Australia’s prosecution of spy Witness K and lawyer

Timor-Leste bugging Australia’s Watergate ­ except Nixon wins

Ties between Timor-Leste and Australia hit turbulence

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Ties between Timor-Leste and Australia hit turbulence

Men who exposed Australia for spying on the Timor-Leste Cabinet during 2004 bilateral gas talks now face jail


Michael Sainsbury and Jose Belo, Dili
Timor Leste    
June 29, 2018

Timor-Leste’s new government has hit a major hurdle in its plan to improve fraught relations with Australia over the sensitive issue of maritime boundaries in the gas-rich sea between the two countries.

It was only in March that Australia and Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, signed a treaty drawing permanent maritime boundaries.

Ties have been improving since, but now the legacy Australian spying 14 years ago has come to the fore.

The Australian spy agency “whistleblower” known as Witness K and his Canberra-based lawyer, Bernard Collaery, a veteran advisor to Timor-Leste, were on June 28 committed for trial on criminal charges that could see them both jailed.

They are accused of illegally informing the Timor-Leste government that Australia had been spying on them by using Cabinet room listening devices installed on the authority of then foreign minister Alexander Downer.

This was while crucial talks were being conducted on the sharing of maritime oil and gas reserves.

“Witness K was not a whistleblower,” Callaeary said previously. “He went with his complaint to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and received approval, and I received approval to act.”

Collaery said that the prosecution was a “vindictive” attack that aimed at ruining his reputation and career, according to The Australian.

“It’s an attack on myself for acting as a lawyer within my professional rules and it’s a sad moment in the history of the country I love and have served,” he said.

Privately the Timorese government is saying little, but Colleary is extremely close to Timor-Leste leaders such as Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and Xanana Gusmao.

The prosecution by Australia could stymie ongoing talks between Timor and Australia on the thorny issue of whether piped gas from the US$50 billion Great Sunrise gas field lands in Timor-Leste or Australia for processing.

Xanana Gusmao, head of the ruling Alliance for Progress and Change (but not prime minister), is continuing to press for a Timor-Leste facility, despite energy companies claiming such a move is uneconomic and could lead to them not exploiting the fields.

People close to the new Timor PM have said he is very keen to have much closer engagement with Australia. No minister in Australia’s ruling conservative government has visited the country since its election in 2013.

Timor-Leste’s Foreign Minister Dionisio Babo told that the relationship with Australia had improved in recent years under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

This was during renegotiation of an earlier the maritime treaty, which was torn up by a U.N. court forcing Australia into negotiations. Colleary ran the court case in The Hague for Timor-Leste.

Babo remained mute over the trial committal decision of June 28: “I will not comment, it is a matter for the Australian legal system.”

A spokesperson for the Australian government said planning was underway for Julie Bishop to visit Timor-Leste

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Treaty confirms Aust profited from Timor-Leste oil and gas, rights groups say

Treaty confirms Australia profited from Timor-Leste oil and gas,
rights groups say

The Guardian – March 7, 2018

Helen Davidson and Christopher Knaus — Australia has received
billions of dollars in revenue from contested oil and gas fields
which a new border treaty officially confirms belonged to
Timor-Leste, civil society groups have claimed.

On Wednesday the two nations signed a treaty agreeing a permanent
maritime border to close the Timor Gap, and establishing a “special
regime” area for the sharing of an untapped, multibillion-dollar gas
field in the Timor Sea.

It came at the end of decades of fractious negotiations and
disagreements, which included accusations of greed and espionage on
the part of Australia.

But human rights groups and observers have balked at the treaty’s
division of rights and revenue entitlements to Australia which they
say belong to Timor-Leste, and at provisions which stop Timor-Leste
seeking compensation.

The treaty delimits a permanent north-south border, and two
transitional borders on the east and west.

The eastern transitional border divides Greater Sunrise, and on the
west three fields — Buffalo, Bayu Undan and Kitan — are now fully
in Timorese territory. The nearly-depleted Laminaria-Corallina
remains in Australian waters but could shift.

The treaty suggests the transitional borders will move once Greater
Sunrise on the west and Laminaria-Corallina on the east are depleted,
and once Timor and Indonesia agree to new borders. What agreement
those two nations come to will determine the ownership of the
then-depleted fields.

However, the agreement signed at the United Nations on Wednesday
stipulates “no compensation for past exploitation”.

L’ao Hamutuk, a Timorese human rights group, published calculations
claiming Laminaria-Corallina has produced 203m barrels of oil since
it began production in 1999, with more than US$2.2bn in tax paid to
the Australian government. It estimates Australia received another
$2.4bn in revenue from the other fields.

A Timorese diplomatic source told the Guardian it was unlikely
Timor-Leste wanted to push for compensation, because of Australia’s
generosity during “difficult times”.

“Because Australia has been so generous with Timor in the past, they
will probably not ask for it back, but if Australia wanted to give it
to Timor, then that would be nice.”

Spokesman for the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, Tom Clarke, said
Australian governments had tried to “short-change the Timorese at
every opportunity over the years” and he welcomed the lasting
solution found on the boundaries.

“[A] question is will Australia be paying back any revenue it
received from smaller fields such as Buffalo when it was unilaterally
depleting contested fields that the Timorese have always claimed as theirs?”

“Australia owes Timor billions,” said Kim McGrath, research director
of the Steve Bracks AC Timor-Leste Governance Project and an adviser
to the Timor-Leste government.

McGrath said Australia had come a long way in working with
Timor-Leste, and while she was initially skeptical they would “come
to the party” in the untested conciliation process, she had been proved wrong.

“While I’m not convinced Australia is fair or right, and certainly
I’d question the morality of Australia still grabbing a piece of
Greater Sunrise, it’s still a step forward.”

McGrath said a 2015 decision by the Australian Labor party to
officially support negotiations was a “game changer” as it forced the
foreign affairs department to prepare for it in the event Labor won
the 2016 election.

Bernard Collaery, a lawyer intimately involved in the case, described
the treaty as “more of the same” and said a median line boundary was
“no victory at all”.

It was something Timor-Leste had already been entitled to under
United Nations law of the sea convention since Australia signed it,
Collaery said.

“Australia has been a pickpocket in the Timor Sea, shuffling through
the poverty-stricken garments of these people for years,” Collaery
told Guardian Australia. “And it’s horrible.”

Collaery said former Timor-Leste president Xanana Gusmao, a close
friend of his, was “between a rock and a hard place” with his people,
and “the next generation of Timorese may not be as tolerant as he’s been”.

Professor Clive Schofield, from Woollongong University’s National
Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, disagreed with assessments
that a fairly drawn median line would place Greater Sunrise wholly in
Timor-Leste territory.

He said the border shifts in the lateral boundaries enshrined in the
treaty were “quite innovative” in that they appeared to anticipate
the outcome of Timorese-Indonesian negotiations over their borders on
either side of the Timor Gap.

“Those arguments around the idea that Timor-Leste’s lateral lines
should be much further to the east and west rely on giving less
weight to Indonesian territory,” he said.

Once the treaty is enacted into domestic law the two countries will
continue negotiations about how to split and develop Greater Sunrise.

A letter from Gusmao to the UN conciliation committee, leaked on
Tuesday, accused Australia of colluding with resource companies in
pushing for the gas to be piped to Darwin.

He said giving up 10% of the revenue share in return for a Timorese
processing plant would bring about $25bn in downstream revenue to his country.

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Australia & East Timor Struggle to Strike a Maritime Boundary

World Politics Review

Why Australia and East Timor Are Struggling to Strike a Maritime Boundary

The Editors Friday, Dec. 15, 2017

Despite announcing a breakthrough in their protracted negotiations over a maritime boundary in August, Australia and East Timor have yet to finalize an agreement that would allow them to move forward on the joint development of an important natural gas field. The delay is in part due to the difficulties of conducting a trilateral negotiation involving the two governments as well as private interests. In an email interview, Bec Strating, a lecturer in the department of politics and philosophy at La Trobe University in Australia focusing on Indonesia and East Timor, which is also known as Timor-Leste, explains the background to the maritime dispute and how crucial the natural gas field in question is to East Timor’s flagging economy.

WPR: What is at stake in the maritime dispute between Australia and East Timor, and why has the process of finalizing an agreement stalled?

Bec Strating: There are a number of elements in the dispute regarding maritime boundaries and the development of hydrocarbon resources in the Timor Sea. With regard to the former issue, Australia has preferred delaying the delimitation of permanent maritime boundaries, while East Timor has more recently pushed for permanent boundaries. In 2006, East Timor and Australia agreed to a 50-year moratorium on maritime boundary delimitation in an agreement known as CMATS, which was designed to develop a contested but lucrative natural gas field in the Timor Sea called Greater Sunrise. The agreement laid out a revenue-sharing deal whereby Australia and East Timor would each receive 50 percent of the gas revenues.

