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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the Federal Member for Solomon, David Tollner MP: Darwin: 23 September 2004.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: E & OE

DATE: September 23 2004

TITLE: Doorstop with the Federal Member for Solomon, David Tollner MP - Darwin

DOWNER: I’m glad to be up here supporting Dave’s candidacy, but it’s also an opportunity to say a little bit about the progress we’ve been making in the Timor Sea negotiations with the East Timorese during the course of this week, because this is an important issue for the Northern Territory.

We’ve already negotiated two agreements with East Timor and during the course of this week we’ve had a continuation of our discussions about a final arrangement for the Timor Sea. We’ve had a very good series of talks during the course of this week and both the East Timorese and Australian officials are now going to spend, the rest of this week and the weekend looking at some of the key issues that we’ve identified. And we’ll be resuming the talks next week. So we are now in a position to be able to move forward very quickly with these talks and that is as a result of the agreement that Jose Ramos Horta, the East Timorese Foreign Minister, and I reached a few weeks ago on the broad architecture of an agreement. And so the technical talks have started this week; they’ve been going very well, both sides, not just Australia, but the East Timorese have been happy with the progress of those talks.

And so successful, so far, have the talks been that we’re moving into further discussions during the course of next week. So, I remain confident that we’ll be able to conclude an agreement by the end of the year - by Christmas, which is the objective that Jose Ramos Horta and I have set ourselves. And we’re certainly at this stage heading very positively in the right direction. The atmosphere of the talks has been very good and very constructive.

As you know, there’s been some things said by the East Timorese over the last year or so, but, you know, from our point of view that’s a part of the negotiating process and now we’re actually down to the detail of the negotiation; we’re into the - if you like, into the technical side of the negotiations and that’s going very well. So I think we can make our timetable and obviously, in terms of the Northern Territory it’s going to be very good for the Territory if we can get this agreement concluded and well, hopefully, because the rest of it is a bit for the companies, not for the government, but hopefully get on with the further development of the resources in the Timor Sea.

REPORTER: What are the key issues that are up for discussion …

DOWNER: Look, we have an agreement with the East Timorese not to negotiate this in public and that is being respected by both sides. So, we’re not trying to be elusive about this.

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I think if you go back to what I said after … and Jose Ramos Horta said after our meeting a few weeks ago in Canberra, you can see what the broad architecture is in terms of boundaries and money. And for East Timor the key issue here is going to be what is the flow of

economic resources that will underpin the living standards for the people of East Timor for the life of these oil and gas projects. For Australia, the issue … of course, we can see the economic potential for Australia, particularly for the Northern Territory of these projects, but there’s a very important issue for us which relates to the integrity of our maritime borders, of course, not just with East Timor, but unlike East Timor we have enormous maritime borders with other countries, particularly Indonesia, but also Papua New Guinea … France, New Caledonia, New Zealand. And so we have to take all those things into consideration. I think there is due recognition on both sides of the respective importance of those issues and that’s why I think we can, through the technical talks which address those issues, I think we can find the solution relatively quickly. We’re in September now, so I certainly think from the atmosphere of the talks during the course of this week there’s, I think, an excellent chance we’ll have all of this concluded by Christmas.

REPORTER: (Indistinct) Australia prepared to review the distribution of royalties from those key oil fields?

DOWNER: Well it’s not a question of reviewing, it’s a question of negotiating here and so, obviously, we’re not going to get into that publicly, as I’ve just explained, because it’s not appropriate either for them or for us to conduct the negotiations in public. And you can understand why. It’s not going to work very well as a negotiation if we do that. But I think the best way of putting it to you is we can find an arrangement which will be enormously important to underpinning the living standards and long-term prosperity of East Timor, but at the same time not causing us undue difficulties and disruption. And so I feel very confident about it now.

REPORTER: You say you’re not making it public, but a few weeks ago Dave Tollner’s office (indistinct) very public, saying it was a five billion dollar payout for the East Timorese.

TOLLNER: Well, that’s not correct. I was responding to media reports.

REPORTER: There was a press release put out from Dave Tollner’s office though saying …

TOLLNER: Welcoming reports.

DOWNER: I’m not sure about his press releases, but when there was last significant media about these issues, I don’t know if you think your question’s clever or not, but when there was media coverage …

REPORTER: (Inaudible)

DOWNER: When there was media coverage about this issue that was as a result of the agreement on the broad architecture for this issue that had been reached by Jose Ramos Horta and me. (Inaudible) every press release to be put out to Australia, but I am absolutely sure that that was a pivotal moment in the negotiations. And I appreciate that Dave Tollner’s been somebody who’s wanted to see a successful settlement here, because he is of course so much

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in favour of making sure Darwin benefits as it’s already benefiting from the Timor Sea, but benefits substantially from the … down the line processing of their raw material. So, that is quite promising.

