields which are located much closer to East Timor than Australia.

Since 1999, the Australian Government has taken more than two billion dollars worth of royalties from theses fields and the TSJC believes the contested revenue taken by Australia should be held in trust until the dispute is resolved.

"The issue is embarrassing when you think about what a rich country we are and how we hear reports from Australian soldiers returning from UN duty in East Timor describe how locals scavenge the soldier's garbage. When it comes down to it I can't understand how Mr Downer can sleep at night knowing how many people are relying on this and how he has handled the negotiations. East Timorese children are dying of preventable diseases and our Foreign Minister is trying to short change them, it's simply not on," Mr Clarke said.

For further information, please contact:

Chip Henriss-Anderssen
Media Officer Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Melbourne
Ph: 0437829825 International: 61 437829825

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