The Guardian October 29, 2003


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.

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