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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1017

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (12:35): Before the member for Reid leaves the House, I congratulate her on her first speech—her first contribution to this parliament in the new term.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak on these really important bills: the Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty Consequential Amendments Bill 2019, the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment (Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty) Bill 2019 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty) Bill 2019. Labor will be supporting these bills that give effect to the treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste, which extends the maritime boundaries of that country and establishes new arrangements for the development of petroleum resources in the Timor Sea.

It's a pleasure to follow the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Hunter and others, who have pointed out just how significant these bills are and just how important it is that we right what is essentially an historical wrong. There have been a lot of people in this parliament who have been supportive of this outcome for a long time, whether it be the member for Sydney, the member for Solomon, the member for Lingiari or others like the member for Kingsford Smith, who joins me here at the dispatch box. This is a really important development and a really important day, and I am proud to be able to speak on it.

As members would know, 20 years ago almost to the day—20 years next month—the population of Timor-Leste voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Indonesia. Of course, as we know, there was widespread violence in Timor-Leste after that which left an estimated 1,400 civilians dead and resulted in the decimation of Timorese infrastructure. The World Bank Group estimates that 70 per cent of the country's infrastructure and 95 per cent of the schools were destroyed during the violence that followed independence in 1999. That's shameful. As a result, the newly independent country emerged as one of the world's poorest nations, with over 50 per cent of the population living below the national poverty line in 2007. Although this figure has declined to around 40 per cent at the last estimate in 2014, and there have been some improvements in some of the development indicators, there is still a long, long way to go to get the people of Timor-Leste's living standards up to what most of us would consider to be an appropriate level.

Today's bills are really about part of that effort. Like a lot of members in this House—I think especially on this side of the House—I have a connection to Timor-Leste, not as developed as some of my other colleagues, but I have spent time there. In 2007, I spent some time there doing some training for local political activists ahead of their next elections. What I observed there was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to be in Timor-Leste and to see, even where some progress had been made around the building of schools or the building of basic infrastructure, that some of the political conflict in that country that spilled over to physical conflict had impacted on some of the public infrastructure. I saw a lot of schools with roofs burned out. I saw a lot of infrastructure sabotaged. It's heartbreaking, as a citizen of a rich country like ours, to see a poor neighbour like Timor-Leste having to go through that kind of destruction as a consequence of some difficult politics. That really is part of my motivation for speaking on these bills today. We do have an opportunity to get some additional funding into that country. I hope that we can make and build a lasting difference in Timor-Leste. There are also tax aspects to this bill that are of interest to me and my Treasury portfolio.

As honourable members would be aware, we Australians have been close friends with the people of Timor-Leste for a long time now—certainly since the dark days of World War II, when 151 Australian servicemen died during the Battle of Timor, and in the following years something like 40,000 to 70,000 Timorese civilians were killed by Japanese reprisals for supporting allied forces. Regarding the contribution that the Leader of the Opposition made earlier, particularly about Tom Uren, it really is fascinating to think that a remarkable guy like Tom Uren had a connection with Timor—that's where he was captured, of course—and that they have found ways in the opposition leader's electorate to mark that relationship, which exists on so many different levels, but it is certainly something that was important to Tom Uren. And if it was important to Tom Uren, it's important to all of us in this place—a remarkable man.

The support that the Timorese gave Australia was not something we forgot. I'm told that during the closing days of the Second World War Australian warplanes dropped flyers over Japanese-occupied Timor saying, 'Your friends do not forget you.' While we haven't forgotten our friends in Timor, I think it is fair to say that we could have been better friends. We could have behaved as better friends to the people of Timor-Leste. One example of this, of course, is the maritime boundary dispute between our countries, which these bills and the treaty itself go some way to resolving.

When the anniversary of independence is celebrated next month, it is important that this legislation be in place. So I support the steps that have been taken by the government, with the support of the opposition, to make sure that we can get these bills in place and the treaty in place so that when the people of Timor-Leste celebrate on 30 August, the anniversary of their independence, this can be locked in and can be something that becomes part of the celebration. The signing of the treaty brings to an end more than 40 years of uncertainty over that shared maritime border, and I think it does vindicate the strong position we've taken on this side of the House to take those decisive steps to settle our dispute with Timor-Leste. I want to particularly pay tribute to the member for Sydney for her role in that three years ago.

To give some context as to why this is such a big issue, royalties generated from projects in the Timor Sea funded more than 95 per cent of Timor-Leste's budget in 2016. That's extraordinary. Just imagine the challenges of being a country that is trying to rebuild virtually all your schools and your infrastructure and having a dispute over your primary source of revenue with one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Obviously resolving that international maritime dispute is a really complicated thing and it has taken us time to get to this point. But we as a country need to recognise how important it is and how this is part of doing the right thing in our region. We can't afford to turn our back on our international neighbours. Many of them face the challenge of dealing with the disastrous consequences of climate change, for example, as well as other challenges in our neighbourhood, in our part of the world, and we do need to do better in supporting our neighbours in their economic development.

Across the Asia-Pacific we're seeing a significant change, which makes it more important than ever that we work with people and countries to support their economic development and maintain international security and stability in our region. Labor believes that the maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste has strained our bilateral relations and that it is in the national interest of both Australia and Timor-Leste that this dispute is resolved in the way that we are attempting to do with these bills today. So we're pleased that this treaty is the first ever to be achieved by conciliation under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We welcome the resolution of this dispute with Timor-Leste, which will improve relations between our countries and provide ongoing benefits for both countries but especially for the people of Timor-Leste.

Others have gone through the details of the bills that are combining here for this debate, the ones that we support enthusiastically—the Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty Consequential Amendments Bill, the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment (Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty) Bill 2019 and, from my point of view, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty) Bill 2019, which amends the tax arrangements for companies that operate projects covered by the treaty. As part of the treaty, Australia agreed or provided that Australian companies would face conditions equivalent to petroleum activities affected by the 2018 treaty, which is another way of saying that we're ensuring here that Australian companies aren't worse off. Some tax changes are necessary to enforce that agreement, and that's what is in the detail of this bill, which I won't go through in any more detail.

In conclusion, three years ago Labor made it clear that we wanted to be constructive and work with East Timor to reach a binding international agreement to settle the maritime border dispute between our countries. As a country, Australia has worked with East Timor to reach a permanent resolution to the development of petroleum resources in the Timor Sea, and it really is terrific to see that this has finally been achieved. That's why we are such enthusiastic supporters of the progress in these bills and in the treaty. To the people of East Timor, our friends to the north: on the anniversary of your independence next month, we wish you all the very best. Ever since the Second World War we've been proud to be your friends. We are grateful for the opportunity to rectify what has been a historical wrong, and we wish you all the best for the years ahead.