I want to acknowledge the Labor leader for his contribution to this debate on the Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty Consequential Amendments Bill 2019 and related legislation, and also the member for Hunter. Hopefully we’ll hear from the member for Lingiari, my colleague from the Northern Territory, who’s had a very long history working in solidarity with the people of Timor-Leste and supporters of Timor-Leste in Australia to assist in getting us to the position we’re in today where we can have a fairer treaty that’s a credit to both nations. The Labor leader acknowledged my friend Janelle Saffin, formerly the member for Page in this place. I really got to know her through my time working in Timor-Leste, and she did an enormous amount to get us to where we are today.
There’s a lot of history in these bills, which I’ll refer to later. I’ve been very privileged to be part of Timor’s story in more recent years through a time of development, through a time of restoring their independence. As the member for Hunter said, my brother Daniel is a lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army and is currently the team leader for the Defence Cooperation Program in Timor-Leste and continues to do a great job over there. I might be a bit biased in saying that my brother’s doing a great job, but he really is. As a Portuguese and Tetum linguist, he was one of the first troops ashore with INTERFET 20 years ago, and he’s there again now, continuing to assist the F-FDTL become a professional force and helping them to establish their own international peacekeeping capability, which is very important and a great credit to all of those countries and of course a great credit to TMR—Taur Matan Ruak—whom the member for Hunter mentioned was a guerrilla leader who became the chief of their defence force and is now the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste.
So there’s a lot of history here, and it would be remiss of me not to point out and get onto the Hansard some of it that we can be less proud of but also some of it that we can be extremely proud of. Kim McGrath’s book Crossing the Line: Australia’s Secret History in the Timor Sea sets out Australia’s role in negotiations with Timor-Leste over the maritime boundary between the two nations and, sadly, the bullying tactics Australia used to gain greater access to the oil wealth in the Timor Sea. Allegedly, these tactics went as far as the installation of listening devices in the room used by the Timorese negotiating team during the 2004-05 negotiations on the Sunrise field.
The principal negotiator for Australia during this period was the foreign minister of the time, Alexander Downer, a former member of this place. McGrath describes how Downer pounded the table as he bluntly warned that Australia could leave all the Timor Sea resources where they were until he got his way. That period—and I was in Timor-Leste in that period—did great damage to our relationship. Alexander Downer at the time said, ‘We don’t have to exploit the resources. They can stay there for 20, 40, 50 years,’ whilst the Timorese tried to rebuild their country, one of the poorest countries in Asia, very dependent on that oil and gas revenue. The former foreign minister, Mr Downer, then retired from politics in 2008 and set-up a lobbying company with certain petroleum companies as his clients. I’m glad that we’ve moved past that. I’m very proud of the role that Labor has played to getting us where we are today, where the bills before the House give effect to a treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste recognising the extended maritime boundaries for Timor-Leste and making new arrangements for petroleum development and revenues.
These bills go a long way to repairing our relationship with Timor-Leste, a relationship, as we’ve heard from the Labor leader, in which Australia has not always acted with honour.
We did sign a new treaty in March of 2018, which did bring to an end more than 40 years of uncertainty over our shared maritime border. It also vindicated the strong position taken two years earlier by Labor under the leadership of the then deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, the member for Sydney, where we took decisive steps to settle our dispute with Timor-Leste.
I think it is worth reminding the House of what the member for Sydney said on 10 February 2016 at the National Press Club. The member for Sydney said:
If we want to insist that other nations play by the rules, we also need to adhere to them.
We have a good record in doing so, but not a flawless one.
Timor-Leste suffered decades of war and starvation before gaining independence. Australia played a key role in securing that independence – a proud moment for many Australians.
The maritime boundary dispute has poisoned relations with our newest neighbour. This must change, for their sake, and for ours.
A Shorten Labor government will redouble efforts to enter good-faith negotiations with Timor-Leste to settle the maritime boundaries between our two countries.
If we are not successful in negotiating a settlement with our neighbour we are prepared to submit ourselves to international adjudication or arbitration.
It is in the national interest of both Australia and Timor-Leste that we do so, but just as importantly it is in the interest of the system itself that we are willing to freely participate in it.
That address to the National Press Club was a result of many, many people’s efforts, and certainly the leadership of the member for Sydney on this issue, to get us to that point which provided the catalyst which changed the nexus of this issue and got us on a path towards the treaty being signed.
