A pariah state as well as a sheriff
The declining respect for Australia in the Asian region is not only due to the Howard Government being regarded as a US "sheriff". This appellation has been confirmed by no less a person than President Bush and no amount of wriggling and explanations by Howard, Downer, the US Ambassador to Australia and by Bush himself can erase this perception. All their explanations fall flat in the face of the fact that Australia's role, just like that of Israel, is as a clone of the US — doing whatever the US calls for and even more. Another, but much less publicised fact, is the Australian Government's shoddy and stand-over treatment of East Timor over the exploitation of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Gap. The people of East Timor, after years of Portuguese and then Indonesian colonialism, remain among the poorest in the world. The winning of their independence after years of armed struggle and the existence of rich oil and gas resources off the East Timorese coast should have opened the door to a better future but this is being denied them by the Australian Government. When Indonesia occupied and annexed East Timor in 1975, the only government in the world to recognise this invasion and annexation was the Australian Government of Gough Whitlam. In an agreement between the Indonesian and Australian governments in 1972, one of the main gas fields, Greater Sunrise, was put mainly in Australian waters. On March 6 of this year the new East Timorese and the Australian Governments signed another agreement which divided up the wealth beneath the sea. Bullied and blackmailed At the time there were rumours that the Australian Government had "bullied" and "blackmailed" East Timor's Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri. It was said that Alexander Downer had treated the PM "as if he were a child". A leaked transcript of the talks has been published in The Economist (March 13, 2003) and the London Guardian Weekly (October 16 — 22, 2003) which, if correct, would confirm the Howard Government's treatment of its impoverished neighbour. The Australian Government has not denied the truth of the leaked transcript. During the negotiations the East Timorese Prime Minister accused Australia of offering them the "scrapings off the plate". Mr Downer is reported to have responded by saying, "Your claims go almost to Alice Springs. You can demand that for ever for all I care but if you want to make money you should conclude an agreement quickly". Downer is reported to have said, "We are very tough. We will not care if you give information to the media. Let me give you a tutorial in politics — not a chance". Disputes between nations concerning rights to territorial waters are usually settled by adherence to the half-way mark. This is the principle enshrined in the UN's Law of the Sea. If this were to be the case most of the Greater Sunrise field would belong to East Timor. However, in 2002 Australia withdrew from the Law of the Sea Convention and from the International Court of Justice's jurisdiction on maritime boundary questions according to the article in the March 15 issue of The Economist. The Howard Government then delayed ratifying the Timor Sea Treaty it had made with East Timor until the deadline was reached in early March leaving East Timor with the choice of either demanding greater revenues and perhaps risking the collapse of the agreement, or accepting Australia's terms. Blackmail paid off Having got its way Australia hailed the good results of its blackmail as giving certainty to the international consortia investing in the Timor Sea. A big gas deal with Japan was one outcome. However, negotiations are continuing over the sharing of the 80 percent of the Greater Sunrise field that Australia was obliged to concede at least on paper to East Timor. In continuation of its bastardry Australia is declining to set a timetable for completion of negotiations. Once again Alexander Downer is displaying his arrogance. He is reported in the Guardian Weekly as saying, "We don't have to exploit the resources. They can stay there for 20, 40 or 50 years". In the meantime the people of East Timor continue to suffer poverty, ill health and massive unemployment while the Australian Government brags about the "aid" it is giving to East Timor, like some rich "benefactor" dolling out spare coins to a street beggar. On a recent visit to Britain, East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao said, "We 're not asking too much from Australia. What belongs to us is ours. We hope Australia can understand that. They still haven't agreed when to start maritime border negotiations". The Australian Government's principle however is "What belongs to us is ours and what belongs to you is ours too." Is it any wonder that Australia is becoming increasingly seen in the Asian region and even further a field as a pariah state devoid of principles with a predator government.