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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1004


Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (11:31): I begin by congratulating the Leader of the Opposition, who just demonstrated here in this place his deep understanding of the people of Timor-Leste, his deep understanding of the relationship between our two countries, his very strong knowledge of the history between our two countries, his deep commitment to further developing and strengthening our relationship and, most importantly, his remembering what the East Timorese people have done for Australia in the past and the importance of remembering and acknowledging that whenever we're engaged in conversation or negotiation with our near neighbour.

Next month, as the opposition leader reminded us, our friends to the north will celebrate 20 years of independence. It's a source of joy for all of us that this treaty will be ratified in time for the celebration of that occasion. As the opposition leader indicated, Labor will not ask again for this bill to go to any committee process, because we want to ensure that it is ratified in time for that very important celebration.

As the opposition leader also said, this is an uncontroversial bill, but the path to securing this place has been anything but uncontroversial. We've been too long arriving here, and as a nation we have to be frank and say we have not covered ourselves in glory. It's been a rough road, a tough road and a long road. Like the Leader of the Opposition, I want to acknowledge some people in our party who have played significant roles in bringing us to this point today. The first is my good friend Laurie Brereton, the former member for Kingsford Smith, who in my view pushed the greatest shift in foreign policy in this country that we've seen since the Second World War but did so from opposition. In my view, that is an extraordinary achievement. As the Leader of the Opposition did, I also acknowledge the member for Sydney who, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs, recommitted Labor and redoubled our efforts to ensure that the treaty negotiations were put back on track and absolutely committed us to subjecting ourselves to international legal arbitration and to accepting the outcomes of that arbitration and conciliation. It was something, sadly, the Howard government refused to do.

As defence minister, I had the very good fortune of visiting East Timor on more than one occasion. My last visit there was on 6 March 2009, and it was a particularly rewarding one. I was joined by then Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to officially open the specialist training wing for the East Timor defence force, which we had built for them. We flew by helicopter to Metanaro and opened that facility, and it was most rewarding to know we were doing such substantial things to assist them in their efforts to keep stability in the country and to protect their sovereignty as a nation. Of course, that defence cooperation program was not begun by the Rudd government; it was well and truly commenced by the Howard government, and I acknowledge that. There was good work done by both the major political parties on that front.

I just want to acknowledge a couple of other people. First of all, there is the member for Lingiari. I have with me, just by chance, speeches by the member for Lingiari that go back to 1987. I spoke about the Leader of the Opposition's full comprehension of the history of East Timor, both the positives and the negatives, the happy and the sad. But, in my view, no-one in this place would have a more comprehensive understanding of the issues and the people of East Timor than the member for Lingiari, who has been a very solid defender of their interests in this place for all of that time. Not all his words have necessarily been totally consistent on every occasion with the policies of the Australian Labor Party, and I give him very great credit for that. It's something of which he should be very proud. Over that time he has scoped well beyond the issue of maritime boundaries to the complexities of our relationship with Indonesia, the role of oil and gas companies—particularly throughout the 2000s—our attitude on the maritime boundaries and our intervention through the defence forces. Of course, the member for Lingiari was the Minister for Veterans' Affairs when I was the Minister for Defence. He's had a deep-seated interest in these matters for many, many years.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to the enormous assistance that the East Timorese gave Australia throughout the course of the Second World War. He reminded me that, in 1942, the 2/2 and 2/4 independent companies—now known as the commandos—were well known to many Australians who were actively engaged in East Timor. But he also reminded me that some 40,000 East Timorese lost their lives throughout the course of the Second World War. That should be something that's always at the forefront of our minds when we're entering into negotiations with our near and, of course, very, very poor neighbour. It is a country with, we all trust and hope, a very bright future. But it is a country still very much in its developing stage. It is a country that will have a lot of work to do if it is to meet our aspirations for it and, of course, its own people's aspirations for their own country.

I also want to mention the member for Solomon. I was just referring to the commandos, and the member for Solomon is himself a former member of the commandos and, of course, the Australian Army. He's done his country great honour with his contribution as a soldier under the Australian flag, but he continues to make a contribution towards our relationship and towards the growth and prosperity of Indonesia here, as a member of parliament. Indeed, his brother, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Gosling, is currently serving in East Timor. His family has made a magnificent contribution.

I'm not going to read into the record the technical details, because the Leader of the Opposition has done that for me by taking the opportunity to speak first. For those listening in galleries, I'm going to try to simplify what we're trying to achieve with these bills, which will give effect to or ratify a treaty, a treaty which has been 15 years at least in the making.

Below the oceans, in the gap between our two countries, are very, very rich oil and gas fields which will deliver in the future great revenues to a very poor country. But for many, many years, we've had a dispute about who owns those revenues. We've had various attempts to change the boundaries in a way which delivers a better outcome for the East Timorese people. So, obviously, if a gas field, or oil field, on one side of the boundary is closer to Timor-Leste, it's their revenue. If it's on this side of the border closer to Australia, it's our revenue.

