James Massola, Jakarta – The Indonesian government wants Australia to re-open discussions on maritime boundaries after a deal was finally struck to resolve a similar dispute between East Timor and Australia.
In comments that suggest Canberra could face a new headache over economic borders at sea, the director-general of legal affairs and international treaties at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, Damos Agusman, told Fairfax Media that Jakarta wanted new talks over the Perth Treaty, signed in 1997.
The 1997 treaty has never entered into force as Indonesia has not ratified it, though both nations have observed it. The document sets out Australia's and Indonesia's exclusive economic zones using the median line between the two countries.
This has meant Indonesia's fishing rights extend further south than its right to explore the seabed for oil and gas, which is governed by an earlier treaty from 1972. That treaty sets the boundary between the countries much closer to Indonesia.
Mr Agusman said on Wednesday: "the Perth treaty cannot enter into force as it stands now as it, inter alia, covers area that now belongs to TL [East Timor], and the object of the conciliation".
He said the agreement between East Timor and Australia was complex and would be studied closely, and reminded both nations that any potential boundary line must be "subjected to future agreement with Indonesia".
Australian National University international law expert Donald Rothwell told Fairfax Media the Perth treaty was extremely complex and that Indonesia could be targeting it as a trade off, instead of potentially seeking access to the Greater Sunrise gas fields, as has also been flagged.
Access to the gas fields could generate significant revenue for Indonesia, Professor Rothwell said. The fields hold an estimated $US40 billion ($A51 billion) worth of gas and now billions in extra revenue is expected to flow to East Timor.
"Given the complexity of the Perth treaty – it covers the greatest expanse of our boundaries with our major maritime neighbour, Indonesia – this [comments by Mr Damos] would create nervousness in Canberra among government officials," Professor Rothwell said.Loading
It was less likely, he added, that the 1972 seabed boundaries could be renegotiated successfully.
La Trobe University expert Bec Strating said if Indonesia wanted to renegotiate the Perth treaty it would be a headache for Australia, and could deliver Indonesia greater fishing rights, but not necessarily greater rights to oil and gas exploration.
"In terms of the cost-benefit analysis, dealing with Indonesia on an exclusive economic zone treaty that is not ratified is easier than the Timor boundary dispute," Dr Strating said.
The deal struck between East Timor and Australia will bring an end to the long-running dispute between the two nations, and will see Dili receive a larger share of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise gas field.
The exact amount of revenue will be between 70 and 80 per cent, depending on whether the resources are processed in East Timor or Australia.
In New York, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the treaty would open a "new chapter" in relations between the two nations.
"Australia has an enduring interest in a stable and prosperous Timor-Leste... we want Timor-Leste to achieve its economic potential," she said.
East Timorese Minister Agio Pereira said the deal was "equitable" and "consistent with international law".
As far back as 2002, then-Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer warned that re-drawing the maritime boundaries with East Timor could have a knock effect and lead to re-negotiation of the maritime boundaries between Australia and Indonesia.
– with Reuters