Page 2169 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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The significance of the development of the oil and gas resources to the East Timorese economy is difficult to overestimate. The Greater Sunrise field alone has an estimated 225 billion cubic metres of gas and up to 300 million barrels of condensate. It has been suggested that final agreement between Australia and East Timor will pave the way for Woodside’s LPG project, valued at an estimated $A6.6 billion.

The future of these developments has been put at risk by the length of negotiations and it is important to bear in mind that this risk has been hanging over the head of negotiators throughout this process. The development of these resources is essential to the rebuilding of the East Timorese economy and to ensuring its future independence from foreign aid. The $A5 billion of addition revenue going to East Timor from the Greater Sunrise project will certainly aid this process and set the newly independent nation on a path of economic development. While not the estimated $A9 billion value of the field, this negotiated amount represents a significant shift on the part of the Australia government to recognise the importance of this revenue to East Timor and its legitimate claim over the fields.

There is a lingering concern that the resources of the Sunrise field are worth far more than the estimated amount—up to four times as much as the publicly recognised figures. This remains to be seen. It is apparent that the impetus in negotiations was forgoing the stalling of development. These problems appear to have been overcome by the process of negotiations and the reaching of a preliminary agreement.

It is important that this agreement appropriately reflect the value of East Timor’s petroleum resources. The other day, foreign minister Downer said in response to protests:

Australia isn’t just a charity. The Australia government and the Australian people have their own interest and they have to be protected as well.

No-one is denying that, Mr Downer. But for the campaigners for a free and independent East Timor, both overseas and in Australia, Australian support for the fledging nation is essential.

In supporting the independence of East Timor, it is only fair that we support a fair and legitimate outcome. Throwing our weight around in the region is not going to win us friends, nor ensure just outcomes for the East Timorese. There is a dangerous perception that we have been doing just that, arising from the interim agreement signed in 2002 which gave Australia 80 per cent of the royalties from the Greater Sunrise field. This has been partially rectified, and “rectified” is the right word. We are not talking about charity; we are talking about justice.

East Timor has an annual budget of around $100 million. More than 50 per cent of the adult population is illiterate and life expectancy is more than 20 years below that of Australia. Twelve out of every 100 East Timorese children will die before the age of five. East Timor has the highest maternal mortality rate in the region. The revenue from oil and gas in the Timor Sea will have a major impact in allowing East Timor to address overwhelming levels of poverty, illiteracy, preventable disease and widespread hunger and malnutrition. This revenue will help fund basic services such as health and education

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