Committees: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee - Reference

5 February 2020

Senator Patrick: 

 I move:

(1) That the Senate notes that, in respect to the development of Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields:

(a) on 6 March 2018, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a maritime boundaries treaty establishing permanent maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, and a legal framework for developing the Greater Sunrise gas fields, together and sharing in the benefits – the treaty has now been ratified by both countries and entered into force on 30 August 2019;

(b) there are two options for processing the Greater Sunrise gas fields:

   (i) onshore in Australia, or

   (ii) onshore in Timor Leste, as part of the Timor-Leste Government's Tasi Mane development strategy for a corridor of petroleum infrastructure along the southwest coast of the country;

(c) the Australian Government stated, in response to a question asked during the estimates hearings of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee on 4 September 2019, that 'Australia wants Greater Sunrise to be developed in a commercially sound way that maximises the return for the parties, and therefore contributes to Timor Leste's economic development priorities. Provided these conditions are met, Australia is neutral as to whether Greater Sunrise gas is processed in Timor-Leste or Australia'; and

(d) the establishment of a corridor of petroleum infrastructure along the southwest coast of Timor-Leste would be a more complex and challenging endeavour than processing in existing facilities in Australia.

(2) That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and to report by the final sitting day of June 2020, relating the Tasi Mane project:

(a) assistance and co-operation offered, to date, by the Australian Government to the Tasi Mane project;

(b) possible future assistance and co-operation by the Australian Government in relation to the Tasi Mane project;

(c) opportunities for Australian industry to assist with the design, development and execution of the Tasi Mane project;

(d) opportunities for the Australian Government to assist Timor-Leste, in respect of activities and projects incidental to the Tasi Mane project;

(e) opportunities for Australian industry, in respect of activities and projects incidental to the Tasi Mane project; and

(f) any related matters.

In order to talk about this motion, which is a referral to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, I need to give a bit of history about Australia's relationship with East Timor. If we go back to the 1960s, that's when Australia discovered that there was oil and gas underneath the Timor Sea. Quite rightly, I guess, we were interested in that oil and gas, and maybe there was a prospect of working together with the Portuguese colony of East Timor, but, of course, these sorts of negotiations take a long time.


We move from the sixties to the seventies. In 1972 Australia negotiated a sea border treaty with Indonesia. Everyone needs to understand the geography here. Indonesia flanks East Timor on both sides, and so when the sea boundary was settled with Indonesia, it left a gap in relation to where the sea boundary was to be with East Timor. That was colloquially known as the Timor Gap. We then had a situation a couple of years later where Portugal granted East Timor independence. But, at the urging of the Australian government, sadly, Indonesia then annexed East Timor. We remember that occurring in 1975, and, indeed, we all remember the Balibo Five and the tragedy that occurred there. But rolling on from that, over the next 15 years, well over 200,000 East Timorese died during what could only be described as a challenging occupation with, of course, strong resistance from people in East Timor.

That brings us to 1999, where, by way of popular consultation, East Timor finally achieved its independence, or at least voted for its independence—and Australia did help out with INTERFET. Nothing in my remarks today are intended to, in any way, be disparaging of the Australian Defence Force that did a great job in respect of operations in and around Timor and the border with Indonesia.

Now that Timor-Leste was an independent country—the newest country in the world, and a very poor country—we then started negotiations on a seabed boundary with that country. After agreeing to negotiate in good faith, it's well understood that Australia, during the negotiations to get to a treaty that was later signed in 2006, spied on the East Timorese negotiating team. It was an operation that was conducted by ASIS. Indeed, if we were to ask the government to respond to that suggestion, they would simply say, 'We neither confirm nor deny.' But if you want confirmation of it, you just have to go down to the ACT Supreme Court this week, where there are interlocutory hearings underway relating to Mr Bernard Collaery and Witness K, who are alleged to have revealed an operation. I can tell you that in Australia we don't prosecute people for an allegation that they revealed a fictitious intelligence operation. We know that operation took place. Everyone knows it. The government seeks not to acknowledge that that is the case, but I think that is a general understanding.

We had a treaty signed. Once it was known that it was done in a manner that was fraudulent—and we know from Lord Denning that 'fraud unravels everything'. We were challenged, of course, in the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, after raiding Bernard Collaery's office. That resulted in the matter going to the International Court of Justice, where Australia was ordered to hand back legal documents to Timor-Leste that had been taken during the raids and was also given an extraordinary order in relation to not spying on the East Timorese legal team.


