Subject: AAP: Downer defends Timor Gap stance


Downer defends Timor Gap stance

July 6, 2005 - 5:39AM

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer didn't arrive in Melbourne in time on Tuesday to see himself and his Labor predecessor Gareth Evans share a toast with oil-filled champagne glasses.

Mr Downer missed a small Melbourne street protest over the Timor Gap oil and gas reserves, at which two demonstrators acted the parts of the ministerial pair.

But he later told a Melbourne audience he was unapologetic about fighting for Australia's benefit in talks with East Timor over the joint area's lucrative resources.

"You have to understand this is a historic context," Mr Downer explained to members of the Australian American Alliance and Australian Institute of International Affairs.

He said Australia did not accept East Timor's argument that the lateral boundaries of the joint petroleum development area should be extended, and said Australia had been generous in giving East Timor 90 per cent of revenue from the joint area.

"We don't think expanding the east-west boundaries...does have any basis in international law," he said, responding to a question from the audience.

"We've had a dispute about that...and in the end we made a very important argument here that with all of our neighbours, each country puts forward its own claim - with all of our neighbours.

"And I, actually, am not the Foreign Minister of East Timor I am the Foreign Minister of - yes - Australia. And you know what country I stick up for in this world? Australia.

"I stick up for Australia, that's my country and 20 million people out there, not quite all of them but nearly all of them, would expect me to stick up for Australia," he said.

"Now, Australia and East Timor have had...a negotiation about this issue and I think we are pretty much at the point where we've come to a very satisfactory, mutual conclusion."

"I think East Timor will do extraordinarily well out of this agreement.

"It solves our legal problems as well.

"We're not so concerned about the money, we're concerned about the principles of our boundaries," he said.

Earlier, about 20 protesters targeted the Minister's appearance in Melbourne. Two of them dressed as Mr Downer and former Senator Evans to "share a toast" with champagne glasses full of oil.

Protester Chip Henriss-Anderssen told the group he was a former Australian soldier who served in East Timor in 1999.

"We went there thinking we were doing a good thing...and the next thing you know we're stealing their oil," he said.

"I was wondering if I and my other soldier friends were just being used to steal that oil."

The protest had disbanded by the time Mr Downer arrived to give the first in a series of lectures hosted by the Australian American Alliance.

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