REPORTER: Are the negotiations on the basis that the issue of the sea boundaries (indistinct) aside on a one-off basis?

DOWNER: Well, Lindsay, that’s sort of getting into the detail.

REPORTER: But are they (indistinct)

DOWNER: Well, no, I think the best way, well you know, honouring the agreement we have with the East Timorese, not to talk about the details, the best I can do for you is really just to make the point that they’re obviously important issues in terms of maritime boundaries for Australia as a country with very extensive maritime boundaries. It’s not as though those issues are irrelevant to East Timor, but the issue for East Timor is the long-term financial security that East Timor’s able to obtain from the Timor Sea. So, you know, bearing those things in mind, that’s on that basis that we’re having, I think very productive negotiations. And we’ve had a very good week this week and, the fact that we’re meeting again so soon - we’re meeting again next week - is an illustration of that point. But, let’s not go into all the … I mean, you know you’re welcome to ask, of course.

REPORTER: Mr Downer, there’s a media campaign being run by a Melbourne businessman, some of it on prime time down south anyway.

DOWNER: (Inaudible)

REPORTER: (Indistinct) Are you concerned about the impact of that campaign on the election campaign?

DOWNER: Well, I spoke to him myself. Last week, I think it was, the last Friday I said to him in my discussions that we were having our negotiations this week, that shows that Ramos Horta and I have had a very successful meeting, well actually over two meetings a few weeks earlier, and we and the East Timorese were confident that the talks this week would go well. And in fact they have gone very well, so well that we’re meeting again next week. I can’t speak for a businessman who wants to run advertisements, but the ads aren’t going to make any difference to the negotiations. We’ve mentioned to the East Timorese that these advertisements were running, but the East Timorese don’t know anything about it. These

advertisements are not being put on at the request of the East Timorese government or to the knowledge of the East Timorese government. So, this is a man who’s - like any Australian -entitled to his own opinion. He has an enormous amount of money so, unlike a lot of Australians, he’s able to put his own opinion into advertisements. But I made the point to him that in the election campaign, we’re in the caretaker period, so we have told the Labor Party what the broad framework of our negotiations will be and they have of course agreed to that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to foresee it with the negotiations. And, I appreciate that the Labor Party’s agreed to the broad framework of the negotiations, so people running advertisements, you know, if the advertisements were to affect the way people voted they nevertheless aren’t going to have a great deal of impact on the outcome, because the Labor

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party is supporting the broad position that the government’s taking. And obviously they’re going to have wait and see what conclusions we’re able to reach with the East Timorese. But, my guess is that all of the political parties in Australia will be … even the Greens and the Democrats who are fairly out there on this issue, but even parties like that will be happy with an agreement that the East Timorese are happy with. And I’ll be happy with an agreement Australia’s happy with, and it won’t be an agreement that East Timor doesn’t agree.

REPORTER: Whatever assurances you might have given him, it seems they haven’t worked to the extent that he’s planning to ramp up this campaign, I understand.

DOWNER: Well, there’s nothing I can do about it. I mean, he’s entitled to spend his money in that way. My advice to him is that he should spend his money helping kids in poverty. He should spend - if he’s as rich as this, he should spend his money helping the disadvantaged in East Timor. I think that is a much more appropriate way for him to spend his money. If you’ve got millions to spend on television advertising over the issue of East Timor, I recommend that the money be spent on helping provide better health care and better education opportunities. Because his advertising isn’t going to make any difference to the negotiations. They’re going ahead and both sides are happy with the way the negotiations are going. But putting a few million dollars in to helping health care, if you’ve got the money to spare, which most Australians don’t but he does, helping kids survive in East Timor, I think that would be a much better investment of his money.

REPORTER: Have you seen the ads?

DOWNER: I haven’t - well, I was in a pub in my electorate the other night and I saw the very end of one, but I haven’t seen … I haven’t focused on it.

REPORTER: Did you have a reaction to that?

DOWNER: No I didn’t, I mean I just saw the very end of it. I can’t say I really sort of focused on it, and one of the people at the bar said that they’ve seen it. He didn’t seem terribly exercised by it.

ENDS……………………………………………………………………….September 23 2004