Federal Labor reaffirms promise to mend relations with East Timor

Image of East Timorese rallying outside Australia's embassy in Dili on Tuesday, March 22 Source: AAP

Federal Labor's deputy leader Tanya Plibersek has made an election promise to mend relations with East Timor, on a day where thousands protested outside Australia's embassy in Dili over calls for a fairer deal on maritime boundaries.

For the second consecutive month, more than 10,000 East Timorese protested outside Australia's embassy in Dili, calling for a fairer deal on maritime boundaries and a carve-up of oil and gas reserves. 

East Timorese activist group Movimentu Kontra Okupasaun Tasi Timor (MKOTT) organised the protests and they claim that the Australian government has received around $5 billion dollars in revenues, from oil and gas fields in the sea, which it claims belongs to East Timor.

Various other activist groups estimate that there are resources worth roughly $52 billion in that body of water.

The Federal Government has been accused of ignoring the dispute by East Timor officials.

East Timor Prime Minister Dr Rui Maria de Araújo said he wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seeking new negotiations in early 2016, but he said Mr Turnbull replied that he was open to general talks on bilateral issues and trade, but not on the border issue.

The Labor Party affirmed that it would reopen talks with East Timor in February, but Ms Plibersek made it clear today that talks would be part of the agenda if if her party wins this year's election.

Plibersek, who is Australia's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, told SBS the maritime boundary dispute has poisoned relations between the two countries.

"Labor wants to end more than 40 years of uncertainty over the maritime border, and make sure that the wealth of the Timor Sea can be developed and benefit future generations," she said.

"Labor in government will finally resolve the border with Timor-Leste - through talks,  or through arbitration  or adjudication.

"As a good international citizen Australia cannot hold itself above international law.

Ms Plibersek said she met East Timor's former prime minister Xanana Gusmao in March 2015, and he "did not ask for charity for Timor-Leste - he asked for justice."

"That is what Labor's proposal is about," Ms Plibersek said.

Mr Gusmao made a speech earlier this week, calling for Timorese to "stand firm and raise one voice" to demand that Australia comes to the table to negotiate new sea boundaries.

An organiser of today's protests, Tomas Freitas said: "This is a struggle increasingly seen by Timorese people as necessary to complete our independence from foreign domination."

Source AAP, SBS News

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch