East Timor Bugging Scandal: Referral of Senior Government Officials to Australian Federal Police

12 July 2018

Senators Nick McKim, Rex Patrick and Tim Storer, along with Mr Andrew Wilkie MP, have written to the Federal Police Commissioner asking for an investigation into the ASIS operation to bug the East Timorese Cabinet offices in 2004 during the oil and gas revenue treaty negotiations.

The Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group bombed the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on 9 September 2004, and the bugging operation in East Timor in September-October 2004 allegedly diverted scarce ASIS assets away from the fight against terrorism in Indonesia.

The negotiations that were underway between Australia and East Timor were negotiations subject to the requirements of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Australia had a legal (and moral) obligation to conduct these negotiations in good faith. The bugging operation was outside the proper functions of ASIS as defined under Section 6 and Section 11 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

There is a reasonable case in law that Ministers and senior government executives who concocted and ordered the operation have committed a 'conspiracy to defraud' under ACT law. This serious allegation needs to be investigated by the Federal Police who are responsible for enforcing ACT law.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT AUSTRALIAN AND EAST TIMORESE RELATIONS

The people of East Timor have traditionally been good allies and loyal friends of Australia.

Their support of our soldiers fighting the Japanese in 1942 was vital. The East Timorese suffered 40, 000 deaths due to aerial bombing and the Japanese destruction of villages suspected of sheltering Australian troops. Australian troops were protected "at the expense of the lives of many, many East Timorese people," Senator Neville Bonner said in a statement to the Senate in 1977.

After East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 2002, Australia commenced negotiations on the sea boundary between the two countries. East Timor was one of the poorest countries in the world. In a morally bankrupt and unlawful operation, the Australian government ordered an espionage operation against East Timor’s negotiators to gain significant advantage in those negotiations.

This operation ultimately resulted in compulsory arbitration at the United Nations' Permanent Court of Arbitration which then led to renegotiations of the maritime boundary which have only recently just concluded.

In the period between the spying and now, East Timor's sentiments towards Australia have deteriorated substantially and China has managed to increase its influence through the use of 'soft power'. Here is a link to supporting research that details the differing sentiment/affinity towards both Australia and China, and the letter signed by the Senators and Mr Wilkie.

Not only was the bugging operation wrong, it has been a total foreign policy, defence and economic disaster.

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