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the Timor Sea maritime boundary. Photo: David Robie/PMC
AUSTRALIA should stop "short-changing" Timor-Leste with "shoddy deals" over oil and gas and establish permanent maritime boundaries with its island nation neighbour, says a Timor Sea justice advocate.
Tom Clarke, spokesperson for the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, says it is high time the Australian government stopped "jostling" Timor-Leste over the temporary boundary.
In a strongly worded statement, Clarke kept up his criticism of the Australian government's strategy of manoeuvring Timor-Leste into temporary resource-sharing agreements over oil and gas extraction in the Timor Sea, arguing such contracts were not a long-term solution.
"Only permanent maritime boundaries - established in accordance with current international law - can put this matter to rest," he said.
"Prime Minister [Tony] Abbott has a chance to cement Australia's strong relationship with Timor-Leste by agreeing to permanent boundaries that would ensure Timor-Leste is not being short-changed through shoddy deals regarding oil and gas resources."
Clarke said that without permanent boundaries, each time a new oil or gas field was discovered the two countries would continue to have to go through fiercely contested negotiations.
He said permanent boundaries would give both nations and the corporations seeking to develop the fields certainty.
"This isn't an issue of charity. It's an issue of what Timor-Leste is legally entitled to," he said, referring to the estimated $40 billion dollar gas field said to be situated in the waters between each country.
The Timor Sea Justice Campaign call for the establishment of permanent maritime boundaries in accordance with international law - one that is drawn along the media line half way between the two countries' coastlines.
"If an oil field is closer to Timor-Leste, well then it belongs to Timor-Leste. If it's closer to Australia, then it is Australian. It shouldn't be too hard," Clarke said.
"The main obstacle to an equitable, lasting and legally sound solution has been the Australian government's refusal to play by the rules."
Since the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, international law has strongly favoured media line boundaries between countries less than 400 nautical miles apart.
While there are 80 examples of the median line resolving such claims, there is only one exception - the 1972 Australian-Indonesian seabed boundary.
Two months before Timor-Leste's renewed independence in 2002, Australia withdrew its recognition of the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal of the Laws of the Sea.
This deprived Timor-Leste of a legal avenue to challenge Australia's unilateral depletion of contested fields in the Timor Sea.
Clarke's comments followed politicians in both Australia and Timor-Leste trading verbal blows yet again over their calls of innocence surrounding arbitration claims made during the 2006 resource sharing negotiations, or Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), between the two countries.