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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 987

Timor-Leste


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:48): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brandis. On 20 May 2002 Timor-Leste officially became an independent nation. On the same date they signed the Timor Sea treaty with Australia. Some argued Timor-Leste may not have realised the true implications of signing the treaty during their final hours of duress and, as such, this has culminated in the current situation we are in with the CMATS dispute before arbitration at The Hague. Can the minister outline specific attempts over the past 12 months that Australia has made to engage Timor-Leste to resolve these disputes locally, and explain why we were prepared to negotiate a median line with New Zealand in 2004 but have not been able to do the same with Timor-Leste?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:49): I thank Senator Madigan for his question and I thank him for the courtesy of giving me advance notice of his question. I begin by pointing out to Senator Madigan that the treaty that is the subject of proceedings commencing today in The Hague is not the Timor Sea treaty. The Timor Sea treaty is strongly supported by the governments of both Australia and Timor-Leste. The treaty that is the subject of proceedings in The Hague is a subsequent treaty—the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea—and it is that separate treaty which the government of Timor-Leste criticises.

The notice of arbitration and the reference to the arbitral tribunal in The Hague was filed by the government of Timor-Leste on 23 April this year but, prior to that, on 18 February this year officials of the Australian government met with officials of the government of Timor-Leste in Bangkok in order to discuss this dispute. In fact, the Timor Sea treaty, which does provide a dispute resolution mechanism which has been adopted by the CMATS treaty, actually provides for prior consultation as a condition precedent to invoking the arbitration procedure. One of the grounds on which Australia disputes the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague is that we contend that the government of Timor-Leste has not sufficiently engaged in or exhausted the prior consultation machinery before referring the matter to arbitration.


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:51): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Earlier this year, I said in the chamber that if Australia were smart we would give in to Timor-Leste's request for a pipeline to Timor-Leste. If we are ethical and would negotiate the boundary and make a fresh start, can the minister outline whether it is the government's opinion that, if Australia were to modify as much of the CMATS treaty as to allow for a pipeline to be built to Timor-Leste, we consider Timor-Leste would pursue arbitration through The Hague?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:52): First of all, might I point out that the issue of a pipeline—as I am advised—has not been raised by the government of Timor-Leste in the arbitration. So far as the case being propounded by the government of Timor-Leste is revealed by documents thus far filed in the arbitration, no issue of a pipeline has arisen. The Australian government stands by the CMATS treaty. We consider that it was a treaty negotiated fairly and in good faith and we will defend these proceedings. But the particular issue that you raised of a pipeline has, at least so far as is disclosed by the documents filed by the government of Timor-Leste, not arisen.


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister outline the expected additional cost to the taxpayer to represent Australia at The Hague in the current dispute?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:53): No doubt, there will be some cost. What the actual figure is I have not been able to obtain in the time since I have had notice of your question but I will get back to you on that. Australia is represented by the Solicitor-General, Mr Gleeson. It is also represented by Professor James Crawford, who is, as I said yesterday, the Whewell Professor of Public International Law at the University of Cambridge. So there will no doubt be some costs in Australia defending these proceedings in the arbitral tribunal. However, those costs I am sure are negligible by comparison to the benefit to Australia of its rights under the CMATS treaty, which we appear before this arbitration to defend.