Page 2168 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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principles about boundaries, is nothing short of a very sophisticated way of depriving the people of what nature gave them.

Bishop Deakin recognises that the actions of the Australian government in withdrawing from international jurisdiction in relation to maritime boundary disputes are denying the East Timorese both their sovereign territory and their right to defend it.

The issues of sovereignty and recognition in international law for the fledging nation of East Timor are understandably important after 25 years of Indonesian occupation and a history of colonisation by the Portuguese. The estimated $41 billion value of the oil and gas deposits, the subject of current and ongoing negotiations, could be crucial to the economical development of the country. These negotiations have occurred in the context of much work by committed and enduring activists and supporters of a free and independent East Timor.

From the campaigns in Australia, the contributions and involvement of unions, community organisations and business, and across the world, activists once committed to seeing an end to Indonesian rule in East Timor now demand an equitable resolution of this dispute and a real opportunity for the country and its people to flourish. The Australia Council of Trade Unions has called on the federal government to ensure that East Timor receives its fair share of benefits. This follows long-running union campaigns for a free and independent East Timor and persistent work to ensure the labour and living conditions of the East Timorese in the independence process.

Mr Speaker, in March of this year the Prime Minister received a letter from representatives of the United States Senate and House of Representatives which said:

We urge Australia to move quickly and seriously to establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste, based on the rule of law and respect for the sovereignty of both nations ... An equitable sharing of oil and gas resources would enable Timor-Leste to provide better health care and other essential services to its citizens.

The eyes of the world are clearly upon us once again as we undertake these negotiations, just as they were when Australian peacekeeping forces formed a vital part of the UN operation prior to independence and during the transitional government. Let us put the money where the hungry mouths are. In building this newly formed nation and in recognising the desperate need for finance to rebuild and develop this nation, let us realise the opportunity presented to them by recognising sovereignty over the resource-rich area.

This decision should not be in our hands, but it is. Let us take it and do something decent with the situation at hand by recognising Timorese sovereignty over the Timor Sea. The onus is on Australia and on our government to undertake these negotiations in good faith and as good international citizens. We must recognise our position of power and, rather than exploiting it, we must recognise the power we have to make a positive and just contribution to the social and economic development of East Timor. We can do this by respecting international law and we can do this by recognising an equitable maritime boundary.

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