Australia and Timor’s Oil

Australia and Timor’s Oil


Australia began negotiating on oil and maritime issues with the Suharto regime in Indonesia in 1970. These talks lead to the signing of two maritime boundary treaties in 1971 and 1972 (excluding the area adjacent to Portuguese Timor known as the Timor Gap).

From the time of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor in 1975, a significant issue was the control and exploitation of significant reserves of oil and natural gas in the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor. Defining the maritime boundary between Australia, Indonesia and the occupied territory became a contentious issue in international law. Only after Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002 was the issue finally regularised, with the signing of a series of three treaties that govern maritime arrangements in the Timor Sea. The ongoing use of the revenues from production remains a hotly contested issue.

The exploitation of resources is governed by the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, which entered into force on 23 February 2007.

Many non-government groups have been critical of the way in which Timor was forced into giving up many of its rights over these natural resources (including criticism by NGOs and an Australian whistleblower that Australian aid was cut to Timorese NGOs when they publicly criticised Australian policy on the issue).

Government sources

DFAT Fact Sheet on Australia-East Timor Maritime Arrangements, DFAT website

“The Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, which entered into force on 23 February 2007, sets aside the question of maritime boundaries and jurisdiction between the two Parties for the life of the treaty. The treaties allow for the exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources in the Joint Petroleum Development Area for the benefit of both countries.”


Timor Sea Treaty, signed 20 May 2002, Australian Treaty Series [2003] ATS 13

Background papers on Timor Sea Treaty 

Treaty between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on certain maritime arrangements in the Timor Sea, signed Sydney, 12 January 2006, Australian Treaty Series [2007] ATS 12

Agreement between the Government Of Australia and the Government of the Democratic Republic Of Timor-Leste relating to the unitisation of the Sunrise and Troubadour Fields, signed Dili, 6 March 2003, entry into force, 23 February 2007, Australian Treaty Series [2007] ATS 11.

Commentary and analysis

Index to Oil and Gas issues, La’o Hamutuk website.

Detailed listing of reports and resources by La’o Hamutuk (Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis).

Sunrise LNG in Timor-Leste: Dreams, Realities and Challenges, Report by Guteriano Neves, Charles Scheiner and Santina Soares, La’o Hamutuk, February 2008

“This report discusses the possible positive and negative impacts of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Timor-Leste to process gas from the offshore Greater Sunrise field for export.”

Proposed new legislation to regulate petroleum activities in Timor-Leste and the Joint Petroleum Development Area, La’o Hamutuk, June 2008

Timor Sea Justice Campaign (TSJC)

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign (TSJC) was an independent campaign in 2004-05 ‘outraged that the Australian Government was unilaterally taking, on average, $1 million a day in Government royalties from oil and gas fields that under International Law were likely to belong to East Timor’.”

Australian Public Sector Accountability, Peter Ellis (former Counsellor, Development Assistance, Australian Embassy, Dili)

“This webpage was originally a collection of links on public sector accountability in Australia… However, it is probable that people will find more interest in the particular case of my experience with the defunding and not-funding of Timorese NGOs and my allegations that I was pressured to lie to cover up the reason for those decisions.”

Drilling East Timor: Australia’s Oil Grab in the Timor Sea, Charles Scheiner, Multinational monitor, January / February 2006, Vol. 27, No.1

“Australia, one of the largest and most powerful countries in the Asia-Pacific region, recently legalized its thievery of tens of billions of dollars in resources from one of the smallest and weakest, according to critics of a new treaty.”

East Timor, oil, and the challenge of nation-building, Vafa Ghazavi, The University of Sydney, Australian Review of Public Affairs, 10 April 2006

“How will the world’s newest democracy (and Asia’s poorest country) use petroleum revenues to promote social and economic development? For the many Timorese (and Australian) activists who had long focused on the controversial Timor Sea negotiations, the link between oil revenues and Timor’s long-term development may prove even more difficult to get right.”

The New Timor Sea Treaty and Interim Arrangements for Joint Development of Petroleum Resources of the Timor Gap, Gillian Triggs and Dean Bialek, Melbourne Journal of International Law, Vol. 3, pp. 322-364, 2002

“Since gaining independence, Eas Timor has argued that under current principles of international law, it is entitled to a greater share of the Timor Sea’s oil and gas resources than is suggested by the boundaries of the Timor Sea Treaty’s Joint Petroleum Development Area (“JPDA”).”

See also:

Australian government policy