Business as usual

Issue 

Business as usual

By Norm Dixon

In a quiet ceremony on January 6, Australia and Indonesia agreed to four new contracts to explore for oil in the Timor Sea.

The two governments signed contracts with oil-exploration groups BHP Petroleum and Indonesia Petroleum Ltd; Petroz NL and Sagasco Holdings Ltd; and Enterprise Oil and Nippon Oil. Enterprise Oil is also to explore a section of the Timor Sea bed on its own. The agreements involve the investment of $173 million over six years.

These deals bring the total number of exploration contracts signed to 10. Six were signed in December, the largest of which is an $86 million project headed by the US-based Marathon Oil Company.

Australia and Indonesia signed the Timor Gap Treaty in December 1989 to jointly control that part of the Timor Sea which has estimated oil reserves of 1 billion barrels.

The promise of an oil windfall for big companies has led the Australian government to disregard Indonesia's brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor, an occupation that has resulted in the deaths of 200,000 or more people in the last 16 years.

If Australia withdrew recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor, the treaty would become void.

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