Big Protest confronts Australian Embassy in Dili
Big Protest confronts Australian Embassy in Dili)

A large and angry demonstration was held outside the Australian embassy in Dili on 23 February, against the Australian government’s refusal to negotiate a permanent international border with East Timor.

The protest – organised by the coalition Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) – included dozens of organised contingents of students, young people, civil society groups and veterans of the national liberation struggle. “Timor Leste, viva! Australia, abaixo!” (“Long Live East Timor! Down with Australia!”) – was one popular chant.

The embassy had been subject to a smaller protest in 2013 and a graffiti protest in 2014 after it was revealed that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) spied on the Timorese government during negotiations over a temporary resource sharing arrangement. This latest protest indicates a dramatic escalation.

Tama Laka Aquita, vice president of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST), told Red Flag that another protest will take place on 22-23 March. This will coincide with protests in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and New York in the same week. PST president Avelino Coelho has already been on television talking up the issue.

All Timorese political parties agree that resolving the border dispute is a national priority. That has been reflected in a string of recent media statements by senior politicians calling Australian spying “a criminal act”, to quote Xanana Gusmao the historic leader of the Timorese resistance, and calling for an immediate re-start to negotiations to finalise the border.

The Timorese parliament has appointed a Council for Final Delimitation of Maritime Boundaries, which includes all former presidents, prime ministers and speakers of the parliament. Gusmao has been elected chief negotiator.

Australia’s present violation of Timorese sovereignty denies Timor the resources it badly needs for even basic national development. Many Timorese still lack access to electricity or safe water. Young people with university education are often lured to foreign NGOs or AID organisations that can pay higher wages than teachers receive at the National University of Timor Leste.

There are large gas reserves beneath the Timor Sea – particularly the enormous, undeveloped Greater Sunrise gas field, which is almost entirely on the Timorese side of the halfway line. In net terms, East Timor is actually the largest foreign aid contributor to Australia – if we count revenues taken by the Australian Treasury from gas already extracted from smaller, already developed fields on Timor’s side of the halfway line.

Australia’s aggression, for a time, seemed to be successful. Just prior to Timor gaining independence in 2002, foreign minister Alexander Downer reportedly told the UN transitional administrator of East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, “Australia could bring meltdown to East Timor if it so chose” – i.e. by withdrawing foreign aid while the country was still waiting for gas revenues to come on line. In March 2002, Downer announced Australia’s withdrawal from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The following month, Canberra was able to obtain a signature from then Timorese prime minister Mari Alkatiri, for the highly unfair, temporary, Timor Sea Treaty. The TST encountered immediate opposition and was never ratified by the Timorese parliament.

However, in 2006 then foreign minister Ramos Horta signed another highly unfair agreement with Australia. The new agreement – CMATS (Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea) – gave a partial concession to Timor by allowing it 50 percent, up from 18 percent, of the revenues from Greater Sunrise. However, it completely excluded Timor’s government and oil company from participation in the development and required Timor to postpone all negotiations for a permanent settlement of the boundary for 50 years.

Now even Horta is on record calling for Australia to re-start negotiations for a permanent settlement, as is Alkatiri. The new atmosphere of protest – which extends from the streets to the parliament – if it can be sustained and supported by a lively campaign in Australia, might prove correct what former Australian ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott cabled to Canberra in 1975.

Woolcott argued for Australia to support the Indonesian invasion of the country in 1975 – which led to a quarter-century occupation and the death of 200,000 people. He thought that “closing the present gap in the agreed sea border” (i.e. finalising a border closer to Timor than Australia) “could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia … than with Portugal or independent Portuguese Timor”.

Indeed, the original Timor Gap Treaty that the Australian Labor government famously signed with the Indonesian military dictatorship in 1989 was far worse than the present CMATS. But even CMATS is no longer accepted by independent East Timor. Unfortunately for Malcolm Turnbull and his ilk, there is no longer a military dictatorship in Timor than can put down protests against the Australian embassy.

It seems safe to assume that embassy staff, DFAT and the Turnbull government must be monitoring the growing movement with increasing alarm. Working people in Australia should greet it not only with joy but with active support. The most meaningful solidarity we can give is by building our own movement to support East Timor’s democratic and sovereign right to complete its national self-determination. Viva Timor Leste!

Read more
Mass movement defeats mining giant
Johnny Gerdes

Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo has announced the closure of an environmentally destructive copper mine after the country’s Supreme Court ruled on 28 November that legislation granting the mine a 20-year concession was unconstitutional. The decision was greeted with jubilation by masses of protesters who had fought for weeks for this result.

The Greek Polytechnic, 50 years on
Dimitrios Tafidis

The decades after World War Two were marked by increasing politicisation around the world. Greece was no different. While the left was defeated in the Greek civil war, which ended in 1949, socialists, through the leadership of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), continued to organise. This led to arrests, repression and even executions of anyone associated with the KKE.

Activists in Perth strike a blow against Israeli shipping company ZIM
Activists strike a blow against ZIM
Max Vickery

In his 1896 pamphlet The Jewish State, the founder of modern political Zionism Theodor Herzl made the case for a flag. “We have no flag, and we need one”, he wrote. “I would suggest a white flag, with seven golden stars.”

Far-right victory in Argentina
Far-right victory in Argentina
Tom Sullivan

The turbulent political winds of Latin America blew to the far right in Argentina’s November presidential election. Javier Milei, a self-styled “anarcho-capitalist”, won 56 percent of the vote, while his opponent Sergio Massa, economy minister in the Peronist centre-left ruling coalition, secured only 44 percent. 

Local council fight over Palestine
Liz Walsh

Socialist representatives in local government have led a push for councils to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. Opposing them have been Labor Party councillors.

US Jews standing up against Zionism
Daniel Taylor

“Never again for anyone” was the slogan on the banner, and “Not in our name” on the mass of black T-shirts, when hundreds of Jews took over the base of the Statue of Liberty to demand freedom for the Palestinians and an end to the bombardment of Gaza.