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Still fighting for East Timor's sovereignty

Green Left Weekly - April 28, 2004

Sarah Stephen, Sydney – "Each of us has to choose between being either a champion of human dignity or a collaborator with an increasingly inhuman system", Sister Susan Connelly from the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies told a crowd of 600 people in the Sydney Town Hall on April 21.

Connelly was one of many speakers and performers who came together to pay tribute to the life and work of Dr Andrew McNaughtan, human rights activist and former convener of the Australia-East Timor Association. McNaughton died at the age of 49 last December.

Connelly urged people to continue McNaughtan's work by taking up the defence of East Timor's right to benefit most from Timor Sea offshore oil and natural gas resources, and to oppose Canberra's attempt to steal up to 82% of the tax revenues expected to be generated from exploitation of these resources.

The East Timorese "are not asking for hand-outs", said Connelly. "They are asking that they be treated with the dignity that is rightfully theirs as a sovereign nation, and that their claims be heard according to law.

"Australia's maritime boundaries can change within one parliamentary sitting for migration purposes, and yet we are told that the borders affecting the Timor Sea resources could take many years to determine. Timor's financial viability is being jeopardised by Australian gluttony.

"The shame of waiting 25 years to come to Timor's aid will be with us for a long time. Are we to compound our cowardice by forcing them to wait even more years for economic independence?" The meeting was also addressed by Shirley Shackleton, whose husband was a journalist murdered in East Timor during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of the country; Paddy Kenneally, an Australian soldier stationed in East Timor during 1941-42; and a special guest, East Timor's "first lady" Kirsty Sword-Gusmao.

Outrage at the Australian government's attempts to steal East Timor's oil and gas resources was a theme which ran through many speeches. The event raised funds for the Alola Foundation, established by Sword-Gusmao to address the needs of East Timorese women.