Australia knew they were on a hiding to nowhere in the arbitration and, as a result, they acquiesced. They agreed to renegotiate the treaty, and those negotiations took place. On 18 March 2018 Australia and Timor-Leste signed a maritime boundary treaty, establishing a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

We need to put that past behind us. Timor-Leste is our friend. It's a friend that is not going away. They are just to the north of Australia, and we need to be working with the East Timorese. They have a vision. It's a vision of Xanana Gusmao. They would like to process oil from Greater Sunrise, which is, in effect, a shared resource. They'd like to process that on the south coast of Timor-Leste. There are two options available. One of the options is to process that oil and gas in existing facilities in Darwin. The other is for that oil and gas to be processed onshore, on the south coast. You don't have to be an expert in project management to realise that it is much simpler for that oil and gas to be processed here in Australia with existing resources. But we need to respect the other option, which is that Timor-Leste develop a corridor of industry that provides jobs, that provides economic security, that helps to educate and tool up its economy.

What I'm asking for in this motion—it's not because I want the Senate to consider which is the better option, the processing on Australian shores option or the processing on the south coast of Timor-Leste option. I've moved a motion that recognises it is going to be more difficult to process oil on the south coast. It's going to be laden with a lot more risk. Therefore, we need to support our friend Timor-Leste if they choose to go down that path. The terms of reference are pretty simple. They simply say, 'We want to examine what assistance and cooperation has been offered, to date, by the Australian government to the Tasi Mane project,' which is what they refer to that south coast project as.

What possible future assistance and cooperation by the Australian government can we give in relation to Tasi Mane? What opportunities are there for Australian industry? What opportunities are incidental to the project? The committee would examine these things in order to assist Timor-Leste and try to work out how we would best integrate Australian industry into a solution up there. There are a number of companies that could easily participate up there: ADCO Constructions, BGT, Hutchinson, Downer EDI, WorleyParsons. That's naming some construction companies, but all of the incidental activity could lead to a whole range of Australian jobs assisting our friends in Timor-Leste.

I visited Timor-Leste last year at the 20th anniversary of the Popular Consultation. I took the opportunity to venture down to the south coast. Some of the things I saw were quite amazing. I saw a dual-lane, dual-carriageway freeway that had been built by the Chinese. I saw power lines that had been built by the Chinese. I saw a power station that had been built by Indonesia. I saw an airport that had been built by Indonesia. I saw lots of things happening down on that south coast that are being done in preparation for the Tasi Mane project. Nothing stood out in respect of what Australia was doing down there, and it concerns me.


I actually visited the south coast with a journalist from The Australian, Greg Brown. We went to some camps where there were Chinese nationals who had been involved in the construction of the freeway. They're there waiting for the next section of freeway to be commenced. They made it very clear. When Greg Brown asked the question, 'How long are you staying for?' the Chinese responded: 'We are here forever.' It's not an isolated incident, in the context: if we go back to December 2007, we know from WikiLeaks that the Chinese offered to do things like put a surveillance radar on the south coast of Timor-Leste. There is interest in Timor-Leste from the Chinese as they expand their influence. It's my strong view that there could be Chinese military assets—which will eventually occur if we ignore Timor-Leste—on what is, effectively, a stationary aircraft carrier just to the north of Australia. It is not in our strategic interest to have a strong Chinese footprint in this neighbouring country, not in any way, shape or form, and that means we need to engage.

We need to be helping Timor-Leste in their endeavours. We need to make sure that as they move ahead with this project—as I'm pretty sure they will—we are assisting them, because if we ignore them or if we don't assist them, they will move on. We will not be involved. In ten years time, I can guarantee you, I'll be sitting in a park somewhere reading back today's Hansard—on the day that we're seeing military bases being established on the south coast of Timor-Leste. That will not be in Australia's best interests, by any means.

This motion calls for an inquiry by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee to examine how we can help Timor-Leste. That's all it does. It just says: what can Australia do to help Timor-Leste? What can we do to maximise our industry involvement? I'm pretty sure the government is going to oppose us; I don't understand why they would do that. I'm pretty sure the Labor Party is going to oppose this, and I don't understand why they're going to do that. This is about Australian jobs. This is about helping Timor-Leste. When the popular consultation was being celebrated, the 20-year anniversary, I was there when the president of the ACTU received rewards for her efforts in respect of assisting Timor-Leste. It just saddens me that, when given the opportunity to look at how to help Timor-Leste, it's likely that the Senate is going to refuse to do that.

Division: NOES 38 (25 majority) AYES 13 PAIRS 0

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