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Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

East Timor Dispute

There seems to be a groundswell of support for East Timor's position in the current dispute about oil-rich territory. However, suppose the island-state in question was instead, say, Singapore, whose wealth exceeds our own. Would we then support Australia "going in hard" with the negotiations, including selecting (to the extent allowed by law) the jurisdiction, tribunals and other legal mechanisms that puts Australia's interests in the best light? I suspect most of us would.

So if the only difference here is that East Timor is very poor while Singapore is very rich, then any concessions of billions of dollars to the East Timorese amounts to a form of aid. The question must be asked: is donating the oil to the East Timorese the best form of aid? Does this new, tiny country have the resources and expertise to extract maximum benefits from the territories?

Surely it would be more transparent for Australia to seek the best deal we can and then explicitly donate the billions of dollars to a UN trust fund, where it can be administered efficiently, competently and free from corruption by UN agencies and NGOs.

Yes, it's paternalistic and self-aggrandising; but it would likely lead to a better outcome.



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Anonymous Anonymous vented ...

Whether we go in "hard" or not is really a distraction. The real issue is who the oil belongs to.

Very vague on this, but I believe Australia pulled out of the "international sea treaty", under which the oil deposits would have fallen under E Timorese control.

As good as an international citizen Australia is (supporting China vs Taiwan, not signing up to Kyoto, abandoning its citizens in Guantanamo, indefinte detention of asylum seekers, highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita etc), my gut feeling is this is another dodgy Australian operation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005 11:37:00 pm  
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Blogger Greg vented ...

You'll get no argument from me about Australia's contemptuous recent record on overseas behaviour.

However, I'm not convinced that the world is as simple as "this is our oil and that's theirs". As I read it, there's the "midway point" theory, and the "continental shelf" theory and while both are enshrined in (different) maritime law, they do not agree on how these oilfields should be split up.

You see, any dispute ends up at some tribunal or mediator or something, and they apply generally accepted rules or principles to the specific situation at hand. This is fine, but it breaks down when the disputants complain about which principles get applied and how certain rules are invoked.

That's why a standard part of any lawsuit, court case, dispute resolution session whatever is: choose (where possible) the jurisdiction and procedures that favour your case. No doubt Foreign Minister Downer has top-notch lawyers lined up willing to swear blue in the face that the Treaty we ditched was flawed and the [insert preferred dispute resolution mechanism] proposed has a better moral claim to decide this issue.

To say, "oh, that's mean and tricky because it's actually East Timor's oil - everyone knows that!" just presupposes that Australia (the richer country) is by definition wrong. Might suit white guilt, but is it reasonable? That's why I suggested the thought experiment whereby we became the poorer country.

So, is it really a distraction? Tell me: if it were Singapore and not East Timor, would you really support a newspaper campaign by business leaders to give them (our) free oil? If the oil money were to fall into the hands of small number of mind-bogglingly rich kleptocrats rather than spread fairly amongst dirt-poor ex-resistance heroes, would you really be indifferent?

Nah, I reckon East Timor's poverty is the distraction here.

But hey, suprise me.

Thursday, March 17, 2005 2:14:00 am  

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