Jul 25, 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 – Second Reading – Thursday, 25 July 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (11:17): This is, indeed, uncontroversial legislation but there’s been anything but an uncontroversial lead-up to it being presented in this parliament. It must be said that some of that lead-up has not done a great deal for Australia’s standing as good neighbours to one of the newest nations on the planet. But Labor will, of course, be supporting this legislation because it is critical, as we move forward with our friends in Timor-Leste. Indeed, I am looking forward to travelling with the Prime Minister to Timor-Leste next month for the 20 years commemoration of the popular consultation which led to Timor-Leste’s independence. The treaty enforcement will be an important component of that.

It is important that this legislation pass the parliament during this fortnight’s sitting so that the Prime Minister and I can indicate to the leadership and, importantly, to the people of Timor-Leste that Australia does indeed mark that commemoration as friends, not as people in conflict over what is the absolutely critical single factor in economic growth and, therefore, an improvement in living standards for the people of Timor-Leste.

The treaty replaces the treaty and joint administration arrangements between our two nations made in 2003, and the treaty recognises new maritime borders for Timor-Leste. We on this side of the House are proud of the role that we played as a political party. Of course, many people in the Australian Labor Party—I think of my friend Robert Tickner and many others—played a very long role. I think of Laurie Brereton, of the member for Lingiari and of the member for Solomon and the critical roles that they have played. The former member for Page, Janelle Saffin—a very close friend of the leadership and people of Timor-Leste—and, indeed, the member for Sydney, who was shadow minister for foreign affairs, raised the issue of ensuring that Australia behaved honourably on these issues.

While Timor-Leste now has the petroleum rights within its maritime boundaries, it recognises Australian oil and gas companies’ current operations in the Timor Gap. The treaty allows for a Greater Sunrise special regime area to be established. That includes the Sunrise and Troubadour gas fields. The special regime area will be jointly administrated by Australia and Timor-Leste, with a revenue-sharing arrangement expected to benefit Australia by between $2 billion and $8 billion over the life of the resource. Two international areas will also be implemented for gas pipeline corridors. The government will introduce a tax amendment to the treaty bill that ensures that no Australian company will be worse off because of the treaty. The treaty demonstrates Australia’s commitment to international law and rules, Australia’s intention to have robust bilateral relations with Timor-Leste and to jointly develop the Greater Sunrise gas fields.

Labor warmly welcomed the signing of the historic treaty in March 2018 between our two countries, establishing their maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. The treaty brings to an end more than 40 years of uncertainty over our shared maritime border and vindicates the strong position taken by Labor to take decisive steps to settle our dispute with Timor-Leste. Labor believes the maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste strained our bilateral relations and that it was very much in the national interests of both our countries to resolve this dispute in a fashion which didn’t see a winner and a loser but saw a winner and another winner. We believe that this is what this legislation codifies. We’re therefore very pleased that this treaty is the first ever to be achieved by conciliation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Australia and Timor-Leste have agreed that, from the date that the treaty enters into force, Timor-Leste will receive all future upstream revenue derived from petroleum activities from the Kitan oilfield and Bayu-Undan gas field. Previously, both Australia and Timor-Leste received benefits from revenue derived from petroleum activities in the JPDA, including these two fields. In addition, Australia and Timor-Leste have agreed that the Buffalo oilfield, which previously fell within the continental shelf of Australia, will fall within the continental shelf of Timor-Leste and that Timor-Leste will receive all future revenue from that oilfield.

The development of the Greater Sunrise fields is expected to yield significant revenue over the life of the project. The divergent revenue estimate of $2 billion to $8 billion is dependent on the terms of the development concept that is still to be agreed between Australia, Timor-Leste and the Greater Sunrise joint venture for the development of the Greater Sunrise fields. The exact financial benefit to Australia will depend upon a range of factors, including this concept, as well as the economics of the project and prevailing market prices for oil and gas.

In the previous parliament these bills were referred to a committee and evidence was provided that the length of time required for a treaty that recognised Timor-Leste’s claims to be negotiated and signed had in some quarters undermined Australia’s international standing. It is important that Australia is recognised as a trusted partner with our closest neighbours. The Australian government has had six years to work on the treaty and now there is timing pressure to pass the bills before those 20th anniversary celebrations. Yesterday the government introduced tax legislation to ensure that the treaty can come into force. Labor has agreed to not send the tax legislation to a committee, because we want to make sure that there is speedy passage of this legislation over the next fortnight. It is, indeed, time critical. It shouldn’t be viewed that this is a precedent for how we deal with tax legislation. We recognise this as a one-off occasion. It is in our national interest that this occurs.

It is important to recognise though—and I say this to the new Leader of the House, who’s struggling with the procedures before this House—that these bills were first introduced on 28 November last year and were not dealt with in the 45th Parliament. It is up to the government to prioritise its legislation. I suggest they prioritise legislation based upon the national interest rather than play politics. This is a good example of bills that should have been an absolute priority. Labor will ensure that they go through.

I’ve been very pleased to have an association on a personal level with Timor-Leste. Tom Uren was my father figure and mentor. Tom was captured in Timor in World War II before he went on what he called his tour throughout Asia, which included the Burma-Siam railway, Changi Prison in Singapore, and Japan, where he saw from a distance the second nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He never forgot the support that Australian troops were given by the people of what we then called East Timor. Australia has particular obligations to this fledgling nation because of the sacrifice that they made to assist Australia’s troops during our darkest hour in World War II when our nation was under threat. Australia hasn’t always repaid that debt in an appropriate way. This legislation does that.

When Tom passed away, having received the highest honour from the government of East Timor—the Order of Timor-Leste medal—the government issued a release describing him as a man of dignity and courage, who always stood up. The one memorial in Australia to the troops who were captured in East Timor—and it’s a joint one acknowledging the sacrifice of the people of East Timor—is in my electorate in Marrickville Park. It’s unfortunate that there is not more recognition of what occurred.

In June I appointed the member for Solomon to head our special regional trade task force of the caucus to work with the shadow minister for trade and to work with caucus colleagues. That will focus on trade links with the Asia-Pacific region. It is particularly important that we increase our engagement with Timor-Leste, as well as with Papua New Guinea—and I got to meet the PNG Prime Minister earlier this week—Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

There is a real prospect of us being good neighbours in terms of how we deal with them. We need to deal with them in a way that is mutually beneficial to our economies. We live in a region in which we are seeing an explosion in the growth of the middle class. The growth in our region is the fastest economic growth that we have seen at any time in human history, including the Industrial Revolution that spurred Europe into dominance for a long period of time. That pales into insignificance compared with the growth we’re seeing in our region at the moment. We need to be good neighbours. We need to recognise the opportunity that is there to assist our neighbours, particularly assisting people to get out of poverty. That is in our interest. It is also in our economic interest and our interest in the way that we stand in the world, our place in the world, to be good neighbours. Because it’s gone through a conciliation process rather than the big guys trying to use their power over the little guys through economic dominance, this is a very good thing indeed. I commend the legislation to the House, I thank the shadow minister for the work that he has done and I look forward to being in Timor-Leste next month.