Vannessa Hearman, Melbourne
More than 40 people attended the inaugural meeting of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign on January 21. Like many others, they were concerned with the Australian government's exploitation of Timorese oil. The campaign was set up to support efforts by Timorese organisations to pressure the Australian government for a fairer maritime boundary.
Where the maritime boundary is set affects the amount of oil resources available to both countries. There are overlapping claims between Australia and East Timor for the Timor Sea. According to the Timorese government's Timor Sea Office, under interim bilateral arrangements East Timor is entitled to a fraction of the proceeds from the Joint Petroleum Development Area and the Greater Sunrise fields, as opposed to under international law.
Under international law, the boundaries would be drawn equidistant between East Timor and Australia. All of the Greater Sunrise field and the Buffalo, Corallina and Laminaria fields would then come under East Timor's jurisdiction. No agreement on the BCL fields exists, yet the areas are being exploited under Australian government licence, earning it an estimated US$2 billion in revenue.
Canberra has chosen not to recognise the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas in establishing the boundaries, as well as rejecting the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the dispute.
In a statement from Dili on January 26, the Independent Information Centre for the Timor Sea (Centro Informasaun Independente ba Tasi Timor — CIITT), a coalition of Timorese campaign groups argues, "In order to control the largest part of the oil and gas rich Timor Sea, Australia maintains the application of previous treaties on maritime boundary, which were signed with the occupying power in Timor-Leste".
The Melbourne-based campaign group is demanding that Australia returns to the negotiating table and the jurisdiction of international law in arbitrating the dispute. As well, it demands that proceeds from the oil fields under contention be placed in a trust fund, and that unilateral exploitation of such fields cease. Later in the year, the group may be holding a range of activities to raise awareness in the community and to pressure the Australian government on these issues.
A Timor Sea Justice Campaign email discussion group has been set up and those wishing to join the list and receive information about ongoing action can do so by sending a blank email to: <email@example.com>. The next general campaign meeting will be held on February 25, 6.30pm at Trades Hall, cnr Victoria and Lygon Sts, Carlton.
From Green Left Weekly, February 18, 2004.
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