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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12819

Mr HAASE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister give the House any assurances about the future likelihood of oil and gas being extracted from the Timor Gap, under the Timor Gap treaty?

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Kalgoorlie for his question and for his interest in this issue. As members of the House would know, the Timor Gap treaty has functioned well in creating a valid legal framework for the shared oil and gas exploitation in the area between East Timor and Australia. It is the government's strategy to encourage the smooth and continued operation of the treaty. We are looking at a two-step process which involves consultations which we are currently undertaking with all of the relevant parties. The House may be interested to know that on 17 November the Indonesian government confirmed to our ambassador in Jakarta, John McCarthy, that the treaty is no longer between Indonesia and Australia. During the course of last week, I discussed the treaty arrangements with Sergio de Mello, the special representative of the Secretary General for East Timor. The UN is willing to act for East Timor as Australia's treaty partner during the transitional phase; thereafter, the treaty will be a matter for an independent East Timor. The East Timorese have confirmed to us their acceptance of these transitional processes.

I remind the House that Xanana Gusmao stated publicly on 14 October his intention—to use his words—`to respect the terms of the treaty'. On 4 December, officers from my department had discussions in Darwin with both the United Nations and the CNRT—the East Timorese officials. The East Timorese made it clear during those discussions that they still intended to respect the terms of the treaty. They may wish to revisit some aspects of the treaty later, but they do recognise the very great importance of maintaining a stable basis for investment, because clearly that is not only in Australia's interest but above all—and much more importantly—it is in East Timor's interest. None of these things are terribly simple. Nevertheless, the work that we have been doing over quite some time now—and I have spoken in the House before on this matter—is moving ahead, in our view, fairly smoothly. We look forward to being able to continue with the exploitation of oil and gas in the Timor Gap area, obviously to some extent to the benefit of Australia but very importantly to the benefit of the people of East Timor.