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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1020


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (12:46): It's a great honour to rise today to speak in support of these bills before the House, 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, which outline the new arrangements with regard to the Timor Sea maritime boundaries treaty. A number of Labor speakers have come before me, so I don't intend to speak to the detail of these bills that we now are debating in this cognate debate. Rather, I will just put on record the sheer joy I feel in the fact that the Australian parliament is finally dealing with what has been some particularly challenging unfinished business in this nation with regard to our relationship with East Timor.

We had played a leadership role in the independence struggles that took place in East Timor, so it was to our great shame that, as time passed, our relationship became quite strained when it came to discussions around the maritime boundaries between our two nations. I was really honoured to be part of a delegation that visited East Timor last October in the term of the last parliament. The member for Flynn chaired that, and I went with senators Patrick Dodson and Rex Patrick from the other place. Whilst many extraordinary things happened during that delegation in terms of the people we got to meet in East Timor and the conversations that we had there, so many people raised with us the need to get these maritime boundaries settled.

There is great excitement in East Timor about the upcoming celebrations of independence on 30 August—indeed, I met with the ambassador only last week—and people are rightly very anxious that the Australian parliament have its matters in order and that our legislation be passed. It's one thing to ratify this treaty, but there's a lot of legislation, like that before us now, that is required to implement that treaty. As I said, it remains unfinished business for Australia and East Timor, and until that takes place we won't really have reconciled the difference that grew out of some very strained relationships.

There is a long history of people seeking to redress this past wrong around the maritime boundaries. I know a number of my colleagues have spoken of this. As the Leader of the Opposition did earlier in this debate, I would like to acknowledge the role and connection of Mr Tom Uren, a giant within the Australian Labor movement and a man who had a deep and personal connection with Timor-Leste, having been taken as a prisoner of war there. But there have been many champions on the Labor side to seek redress for Timor-Leste over these last few decades. I acknowledge the work of the member for Lingiari, who will be speaking after me, who has had a very long association not just with Timor-Leste but with this great project that we need to now settle with our neighbours.

I also acknowledge the work of former member Janelle Saffin, who has long championed the rights of Timor-Leste people in Australia, and of my colleague the member for Sydney, both in her personal capacity and in her former capacity as the shadow minister for foreign affairs and international development. She is steadfast in her determination to have these maritime boundaries settled. I was very fortunate to attend the National Press Club luncheon in which she delivered a terrific speech outlining Labor's approach now. It reminded us all that we call on other nations across the world to abide by international norms and to settle our disputes within rules based systems. She challenged us by saying, 'If we expect that of other nations then we need to actually adhere to that advice ourselves.' We traditionally have had a good record in doing that, but it is far from a flawless record. Certainly, it drew attention to the situation in Timor-Leste at that point because Timor-Leste had suffered decades of war and starvation before gaining their independence. Australia played a key role in gaining that independence. That was a really proud moment for many of us in Australia.

But the maritime boundary dispute poisoned relations with our new neighbours, and I don't think we should understate the damage that has been done. The member for Sydney rightly stated at the National Press Club in very clear terms that this was a situation that had to change both for the sake of Timor-Leste people and for our own sake, because we want to regard ourselves as good global citizens. I think it would be fair to say that that was the time at which Labor redoubled our efforts to enter into good-faith negotiations with Timor-Leste to settle those boundaries between our two countries. There were many representatives of Timor-Leste present at that National Press Club speech, and they were truly delighted to hear this news that there was going to be a shift in Australia's approach.

Not only did we say that we were going to seek to settle the maritime disputes but the then shadow minister for foreign affairs, the member for Sydney, made the important additional statement that, if we weren't unsuccessful in negotiating a settlement with our neighbour, we would be prepared to submit ourselves to an international adjudication or arbitration system. That was a very important statement to make. We would subject ourselves to the international frameworks because it would be in the national interests of both Australia and Timor-Leste to do so. That's because it was a matter that required settlement. We had both signed up to using these international frameworks and entering into a rules-based system for the settling of disputes. It was only right that we would be willing to freely participate and submit ourselves to that as well. It was a big shift of momentum in the debate.

I believe this is one of those remarkable examples in which oppositions can actually lead and shape debates in the national interest and encourage governments to come on that journey as well. We stand here today, some years later. That speech that the member for Sydney delivered was back in February 2016. We are a few years on, but I am truly delighted that the government has also committed itself to the settlement of this unfinished business between Australia and Timor-Leste.

As I said, it is critical that these bills get passed by the Australian parliament in this sitting. We need these laws to be enacted so that the treaty can do what it is intended to do. It should be the centrepiece of celebrations for Timor-Leste's Independence Day at the end of this month. Time is short. I am going to leave my speech there to enable my colleagues to continue with their contributions, but it is with tremendous joy that we get to take part in a parliament that might finally sign off on some of that unfinished business between Australia and Timor-Leste.