Monday 11th of December 2023

Negotiation Howard style

Negotiation Howard style

About time for Timor Este

East Timor says it will sign a Timor Sea border treaty with Australia within a few weeks. East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta says the broad political terms of the deal have been agreed and the last technical details are being worked out. East Timor will get half the tax and royalty revenues from the Greater Sunrise field. Mr Ramos Horta says the two countries will defer decision on a seabed boundary for 50 years to allow oil and gas projects to go ahead. "I believe [it is] only a matter of a few weeks before we are able to sign an agreement which, I sincerely believe, like all of us, that it is a fair deal for the people of East Timor," he said. "This is the best possible deal." Australia's acting Prime Minister, John Anderson, says the proposed treaty is fair and generous. (s'cuse me, sir, how can a fair deal be "generous"?). Mr Ramos Horta made the comments in Canberra during the first state visit to Australia by East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao.

struggling with its colonial legacy.

The birth of the tiny nation of East Timor in 2002 came at a heavy price for its people after years of conflict, occupation and bloodshed.

It was removed from the UN's colonies list in 1975, as Indonesia took advantage of Portugal's departure to occupy the territory.

When Timor finally won its independence, thousands died in the resulting mayhem.

Now as the country begins to find its feet, Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen finds it is still struggling with its colonial legacy.


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insider trading in bad faith...


Australia is under further pressure over spying in the region, with East Timor accusing spies of bugging its cabinet room for commercial advantage, and threatening to scrap a potentially lucrative treaty that could have earned Australia billions in royalties.

A senior figure in East Timor's government says the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) covertly recorded Timorese ministers and officials in Dili in 2004.

It is not the first time the allegations have been made, but Agio Pereira - the man tipped to be East Timor's next prime minister - is the most prominent leader to go public with the accusation.

In 2006 the then Howard government signed the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty with East Timor.

The two countries agreed to a 50-50 split of an estimated $40 billion in revenue from the gas development, but the Timorese are now disputing that treaty, in part because of the espionage.

Mr Pereira says the bugging took place during the negotiations over the CMATS treaty, and it would have given Australia a massive advantage.

"Insider trading in Australia is a crime. And when you bug the negotiating team's evaluation of the impact of their negotiations, you do have an advantage," he said.

"It's more than unfair, it actually creates incredible disadvantage to the other side and according to international law, the Vienna Convention and the law of treaties, you're supposed to negotiate in good faith."


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our bit is the big bit...


But a confidential letter delivered to former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard five months earlier had clearly outlined specific details on the new overseas bugging operation.

In an interview with Four Corners, Alexander Downer, the minister responsible for ASIS in 2004, would not confirm or deny the bugging operation.

But the former foreign minister said: "Suffice it to say the Australian government was on Australia's side in the negotiations and we did our best to make sure that we were able to achieve our objective, which was particularly an objective in relation to the delineation of the maritime boundaries."

While East Timor's relationship with Australia is under strain, its other big neighbour, Indonesia, seems increasingly warming to Dili. 

"Our prime minister [Xanana Gusmao] is taking initiatives for us to create a sub-regional economic zone between Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the northern part of Australia, for us to work together as nations," East Timor's petroleum minister Alfredo Pires told Four Corners.

Producer Peter Cronau recently travelled to East Timor with reporter Marian Wilkinson. Their report can be seen on Four Corners on Monday at 8:30pm on ABC1.

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a new sea border...

Labor has pledged to submit to international adjudication over the disputed maritime boundary between Australia and East TImor if "good faith" negotiations fail to produce agreement.

The proposed deal on a new sea border, announced by opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek at the National Press Club on Wednesday, could potentially give the fledgling country a far greater share of the rich deposits of oil and gas in the Timor Sea, estimated to be worth $40 billion or more.

Ms Plibersek lamented that Australia's pivotal role in securing East Timor's independence - "a proud moment" - was being tarnished by its refusal to negotiate a new, permanent maritime boundary with East Timor.

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the smell of petroleum...

From John Pilger


Virgillo wrote that his father had survived the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, but he went on:

'In August 1983, Indonesian forces entered our village, Kraras. They looted, burned and massacred, with fighter aircraft overhead. On 27 September 1983, they made my father and my wife dig their own graves and they machine-gunned them. My wife was pregnant."

The Kraras list is an extraordinary political document that shames Indonesia's Faustian partners in the West and teaches us how much of the world is run. The fighter aircraft that attacked Kraras came from the United States; the machine guns and surface-to-air missiles came from Britain; the silence and betrayal came from Australia.

The priest of Kraras wrote on the final page:

'To the capitalist governors of the world, Timor's petroleum smells better than Timorese blood and tears. Who will take this truth to the world? ... It is evident that Indonesia would never have committed such a crime if it had not received favourable guarantees from [Western] governments.'

As the Indonesian dictator General Suharto was about to invade East Timor (the Portuguese had abandoned their colony) he tipped off the ambassadors of Australia, the United States and Britain.

