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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Australia vs. East Timor: Round II 

Remember how Australia has gone from being praised as East Timor's savior to being accused of stealing its oil revenues? No? I mentioned it once about a year ago: haven't you been paying attention?

In any case, the issue hasn't gone away. The BBC reports today that:
An advertising campaign has been launched in Australia, criticising the government for its handling of oil and gas negotiations with East Timor. The tiny country has argued that Australia's hardline stance over disputed maritime boundaries could cost Dili billions of badly needed dollars.

The private TV campaign is aimed at embarrassing Canberra into allowing a change in the boundary line. But Australia says its stance has been fair, considerate and decent.

The government in Dili wants the maritime border it shares with Canberra to be in the middle of the 600 km (370 miles) of sea that separates the two countries. But Australia wants to stick with the same boundary it agreed in 1972 with Indonesia, East Timor's former colonial master. In some places, that frontier is less than 150 km ( 93 miles) off the coast of this tiny cash-strapped nation. Where the line is eventually drawn will be critical. At stake are oil and gas reserves worth $30bn, under the seabed in the Greater Sunrise Field.

Now a private television advertising campaign has been launched, aimed at embarrassing the Australian government into accepting East Timor's demands. War veterans appearing in these advertisements fought in East Timor during World War II, and insist they owe it to the people there to fight for their rights.
The (strangely unaffecting) TV ads are being run by the Timor Sea Justice Campaign. I don't know much about the group, but they've persuaded many of the US Congress's human rights caucus to support their cause, along with the big peak union council of Australia and others.

Will the ads work? Is there an interests-based reason for the unions to throw resources into this fight? Would Australian opposition parties supporting the Timorese side really be willing to forgo the oil revenues if they managed to form a government? I don't know. I also don't know if and when a multilateral body will consider the case. But I'm glad to see that just in case, at least people in East Timor and Australia are thinking about how to keep oil revenue from subjecting East Timor to the resource curse [which I've discussed here and here.]

More soon.

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