House debates

Thursday, 25 July 2019


Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty Consequential Amendments Bill 2019, Passenger Movement Charge Amendment (Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty) Bill 2019, Treasury Laws Amendment (Timor Sea Maritime Boundaries Treaty) Bill 2019; Third Reading

4:18 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I want to put a few remarks on the record, but we don't have any intention of taking it past 4.30, as I understand the significance to the House of passing this on time. I'll endeavour to limit my remarks to that time so that it can certainly pass in due course. This is, in many respects, obviously, a very good day for East Timor. Timor-Leste has had such a long struggle for self-determination, and Australia's role in that has not always been covered in glory, from the beginning—there was the Indonesian invasion, and Australia did not come to the aid of those in Timor-Leste but, instead, stood by and in fact endorsed the invasion—through to some of the more recent acts. The history of Australia's relationship with Timor-Leste, which has led us to the point of this treaty, has not always been glorious. It has caused an immense amount of pain and suffering in some respects to the people of Timor-Leste. But the long struggle for self-determination for the people of Timor-Leste and control over their own resources, including over their oil resources, is something that has now reached a point—again, perhaps not in the fairest of ways—and the Timor-Leste parliament has said this is a treaty that should be approved. And it is now something that the Australian parliament and the Australian government is going to do, which is also very significant, because of course the amount of resources that are the subject of this treaty is significant.

Of course, the Greens will have our view about the future role of fossil fuels, and we will continue to push for a phasing-out of fossil fuels and replacement with renewable energies, including the oil that is subject to this debate. But what we do not quibble with is that the country—in this case, Timor-Leste—that has responsibility for those resources in its area should be the one to decide what happens to them and the one who gets the benefit. So, yes, we will be making a transition away from fossil fuels, but that should not come at the expense of countries like Timor-Leste.

In regard to the negotiations that have led up to this treaty or agreement that we're being asked to ratify in this legislation, there is in law a concept of unconscionability. The concept of unconscionability basically says that, where there's a massive imbalance of power between two parties and one has access to knowledge and resources that the other doesn't, that should be taken into account in determining what is fair and that you've got to, if not show restraint, at least conduct yourself as a model nation. That is not what Australia has done in the lead-up to this treaty that forms part of this bill. That is not what Australia has done.

You would think that, at a minimum, basic principles of fairness and decency to our neighbours would mean you would sit down and have negotiations on a level playing field. You wouldn't think that the more powerful side would go in and bug the negotiations of the other side. That is the kind of stuff that we accuse other companies or other countries of doing and condemn it when it happens. It's the kind of stuff that we say is about manipulating the outcomes of elections or should be the subject of legislation to restrict it. Instead, what happened? We had a neighbour whom we have not always treated well, although at some stages we have come to their assistance. I should note that previous governments—indeed, previous Howard governments—deploying Australian military forces to assist the people of East Timor was something that even the Greens supported, notwithstanding our founding principles of peace and nonviolence. That was actually a good use of international deployment to ensure that people who were otherwise being oppressed might have the opportunity to take their place as an independent nation and then be able to conduct negotiations like this. What did we do instead? Instead, we went in and bugged their negotiations. That is unconscionable. That is not how a country should behave towards someone else in its region, especially when it's got a past that it has to atone for, especially when there's such a massive power imbalance and especially when there is so much at stake.

The whistle was blown on that, and rightly so. And what did we do? In this country, we should be applauding whistleblowers, especially whistleblowers who say, 'Hang on, we're treating a neighbour in a not very neighbourly way. We're treating a neighbour in a way that is going to cost one of the poorest countries in the world a lot of money and make it harder for them to continue to develop.' But that's not what we did. When someone blew the whistle, they were prosecuted. They and their lawyer have been hounded. I'm talking about this treaty that we're being asked to ratify. Since then the prosecution of lawyer Bernard Collaery has been conducted by the government in a way that is incredibly oppressive. That is coming at a massive toll to him and is probably, I would say, designed on the government's part to do that. I'm not criticising the conduct of the courts here; I'm criticising the conduct of the government during this prosecution.

Then there are other things that are within the government's control, like the ratification of this treaty that we are being asked to legislate today. The government has even dragged its heels on that. We know that Timor-Leste, until now, has been largely an aid-dependent country. Its revenues have been rapidly dwindling. The country's sovereign wealth fund could have been empty within a few short years, in part because this government has dragged out the timing of ratification. That has come at enormous cost. It has come at a benefit for some companies and perhaps the government thinks that it has come at a benefit to this country, Australia, but it has come at enormous cost to Timor-Leste.

Some estimates suggest that the revenue taken by Australia since the signing of the treaty now totals more than what Australia has given to Timor-Leste in foreign aid and more than Timor-Leste spends on health in a year. In other words, there is the history of the relationship and the history of the negotiations and then there is the prosecution of the whistleblower and the delay in ratifying the treaty to the point where it is costing a poor neighbour money that it simply cannot afford.

This is a good day for Timor-Leste. We should not stand in the way of that, but we should also not attempt to whitewash the history and our failure to act in a way that we should to one of our neighbours.

Question agreed to.

Bill read third time.


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