In secret cables subsequently leaked, the Australian ambassador, Richard Woolcott, urged his government: 

' ...  to act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia.'

He alluded to the beckoning spoils of oil and gas in the Timor Sea that separated the island from northern Australia.

There was no word of concern for the Timorese.

In my experience as a reporter, East Timor was the greatest crime of the late 20th century. I had much to do with Cambodia, yet not even Pol Pot put to death as many people - proportionally -- as Suharto killed and starved in East Timor.

In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament estimated that "at least 200,000" East Timorese – a third of the population – had perished under Suharto.

Australia was the only western country formally to recognise Indonesia's genocidal conquest. The murderous Indonesian special forces known as Kopassus were trained by Australian special forces at a base near Perth. The prize in resources, said Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, was worth "zillions" of dollars.

John Pilger: East Timor was the greatest crime of the late 20th century.

— CounterPunch (@NatCounterPunch) May 9, 2017

In my 1994 film, Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, a gloating Evans is filmed lifting a champagne glass as he and Ali Alatas, Suharto's foreign minister, fly over the Timor Sea, having signed a piratical treaty that divided the oil and gas riches of the Timor Sea.

I also filmed witnesses such as Abel Gutteras, now the Ambassador of Timor-Leste (East Timor's post-independence name) to Australia.

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a compromise of sorts...


Australia and Timor-Leste have resolved their bitter and long-running dispute over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, in what is being described as a "landmark day" in the relationship between the two nations.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague today announced the parties reached an agreement on Wednesday over the disputed territory, which contains large oil and gas deposits worth an estimated $40 billion.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hailed the breakthrough as a "landmark day in the relationship" between Timor-Leste and Australia.

"This agreement, which supports the national interest of both our nations, further strengthens the long-standing and deep ties between our Governments and our people," Ms Bishop said.

Timor-Leste — also known as East Timor — initiated the compulsory conciliation process last year in a bid to force Australia to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary.

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Read from top... The drawing and comment were made before East Timor was called Timor-Leste.


exposing the dirty dealings of the government...

Prominent Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery and a former spy who exposed a secret Australian operation in East Timor have been charged with breaching the Intelligence Services Act, Federal Parliament has been told.

Using parliamentary privilege, independent MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions recently filed criminal charges against Mr Collaery and his client known only as "witness K".

Witness K had raised concerns about a covert Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operation he ran to bug East Timor's Cabinet in 2004 during negotiations about an oil and gas treaty.

Mr Wilkie told Parliament today the charges showed the Federal Government wanted to turn the former intelligence officer and his lawyer into "political prisoners".

"That's what happens in a pre-police state, where instead of a royal commission they lock up people who more likely deserve the Order of Australia," he said.

Mr Wilkie said the timing of the charges was particularly curious given Australia signed a deal for a new maritime border with East Timor in March.


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by suing the "people" who revealed the stint, all the government is doing is attracting attention to ITS ROTTEN DEALINGS BY SPYING. The bad deed was done under who else, but our liar-in-chief Howard, helped along by his lying lieutenant Fishnet Downer and a coterie of useless bastards that included Turnbull and Abbott...

moment in history...

It was always on the books that John Howard, the master spinner and denialist of all manner of things, from climate change, to the stolen generation, to matters relating to the truth of children overboard, was likely, when the opportunity arose, to rewrite history to make himself the man of steel that he wasn't or the visionary that he could never be.

For reasons unclear Paul Kelly has written a book in which he has allowed Howard to make unchallenged assertions that from January 1999 both he and his gormless foreign minister, Alexander Downer, worked secretly to bring about independence for East Timor.

So secret in fact, that neither the Department of Defence nor the Department of Foreign Affairs knew anything about this cunningly hatched plan.

Kelly says that, "The Defence Department was not privy to such views and acted on the official policy: that East Timor should remain within Indonesia."

Of course it is nonsense, the figment of a small mind. I do understand Howard seeking a grander role than he was able to master as Prime Minister, what is harder to understand is that the self confessed cynical realist, Paul Kelly, was prepared to humour Howard to the extent of committing to print a contrivance easily revoked.

If we allow that Kelly is a serious journalist then perhaps the only explanation is that he believed Howard and that in itself is a worry.

Howard and Downer dragged their feet over East Timor, refusing to acknowledge that the militias were armed, trained and in some instances led by the Indonesian Army, the TNI.

Reluctantly they were forced by mid 1999 to concede that the militia in East Timor might not be what they claimed to be, East Timorese opposed to Independence.

None the less they were determined not to get militarily involved in East Timor, protecting the East Timorese against TNI orchestrated violence in the run up to the ballot.

In order to avoid a military commitment they failed to tell the United States what they knew about TNI activities and sought to convey the impression that the lead into polling would be peaceful. The United States were nonplussed and urged Australia to accept its regional responsibilities.