There are two approaches to where those boundaries historically lie. There's the idea of using Australia's continental shelf. There is still a land mass beyond our seashore or taking an equal distance approach—that is, the halfway line between the two countries. We, for many years, took a continental shelf approach, which delivered more ownership for Australia at the expense of the poor fledgling nation of Timor-Leste. It gets more complicated than that because, for a period, we had a joint development area which was a sharing arrangement. However, finally this treaty will give effect to a new boundary which is much closer to Timor-Leste—sorry, the other way, actually—and will put more of the resources into the area of that underground land mass which falls into the jurisdiction of Timor-Leste.

This treaty will give them enormous amounts of revenue—probably more than we ever give in foreign aid. It will give them a new source of independence. It's very, very good news for them and it's very good news for us because what we are doing today is honouring what we say about our own approach to the international community, our approach to social justice and our approach to fairness and equity. It's exactly where Australia should be, and we can all collectively be proud of where we've landed with the consideration of these bills.

The oil and gas industry is a very, very important one to Australia. I'm very proud to be, once again, serving as the Labor Party's spokesperson in this area. I said at a petroleum and gas function here in Parliament House last night that the Leader of the Opposition has put me in this role as a clear signal to the industry that we support it, we acknowledge its importance and we recognise its amazing contribution to the economy and to jobs in this country. I intend to ensure that that is Labor's very strong message and that we will continue to produce policies conducive to facilitating more and more investment in the sector and therefore more growth in the sector, more output in the sector and more jobs in the sector. I'm very happy, in terms of doing that work, to have the member for Burt assisting me as the assistant shadow minister with a particular focus on Western Australia—Western Australia, a resource-rich state, critical to our national economy and a state in which we want to help further develop revenue opportunities in the near and the long-term future. I was very, very happy to attend a celebration last Wednesday night in Perth, hosted by Shell, where we marked the occasion of the first shipment of LNG from the Prelude project—a massive undertaking. It's a project now providing very significant jobs in the west, adding to the economy and providing much-needed gas to both Australia and the rest of the world.

We need to be facilitating more gas exploration and exploitation in this country. Our economy—our manufacturing industry in particular—desperately needs supplies of gas. As a parliament, we need to be facilitating, at every opportunity, the further exploitation of those valuable reserves.

I said last night that sometimes government can get in the way by doing things but government can also get in the way by not doing things. Our reluctance to extract more gas from our ground is a threat to our local economy. For example, dragging out decisions on tenements can be almost as bad as denying applications for further exploitation. We need to be very, very aware of that and conscious of it. We do need to work with state jurisdictions to ensure that, while we apply the most stringent environmental tests and put the appropriate hurdles in the way of these projects, we don't put the hurdles so high that they become unviable. This is not just important for our economy and our manufacturing sector but also important to households in Australia who desperately need affordable supplies of gas to their homes. The only way we're going to put long-term downward pressure on consumer prices and prices for businesses is to get more supply into the market, and it's absolutely critical that we do so.

Going back to the bill, the Leader of the Opposition made the point that there will be amendments to our taxation arrangements to ensure that no Australian company is disadvantaged by the changes to the maritime boundaries. We'll do so by ensuring that the capital expenditure can still be deducted into the future, even though there won't be revenue sources from those same areas of investment—that's very, very important. The opposition supports those changes. There are also changes to the passenger movement charge, which make absolute sense. On that front, we'll be supporting those changes. We are very pleased, after a long and unhappy period of time, that the government is now putting these issues to bed. I won't have the opportunity to be there celebrating, as will the Leader of the Opposition, the 20th anniversary next week. I would dearly love to be there.

My engagement with the people of Timor-Leste, both here and in their own country, leaves me with very, very fond memories. They were all very, very happy occasions. They are a wonderful people and they deserve to be given every opportunity to meet their aspirations and the aspirations of the international community for them. Let's hope that, together, we watch them rapidly grow and prosper over the coming decade. They've certainly earned that right. The road to independence, of course, wasn't an easy one. In fact, it was a violent one and an unhappy one, involving at one point the attempted assassination of President Ramos-Horta. They were very, very difficult times. I very fondly remember spending some time with the now Prime Minister—the chief of the defence force at that time. I'm just going to call him TMR, as most people do, because I have no idea how to pronounce his name properly, so I won't try. But I could see in his eyes, each time I had a conversation with him, the pain of many years in the jungles fighting for his people, and it was a wonderful thing to see him now in uniform, heading, at that time at least, the defence force. He's a remarkable person and a person I've developed a great deal of respect for.

So, we all look forward to the ratification and the celebrations. It will be a good day for Australia, but it will certainly be a good day for Timor-Leste.