11 March 2005


Pressure on the Australian government to reach a fair agreement over the disputed oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea increased on the eve of talks between the two governments that re-commenced earlier this month.

A delegation of community leaders from Victoria led by Bishop Hilton Deakin of Melbourne presented a letter to a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representative in Canberra urging Australia respect East Timor's legal entitlements under international law. A copy of the letter signed by a range of prominent figures also appeared in the daily press. "The majority of Australians want our government to offer a fair deal that reflects East Timor's rightful entitlement under current international law," Bishop Deakin said. "The way in which our governments have behaved in the past in ignoring jurisdictions by withdrawing from them, redefining boundaries and redefining principles about boundaries, is nothing short of a very sophisticated way of depriving the people of what nature gave them"

In a letter to the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, 17 members of both chambers of the US Congress also urged Australia "to move quickly and seriously to establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste, (also known as East Timor)". "An equitable sharing of oil and gas revenues would enable Timor-Leste to provide better health care and other essential services to its citizens. Such equitable sharing of revenue is not a question of charity; rather it is a matter of self-determination, sovereignty and Timor-Leste's future," the members of Congress wrote.

The Social Action Committee of the Conference of Leaders of Religious Congregations in Victoria has also written to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister arguing that on moral grounds the current stance of the Australian government cannot be justified, pointing out that "On the one hand Australia enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world and last year could afford to offer billions of dollars in tax cuts, mainly for the more well-off in our society, whilst one of our nearest neighbours in East Timor is currently one of the poorest nations in the world where most of the population lack the basic necessities of life."

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