However, the CMATS agreement also put aside the issue of how the field would be developed. East Timor wanted a pipeline to run from the field to its south coast in order to process the gas there, but the commercial venture partners deemed this unviable. Ultimately, this impasse led to East Timor’s leaders renewing their pursuit of permanent maritime boundaries as leverage to advance its interests on the pipeline.

Currently, both states are in talks as part of a compulsory conciliation process initiated by East Timor in April 2016. As part of this process, East Timor has dropped the international court cases it had brought against Australia, and in return Australia assented to dissolving the CMATS agreement.

In August it was announced that Australia and East Timor had reached a breakthrough on the issue of a maritime boundary, agreeing to the central elements for permanent boundary delimitation. A treaty text has yet to be made publically available, but is reportedly ready to be signed and ratified by the states. The main issue, however, remains the development plan for Greater Sunrise. The agreement on boundaries hinges upon whether East Timor, Australia and the commercial partners can reach an agreement on how the gas from the field can be developed.

If East Timor’s representatives continue to press for a pipeline, then the whole deal could come unstuck. Given that the talks are confidential, it is difficult to assess how they are progressing.

WPR: How important is the Greater Sunrise natural gas field to both countries, and how have the private partners developing the field influenced negotiations?

Strating: The gas field is far more important for East Timor than Australia in terms of economics. Around 90 percent of East Timor’s state budget relies on oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea, in a development area known as the Joint Petroleum Development Area, or JPDA. The resources in this area are expected to run out in the early 2020s, leaving East Timor without a significant income stream aside from its petroleum fund, which has over $16 billion but is being quickly depleted. Based on current spending trends, East Timor may be broke within a decade. Around 80 percent of the country’s GDP is generated by oil and gas­East Timor’s next biggest export, coffee, generates only around $15 million a year­making it one of the world’s most oil-dependent nations. So its short- and mid-term economic viability depend upon the development of Greater Sunrise gas.

However, in terms of strategic interests, Australia has not wanted to engage in boundary delimitation with East Timor because it fears that it will open the door for Indonesia to try and unravel the maritime boundaries between Indonesia and Australia. These boundaries were drawn in the era before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which means that Australia was able to persuade Indonesia to accept a line closer to Indonesia’s coastline due to the principle of natural prolongation. Post-UNCLOS, the accepted principle is the median line, which, if applied, would drag that boundary closer to Australia.

The role of the commercial venture partners is significant. Currently, the consortium led by Australia-based petroleum company Woodside Petroleum has been instrumental in blocking East Timor’s plan for development on the grounds that it is commercially unviable. Many oil and gas experts agree with Woodside that the pipeline and the south coast processing centers would cost more than they would provide in social and economic benefits, and that the best options are to use the existing facility based in Darwin, Australia, and to employ a floating platform for processing the gas. Australia has effectively deferred to the venture partners­if it is not deemed commercially viable by them, then Australia will not support it. This makes this a fascinating case study in an international trilateral negotiation held effectively between two states and a commercial consortium.

WPR: How have East Timor’s internal politics affected negotiations with Australia, and how do you anticipate this playing out?

Strating: The first thing to note here is that East Timor’s lead negotiator is Xanana Gusmao, a former president and prime minister who is currently the leader of the opposition coalition, as well as minister of planning and strategic investment. That an opposition leader is heading the negotiations indicates the unity of the different parties on the issue of the Timor Sea, as well as Gusmao’s status in Timorese politics as a liberation hero. An agreement without Gusmao would likely fail, as he remains a powerful figure among the Timorese public. At the moment it appears that negotiations have continued on as they had before East Timor’s parliamentary elections, which were held in July, although I must stress that the talks are highly confidential, so things may not be as they appear.

In this way, the negotiations have been somewhat divorced from the internal chaos that has stemmed from those elections, in which no party managed to secure a majority. The party that received the plurality vote, FRETILIN, has been unable to pass its national program through parliament, which potentially sets the scene for a constitutional crisis. How this might impact the negotiations is unclear, however. In any event, it seems that there are a number of challenges that need to be circumvented before the treaty text on maritime boundaries will be signed and ratified.

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