I also wanted to mention the efforts of our current shadow minister for foreign affairs, Senator Penny Wong, who reconfirmed Labor’s commitment to multilateralism and a rules-based international system, and who said at the time of the treaty signing:
We believe all nations benefit from abiding by international norms. If we want to insist that other nations play by the rules, we would adhere to them.
We, of course, therefore are very pleased that this treaty is the first ever to be achieved by conciliation under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. Now that that treaty has been signed, bringing certainty over this region in the Timor Sea—north of my electorate in Darwin—we’ll see the development of the Greater Sunrise gas field for the benefit of both Australia and Timor-Leste. I’ve indicated Labor’s position, and I am very pleased that the signing of this brings to an end more than 40 years of uncertainty over this maritime border.
I also want to mention quickly another aspect of the bill, which was alluded to by the member for Hunter, and that is in relation to the passenger movement charge amendments. I just want to make a quick ad: the Australian carrier that you can fly to Dili with, Airnorth, flies from Darwin to Dili daily. They currently have great tourism packages where you can fly to Darwin and then go over to East Timor, have a tour and stay in great accommodation. In addition to the oil and gas industry, the tourism industry is going to become a really sustainable part of Timor-Leste’s economic future. So I commend travelling to Timor to everyone, with a warning: once you travel to Timor-Leste, it gets under your skin and you’ll be going back again and again. My friend and former boss Jose Ramos-Horta—the former prime minister, foreign minister and President of Timor-Leste was one of the people I worked for when I was there—strongly believes Timor-Leste coffee to be to some form of aphrodisiac. So that is just a quick warning. Yes, it’s true. Indeed, that’s from Jose Ramos-Horta, and I’m not making it up.
Just quickly, I want to acknowledge some of the people that introduced me to Timor-Leste’s history. It has been a great privilege to get to know that country and people over the last 20 years. I’ve worked over there in a variety of roles. I established a charity in Timor-Leste; we built schools in the mountainous and isolated regions of Timor-Leste, education being such an important part of their future. Maternal health—maternal morbidity and mortality—is a serious problem in Timor-Leste. It’s improving slightly, but it requires more focus from us. I was proud that we ran maternal health education programs in the districts of Timor-Leste.
Serving in the Australian military, with the Timorese military, gave me an appreciation for the resilience of those people who lived and fought in the hills of Timor-Leste to restore their independence over those very difficult decades when they were very much isolated and weren’t receiving much support at all. But some that were supporting the East Timorese during those difficult years were the veterans of the 2/2nd and 2/4th independent commando companies—Australian soldiers, like Paddy Kenneally.
I want to acknowledge Paddy and his family—his lovely wife, Nora, and their children. Over the decades, Paddy never forgot the assistance that he was given by the East Timorese people. He’s gone to God now, but Paddy used to always say that the Australian soldiers in East Timor would not have lasted five minutes in 1942 without the assistance of the Timorese people, who sheltered them and fed the commandos in the hills as they conducted what has come to be known as one of the greatest examples of guerilla warfare in modern times.
With the assistance of the Timorese, a couple of hundred Australian commandos, at the height of the Japanese occupation of Timor-Leste, kept 20,000 Japanese soldiers away from places like the Kokoda Trail, where those Japanese troops could have been very important and might even have led to the Japanese taking Port Moresby. Many people don’t appreciate the importance of the Timorese support to Australia during those very difficult years. In fact, the bombing in my electorate, the bombing of Darwin, was to stop the counterattack on the invasion of Timor-Leste. The invasion of Timor-Leste occurred on 19 and 20 February 1942, and the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942 was very much to stop us from going into Timor. A couple of hundred Australian commandos, with the assistance of the Timorese, fought on there without assistance for many months. But one thing they were always gutted by was the fact that we had then gone and turned our back on the people of Timor-Leste.
I’m very proud to say that coming up is not only the 20th anniversary of them reclaiming their independence but also the 20th anniversary, on 20 September, of our Australian-led INTERFET force going back into Timor-Leste and helping to restore order, which, of course, led the way for the new nation of Timor-Leste to start self-governing. We wish them all the best. I want to again say how much I support this bill for both of our nations.
Delivered in the House of Representatives on 25 July 2019.