Saturday, 23 February, 2019

Australia, Timor-Leste sign maritime border pact

East Timor expert Michael Leach talks to The World's Beverley O'Connor about Australia's East Timor deal Australia, Timor-Leste sign maritime border pact
Melinda Barton | 07 March, 2018, 14:45

Australia and East Timor signed a treaty that draws the first-ever maritime border between the neighbors, resolving years of bitter wrangling with a deal that carves up billions of dollars of oil and gas riches that lie beneath the Timor Sea.

After almost two years of a facilitated conciliation process initiated under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Australia and Timor Leste have finally reached agreement on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

Signed by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Timor-Leste Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister for the Delimitation of Borders, Hermenegildo Augusto Cabral Pereira, at the UN headquarters in NY in the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the pact marks the successful conclusion of the first recourse to conciliation proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It's likely the Sunrise partners will bide their time before committing billions of dollars to develop such a large project.

The treaty signing in NY on Tuesday marked the first conciliation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - a process UN Secretary-General António Guterres said could offer other countries a path toward resolving contentious maritime boundary disputes.

"This ceremony demonstrates the strength of worldwide law and the effectiveness of resolving disputes through peaceful means", he said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi has congratulated Australia and East Timor on the deal. It succeeded in getting Australia to abandon its long held opposition to a permanent Timor Sea maritime boundary, and has been able to substantially modify the development regime for Greater Sunrise.

East Timor had been pushing hard for the building of an onshore processing plant to boost its economy.

East Timor's oil revenues finance about 90 percent of government spending, but are running out due to the exhaustion of existing fields.

" The conclusion of this treaty clarifies the rights and responsibilities of Timor Leste and Australia with regard to the resources and activities that fall within our respective sovereign territories".

Portugal, East Timor's former colonial master, never had a border with Australia. But by 1989, after a decade of talks, Australia and Indonesia agreed to disagree on where the line should be drawn for the sake of allowing oil and gas drilling in the resource-rich Timor Sea to proceed.

Timor Leste wants a 70-30 split but with processing done in its own country to encourage the growth of a domestic processing industry.

Bernard Collaery, a lawyer intimately involved in the case, described the treaty as "more of the same" and said a median line boundary was "no victory at all".

East Timor's negotiating team was led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, the nation's first president. Many saw Australia as undermining its lecturing of China to abide by worldwide law on Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. But the relationship plumbed new depths when East Timor later accused Australian spies of bugging its Cabinet discussions to achieve an unfair negotiation advantage. Canberra denied the allegation.

East Timor's minister for delimitations said development of the gas fields through a pipeline that would reach the south coast of his country would be a "game-changer". "We had ups and downs in this 22, 23 months", said Pereira, adding that the focus should be on Tuesday's treaty signing.