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Wednesday, 8 March 2000
Page: 14234

Ms HOARE (10:50 AM) —I would like to join my colleagues, both in the government and the opposition, in expressing my pleasure at the opportunity to be able to speak briefly to the important Timor Gap Treaty (Transitional Arrangements) Bill 2000. The treaty between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia on the zone of cooperation, in an area between the then Indonesian province of East Timor and northern Australia, was signed on 11 December 1989 after 10 years of negotiation. The Timor Gap Treaty is the most substantial bilateral agreement concluded in the history of Australia's relations with Indonesia. The treaty resolved a dispute over seabed boundaries and established the foundation for cooperative exploration for and exploitation of petroleum resources which would have been delayed by efforts to define a single boundary.

The zone of cooperation consists of three areas. Area A is the area of joint development. Area B is the area of sole Australian jurisdiction, with Australia paying 10 per cent of the gross resource rent tax revenues from this area to Indonesia. Area C is the area of sole Indonesian jurisdiction with Indonesia paying 10 per cent of its contractor's income tax revenue from this area to Australia.

With the successful vote for independence by the people of East Timor in August last year came many problems and questions on the development of a new nation. There also came hope and inspiration. There also came the need to negotiate new arrangements with regard to the Timor Gap Treaty in preparation for the transition to an independent East Timor. Though over the past few months some Indonesians have claimed that the Indonesian government should retain a share of the revenue from petroleum exploration and development in the Gap, in February of this year, Abdurrahman Wahid's government agreed that the area covered by the treaty was now outside Indonesian jurisdiction. This agreement means that the Indonesian stake in the previous agreement will now be assumed by the party which has been given the responsibility by the United Nations to oversee East Timor in its development as a nation.

In February this year, the INTERFET forces handed this responsibility to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, UNTAET. In relation to the Timor Gap Treaty, UNTAET acting on behalf of East Timor has agreed to assume all the rights and obligations previously exercised by Indonesia under the treaty. The eventual outcome of these transitional arrangements will be, hopefully, for the East Timorese to own and use the revenue generated by the development of the petroleum sites. In the past nine years, $US700 million has been spent by an American company in this area. The potential for further petroleum exploration and development in the Timor Gap zone of cooperation could generate possibly tens of millions of dollars per annum for East Timor and Australia for decades.

Let us reflect on what this wealth could mean for the development of economy, infrastructure and the social structure of the independent nation of East Timor. To fully understand what these tens of millions of dollars could mean to the dignity, wellbeing and equality of life of the East Timorese people, we need to know what the current situation is.

The violence perpetrated during the independence vote and after the outcome of independence saw over 80 per cent of the infrastructure of the fledgling nation razed: houses destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people displaced, water supplies contaminated, crops ravished, roads, bridges and other transport infrastructure destroyed. The administrative structure of East Timor was largely made up of Indonesians who have since fled this emerging nation. With an increase in the economic wealth of East Timor, we will hopefully see a situation where Timorese workers who are paid only $3 a day for a 12-hour day will not have to strike to demand a minimum wage of $10 a day for a nine-hour day, including a one-hour lunch break.

So what we have is a brand new nation with minimal infrastructure and with no administrative structure, but with hundreds of thousands of people with passion and compassion determined to forge their own destiny. These people are encouraged and inspired by the leadership of Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta.

Australia is spending nearly $75 million this year in a program of assistance for the East Timorese. This money is provided through our overseas aid program to help in their independence and future development. The funding will help provide for repatriation and resettlement and for the materials needed to rebuild this nation. We are also providing financial support for emergency health, nutrition, water and sanitation programs for the people of East Timor, who will be able to continue to develop these programs as they establish their economic independence with the assistance of the revenues which will come to them in relation to this bill.

I take the opportunity on this International Women's Day, which celebrates the activities and the aspirations of women around the world, to pay tribute to the women of East Timor in their pursuit of peace, economic and political stability and a sustainable, secure future for their families and their communities. Women have always played a positive role in the rebuilding of communities. Women understand the need for healthy food for their families and children, untainted water for them to drink and shelter so that the children of East Timor can be nurtured in a caring environment where it is possible for them to become future leaders.

As the nearest developed nation to East Timor, Australia has the responsibility to facilitate the distribution of the potential wealth from the Timor Gap petroleum fields. We must remember that world attention will continue to be diverted away from the plight of a small new Asian-Pacific nation when other humanitarian crises occur. Just this week the international media has focused on the tragedy occurring in Mozambique due to the massive floods. When international attention is diverted, it remains our responsibility to bring forward and facilitate the self-development and welfare of the East Timor nation. A smooth process of transition for arrangements relating to the resources in the Timor Gap will make an invaluable contribution to the economic viability of East Timor by giving investors the confidence to proceed. Australia's role is to ensure that East Timor has a tangible measure of economic self-reliance, not just political independence. If we cannot ensure that East Timor benefits from the wealth of the Timor Gap oilfields, we will sentence East Timor to an indefinite period of dependence on overseas assistance and aid.