Subject: AGE: Sword-Gusmao plea on gas revenue

Sword-Gusmao plea on gas revenue

By Brendan Nicholson

Canberra August 3, 2004

The Age

East Timor's Melbourne-born first lady has flown to Australia to plead for a fairer share of the Timor Sea natural gas resources for her impoverished country.

Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, wife of East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, said she was in a unique position to see both sides of the issue - and East Timor desperately needed more gas revenue to ease poverty and improve health and education services for its 850,000 people.

"Don't have pity on us. We just want justice according to the law," Mrs Sword-Gusmao said. "We'd be happy to accept a third party's adjudication."

The rich oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea were found in the 1960s when East Timor was Portuguese territory.

In the early 1970s, Indonesia and Australia negotiated boundaries close to Indonesia that encroached on East Timor's boundaries. The prevailing rule under international law then was to follow the continental shelf and that is what happened. East Timor argues that the boundaries should be renegotiated, with the boundary halfway between the countries.

Portugal protested against the boundaries before pulling out of East Timor in 1974. Indonesia invaded in 1975.

East Timor says it now stands to get about $5.5 billion in tax revenue over the estimated 30 to 40-year life of the Timor Sea resources, while Australia will get about $11.5 billion.

East Timor gets 90 per cent of the Bayu-Undan field, launched in February this year, and Australia gets 10 per cent. But the Greater Sunrise field, still to be developed, is by far the biggest and Australia gets 82 per cent of its tax revenue. East Timor gets 18 per cent.

All of this gas is much closer to East Timor than it is to Australia - the northernmost point of the Greater Sunrise field is 144 kilometres from East Timor and its southern edge is 276 kilometres from Australia. Even closer to East Timor is the Laminaria Corallina field where the $2 billion tax collected since 1999 has all gone to Australia.

Australia has refused to allow the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to arbitrate in any dispute on its boundaries.

Mrs Sword-Gusmao said East Timor had among the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, 830 women out of 100,000 died in childbirth, 88 babies of every 1000 died and 12 per cent of children did not make it to five years of age. About 80 per cent of women were illiterate, the birthrate was 7.5 children per family and about half the population was under 15.

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