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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9398

Senator O'BRIEN (1:21 PM) —The situation that we have again is a proposed amendment at one second to midnight in this process, which the opposition is concerned would become an opportunity, perhaps for those within government who are not so keen for the Petroleum (Timor Sea Treaty) Bill 2003 to proceed, for it to be held up and miss the deadlines. The arguments that have been put with regard to resolving this have merit in terms of a final resolution being determined by the court, but I do not know that that is necessarily what East Timor wants at this stage and I am pretty sure it is not what this government wants at this stage. I suspect that even if we pass the amendment, the outcome that is sought would not necessarily occur—certainly not within the time proposed. And if the matter were to be referred to the International Court of Justice, one wonders how much time would be taken in the processing of the matter, even if it were referred on the last day of 2003, as this resolution would allow.

The alternative position is the position that the East Timorese government adopts. They believe that this legislation should be passed and they will continue the process of negotiation with any items that they believe ought—not in a temporary sense but in a permanent sense—to be remedied in discussion between our two countries. I think that is the desirable outcome. It may be that the best outcome cannot be achieved in those circumstances under this government. Responding to the realities of this situation, the deadline we are facing and the fact that when this legislation leaves here, if it is amended, we have no certainty as to whether the amendment will be accepted and, if not, when it will come back and how it will be dealt with, on balance the opposition is of the view that it would be better that the legislation pass unamended. Therefore, we effectively meet the request of the East Timorese government, which is to give effect to this legislation in time to allow the Bayu-Undan project to commence without prejudice, allowing the benefits from that project to begin to flow and to assist the East Timorese economy. That will assist the East Timorese to take the steps necessary to build their fledgling nation to take its place in the region without the need that it now has for international aid. I am not saying it will not need international aid; I think all this will do will be to minimise that and allow the nation to stand on its own two feet.

I reiterate that the opposition believe that this matter should have been before the parliament some time ago. It would have given us time to more fully consider these matters. We do not have that time today. The opposition cannot change that fact. In recognising that, we will not support the amendments for the reasons I have outlined.