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Centre Alliance calls for government to fix 'historic wrong' over Timor-Leste gas and oil

SBS News - September 9, 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick is calling on the government to fix an "historic wrong" committed against Timor-Leste.

Crossbench senator Rex Patrick is calling on the government to reverse changes that prevented Timor Leste from taking Australia to court over potential international maritime law breaches during oil and gas negotiations.

The Centre Alliance senator said it was time for Australia to fix an "historic wrong" over its "shameless" treatment of its newly independent neighbour in the early 2000s as it tried to get a bigger share of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

In 2002, then prime minister John Howard limited Australia's exposure to the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the law of the Sea.

"Australia's commitment to international law was pushed aside in a shameless effort to grab as much as possible of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea," Senator Patrick said. "This was a historic wrong that needs to be fixed."

As part of last month's celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the tiny nation's independence referendum, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a new maritime treaty.

The new deal gives Timor-Leste a much greater share of revenue from oil and gas reserves after it was revealed Australia had bugged government offices during original negotiations on the sea boundary.

Whistleblowers, lawyer Bernard Collaery and former spy Witness K, are facing criminal charges for exposing the spy scandal.

Australia has also concluded maritime boundary agreements with Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and France relating to New Caledonia and Kerguelen Island.

Senator Patrick said now was the time for Australia to reverse the changes made by Mr Howard.

"This has been a long-standing international embarrassment for Australia that should be brought to an end without further delay."

"If Australia is to stand up for international law and a rules-based international order and encourage other countries to resort to international dispute resolution processes, we must get our own house in order."

China inquiry

Senator Patrick is also pushing for an inquiry into Australia's relationship with China, but the government is likely to be blocked by the government and Labor.

Senator Patrick said the major parties' hesitation to support his inquiry was a sign of Chinese "soft power" being exercised.

"I think it's an attack on our parliamentary sovereignty," Senator Patrick told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

He said Australia needed to engage with China, but interactions shouldn't be limited to advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"There's a number of things where we can benefit from our relationship with China, and there's a number of things where we need to be cautious," Senator Patrick said.

On Friday, Labor repeated calls for the government to provide a "detailed and comprehensive" brief on China from government agencies, but said an inquiry was the best approach to the issue.

– With AAP

Source: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/centre-alliance-calls-for-government-to-fix-historic-wrong-over-timor-leste-gas-and-oil