The level of denial being run with the US backfired badly when Lieutenant-Colonel Merv Jenkins the DIO liaison officer in Washington was accused of passing on to his US contacts facts relating to TNI control of the militia. Shortly after being 'questioned' by Australian officials, flown in to conduct an investigation, Merv Jenkins committed suicide.

If Howard and Downer were running a secret agenda to foster a move to independence in East Timor they surely would have welcomed covert contact with the US that might have assisted in their aims rather than running trouble for a valuable conduit.

Kelly, Howard, Downer, et al, have conveniently consigned to the ample dark corners of their minds the role of the Australian people in pushing for East Timorese independence, expressed through public and church meetings, letters to the editor, talk back radio, petitions and lobbying of parliamentarians.

It was the overwhelming strength of public opinion and pressure from the US which eventually forced a reluctant and fearful Howard and Downer to act.

Laurie Brereton, the shadow foreign minister, took the Labor Party from April 1998 to a position far in advance of the coalition. In September 1998 he proposed the release of Xanana Gusmao and the appointment to East Timor of a special envoy. In October he called for "a permanent international presence in East Timor."

This rewriting of history leaves hanging why Howard and Downer pursued decorated AFP Officer Wayne Severs, working as a UN intelligence officer, and AusAID worker Lansell Taudevin for publicly stating they had first-hand knowledge of TNI backing of the militia.

Until the middle of 1999 Howard and Downer ran a policy actively appeasing Indonesia until it collapsed in the face of public pressure.

Notice how silent both have been on the proposed AFP investigation into the Balibo murders.

What is enlightening whether real or made up is that Howard would encompass the notion of keeping a key government department in the dark over a matter of national importance.

It says something of the character of the man and of the author for not challenging it.

Without intending to, Kelly has given us another unlovely insight into this later day Walter Mitty.

We await with some interest the Howard historical spin on children in detention.

Was it really all Ruddock's doing and was Howard bullied into going along with a policy he secretly loathed?

Bruce Haigh


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downer and the australian government cheated...

government cheats


The former prime minister of Timor Leste, Xanana Gusmao, says he wants to travel to Canberra to give evidence in court on behalf of former spy Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery if their prosecution continues.

Key points
  • Senior Australian lawyers have questioned the secrecy surrounding the trials of Witness K and Bernard Collaery
  • One former judge says they could be the most secretive trials in Australian history
  • Xanana Gusmao says he is prepared to act as a witness for Witness K and Mr Collaery

Mr Gusmao has told Four Corners his evidence is likely to embarrass previous Australian governments in relation to the 2004 intelligence operation in which the Dili offices of the prime minister Mari Alkatiri were bugged by Australian foreign agents during treaty negotiations over oil and gas in the Timor Sea. 

"I already promised to them, if it was not a secret trial, I will go to be their witness," Mr Gusmao told Four Corners. 

When asked what he would reveal in court, Mr Gusmao said, "All the information that I know."

Witness K is a former intelligence agent who was involved in the Dili bugging operation in 2004. Mr Collaery is his former lawyer.

The pair are facing potential jail sentences after being prosecuted for allegedly conspiring to share secret information with the government of Timor Leste over the spying operation.

Mr Collaery faces four further charges over speaking to ABC journalists about the matter following an ASIO and AFP raid on his home and office.


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the USA did it!...

Newly published intelligence documents, declassified by the US, shed new light on the turbulent events surrounding the 1999 independence referendum in Timor Leste, when Indonesian-backed militia gangs went on a murderous rampage across the country. 

Key points:
  • Declassified documents suggest Australia did not support or plan for a peacekeeping mission in Timor Leste until the last minute
  • Then foreign minister Alexander Downer rejects the claims, saying Australia never lobbied against a peacekeeping force
  • Former PM John Howard said for years that the "liberation" of Timor Leste was one of his proudest achievements


The documents back claims that it was the US — and not Australia — that ultimately forced Indonesia to accept peacekeepers into the country and uphold the referendum result, where an overwhelming 78.5 per cent of Timorese voted for independence.

They also suggest Australia did not support or plan for a peacekeeping mission until the very last minute, and only after the US had succeeded in forcing Indonesia to respect the independence vote and stop the escalating violence by pro-integration militias against the Timorese people.

Nowhere in the documents is there any sign that Australia actively pressured the US to take steps to protect the Timorese, despite the worsening violence and evidence that Indonesia's armed forces were supporting or even working alongside the militia groups.

Documents dispel narrative on Timor Leste 'liberation'

The claims are among hundreds, if not thousands of pages of declassified cables, intelligence reports and other documents published this week by the National Security Archive, ahead of Friday's 20th anniversary of the independence referendum.

The intelligence documents serve to dispel the Federal Government's own narrative that has receded anyway over the past decade.

For years after the referendum, John Howard maintained that the "liberation" of Timor Leste was one of his proudest achievements as prime minister, alongside the gun buyback scheme.

But the archive documents show in reality it was the US that succeeded in pressuring Indonesia to "pull back from the brink of disaster" and allow a multinational peacekeeping force into the country, as militia gangs continued to massacre Timorese with impunity.


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