Crocodiles in the Timor Sea: development and socio-economic implications of the maritime resources dispute

Crocs motif
Public Seminar hosted by the Anthropology Program in the School of Social Sciences

16 February 2016

State Library of Victoria

This public seminar explored the development and socio-economic implications of the maritime resources dispute in the Timor Sea. The negotiations that have occurred between Australia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia over the petroleum reserves in the Timor Sea have ongoing impacts on relations between these three close neighbours, this is particularly the case for the development of the new nation of Timor-Leste.

The financial implications of current international negotiations and legal disputes are huge. Independent Timorese NGO watchdog Lao Hamutuk, estimates that the total amount of oil revenue received by the Australian government between 1999 and 2014 which they believe should belong to Timor-Leste is just under five billion U.S. dollars (USD$5 000 000 000).

Monash UniversityThe national development implications and the socio-economic impact on the Timorese was discussed by three speakers with long-term experience in Timor Leste: Dr Kirsty Sword Gusmao AO; Professor Brett Inder, Faculty of Business and Economics and Dr Sara Niner, Faculty of Arts at Monash University. Recordings of the three presentations appear below.

This Seminar was convened by the Anthropology program in the School of Social Sciences.

Dr. Sara Niner

Monash UniversityPresentation of ‘An anthropological or human perspective on the dispute over maritime resources in the Timor Sea’ by Dr Sara Niner & Kim McGrath

This presentation is based on extensive research in the National Archives of Australia by PhD candidate Kim McGrath which provides new insights into the culture and ethics of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). This Department has been the main author and executor of Australian policy that has led to the contemporary dispute over maritime resources between the Australian and Timor-Leste governments. The paper argues that throughout the 1970s and 1980s this government department, and particularly the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, worked hard to conclude negotiations over the maritime resources in the Timor Sea. This overwhelming motivation in relations with Indonesia required staff to deny and cover up human rights abuses in East Timor . Vivid evidence of this from the official DFA archive demonstrates a pathological lack of empathy and concern for the East Timorese. These archives in Canberra reveal that this culture of cover up is closely tied to DFA’s need to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over the territory so as to carry out negotiations over the petroleum in the Timor Sea.

Embassy Memo 1Examples of DFA Memos from the ArchivesEmbassy Memo 2

Sydney Morning Herald Article concerning DFA Diplomats ‘”Sounds like fun” Aussie Diplomats mock reports of Indonesian rape and torture’ 22 Feb 2016

New Matilda Article by John Pilger, ‘The Rape Of East Timor: “Sounds Like Fun”’

Professor Brett Inder

The Timor Sea Dispute with Australia: An Economist’s ReflectionsMonash University

From the beginning, Australia has always worked to get the best outcome for Australia and Australian companies by negotiating with the other party when they are weak; using the most favourable international treaties and geological advice; and refusing to participate in any independent arbitration process. Professor Inder argues from a political economy perspective that economic exchange requires trust and good will  which in turn requires the voluntary exercise of restraint of power. This includes a belief that all should be treated fairly and supports long-term self-interest. The benefits to this are cohesive economies and relations built on co-operation rather than exploitation.

See Professor Inder ‘s other work in Timor-Leste.

Dr. Kirsty Gusmao AO

Monash UniversityDr Kirsty Sword Gusmao is the former first Lady of Timor-Leste. She serves that county as the Goodwill Ambassador for Education and sits on the Education Commission and the Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO. She is also the President of the Alola Foundation, a women’s advocacy organisation in Timor.

Dr Sword-Gusmao provides a personal reflection on the human capacity context in T-L against which the resource-sharing agreements were made and a snapshot of some of the overwhelming needs facing T-L today and where those missing  billions might be spent.

The final 20 minutes here are questions from the audience. 

Monash UniversityThe event finished with Timorese coffee from With One Bean and lots of conversation.

Photography by Jorge Araujo at Artificial Studios.Monash UniversityMonash UniversityMonash UniversityMonash University


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