Subject: GLW: Timor solidarity protests condemn Howard

Also - GLW: Australia ripping off the poor of Timor; Downer should heed own advice

Timor solidarity protests condemn Howard

Jon Lamb

Solidarity protests took place across Australia on May 20, the second anniversary of East Timor’s independence. The actions condemned the Australian government for its refusal to negotiate a fair and just maritime boundary and for its ongoing theft of East Timor’s oil and gas resources.

The actions coincided with protests organised by the Socialist Youth Alliance and the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) in Dili on May 18 to 20, including a mobilisation of around 1000 people outside the Australian embassy on May 19.

Members of MKOTT have been on hunger strike since May 18 and at least two were taken to Dili hospital on May 21. Others have pledged to join the hunger strike.

Several of the Australian protests were organised by Timor Sea Justice Campaign (TSJC) groups that have formed this year, reflecting an increasing recognition by supporters of East Timor that this is a critical fight against the bullying and intransigence of the Australian government.

In Melbourne, Margarita Windisch reports that 150 people rallied at a street theatre action outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Speaking on behalf of the TSJC, Vannessa Hearman said that contrary to foreign minister Alexander Downer’s assertions, Australian people were not supportive of attempts to rob East Timor. Senate candidates from the Socialist Alliance, the Democrats and the Greens also addressed the rally.

In Sydney, 100 colourful and noisy protestors heard from Susan Connolly of the Mary MacKillop Institute for Timorese Studies and the TSJC, along with Timor Leste’s Consul-General Abel Guterres, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, Jefferson Lee of the Australia East Timor Association and Labor MLC Meredith Burgman.

Around 100 people attended a rally outside parliament house in Adelaide, and in Brisbane, protesters joined a picket of the foreign affairs department called by the Queensland Peace Network. In Darwin, protesters marched through Mindil Beach Night Markets chanting: “Howard is a thief, stop stealing East Timor’s oil.”


Australia ripping off the poor

Sister Susan Connelly

This anniversary is tinged with a lot of embarrassment for us as Australians. Despite all East Timor has been through, more often than not with Australian connivance and reluctance to help or tell the whole truth, today the Australian government is once again in the role of spoiler regarding the just sharing of the resources of the Timor Sea.

Many Australians, however, are full of admiration at the courageous stand the people and the government of East Timor are taking over this issue.

Alexander Downer, speaking as the representative of the Australian people in matter of foreign policy, seems peeved and annoyed at the strong stand taken by the Timorese.

He utters the words, “After all we’ve done for them!”

Well, we’ve “done for them” all right. We “did for them” in 1941 when we invaded their land as a way of protecting ourselves, and then left them to the anger of the Japanese.

We “did for them” in 1975 with the old “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” to Indonesia’s invading forces.

We “did for them” when we officially refused to stand with them or speak for them for the next 24 years.

We “did for them” when we were the only nation to officially recognise Indonesian sovereignty.

And now our representatives are whingeing about what we did do for them at the end of 1999 when we finally came to their aid.

It must be recognised, however, that the expense undertaken by Australia to mount our belated assistance, has been more than paid for — by the Timorese themselves.

What we have taken from the Timor Sea so far has more than paid for our involvement.

One of the worst features of this sorry business is that the Australian people have been led astray by the untruths and falsehoods uttered by our leaders on this subject.

The big lie is that we are “giving” East Timor 90% of the Timor Sea resources, and keeping only 10% for ourselves. They speak of one area as though it was the whole.

If the internationally accepted half-way line was the border, then not only should East Timor receive 90%, but they would be entitled to the other 10% too, because a half-way line would put all the resources in their hands.

On top of this, there are the rich fields on either side of this area, whose ownership should be determined by frequent discussions, with rigorous international scrutiny.

But no. Australia is cutting up most of the cake for itself, and allows Timor a mere slice. As always, we take the biggest cut for ourselves and run off. We’ve run off by refusing to have an international umpire in negotiations. We’ve run off by refusing to even discuss the issue with the Timorese more often than twice a year. And they say we don’t cut and run!

I was in East Timor in February and I met hungry people, people who can’t afford to eat meat, and who told us that they would have a chicken to eat “on happy Christmas”. There is grinding poverty in East Timor. Education and jobs are what the people want. They don’t want hand-outs or charity. They don’t need to be looked after by Australia or the World Bank. They don’t want paternalism or dependence when they are entitled to resources of their own.

We here in Australia are worried about our children’s obesity while just over there in Timor, children suffer the physical and mental effects of not having enough to eat. We’re seriously discussing the effects of bracket creep and who’ll get the biggest tax break, while they are struggling to get a dollar a day for a bit of rice, some oil to cook it, and some salt to help it down.

In the so-called “national interest” we are ripping off the poor. May our shame move us all to oppose those who do this in our name.

[Abrdiged from a talk given to the May 20 protest for Timor in Sydney.]

From Green Left Weekly, May 26, 2004.


Green Left Weekly

May 26, 2004

Downer should heed own advice

Speaking on BBC Radio on May 20, foreign minister Alexander Downer attacked a statement by Oxfam, which pointed out that the 40% of East Timorese living in abject poverty have no hope of improving their lives while their oil and gas resources are plundered by Australia.

"Australia isn't going to suddenly move all its maritime borders with other countries in the teeth of a whole lot of emotional claptrap which is being pumped up by left-wing NGOs... my advice to [East Timor] is to calm down a little and think about the bilateral relationship and make sure they negotiate with an eye to international law", Downer said.

Downer should heed some of his own advice. The Australian government should "calm down" and immediately commit to abide by international law and agree to a fair and just maritime boundary drawn half-way between East Timor and Australia. Until it does, Australian and international solidarity groups will continue to protest and organise in support of East Timor's right to sovereign control over its resources and territory.

Jon Lamb

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