Australian officials on Monday said that a Hague-based international tribunal lacks jurisdiction to set a border between Australia and East Timor. East Timor invoked [AP report] this “conciliation commission” in the hopes that it would put pressure on Australia to create a new, permanent maritime boundary between the two countries, giving more sea bed to East Timor than exists under current agreements with Australia. The practical effect of such a decision [case materials] would be to put a vast expanse of oil and gas reserves underneath the sea bed to the impoverished country. Australia’s participation in the tribunal is required, but the tribunal’s ruling is non-binding, a point which Australia has emphasized. Regardless of the tribunal’s decision, Australia is not likely to comply, as it believes existing treaties between the two countries are in line with international guidelines, while fairly apportioning revenue and providing equitable opportunities to exploit the gas and oil reserves. Australia had played a quintessential role in helping East Timor to achieve independence from Indonesia, but, following claims in 2013 that Australia had previously bugged the East Timorese Cabinet leading to revenue-sharing negotiations, the relationship between the two has sullied. East Timor has asserted that, in light of this information, the Timor Sea Treaty [text, PDF] should be void for being negotiated in bad faith.
Last March the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had agreed to have “frank and open” discussions [SMH article] with East Timor in regards to the unresolved maritime border between the two countries, but would not agree to East Timor’s request for more formal talks. East Timor believes that the current agreement between the two countries, which allows the two countries to share oil and gas revenues in a joint development area, is not reflective of their actual rights under international law. East Timor argues that if the boundary reflected the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) [text, PDF], the vast majority of the oil and gas reserves – approximately $40 billion in royalties and taxes – would fall within its maritime border.