Radio interview with Stephen Dziedzic, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, is in East Timor's capital Dili to meet its newly elected leaders. It is a milestone because it has been five years since an Australian Government Minister has visited the fledgling nation. That is largely because the relationships has been poisoned by a dispute over our maritime boundary and rich gas deposits which lie between Australia and East Timor. While the two countries hammered out an agreement on the boundary earlier this year, there are still a few strains. Just last month, the Federal Government decided it would prosecute a former spy known only as "Witness K" who exposed a secret Australian spying operation in East Timor during the negotiations.

JULIE BISHOP: The signing of our historic maritime boundary treaty earlier this year in New York has certainly opened a new chapter in relations between Australia and Timor-Leste, and it is timely for me to visit now because there has been an election in Timor and a new government formed, so I will take this opportunity to meet with the President, the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister and other government representatives while I am in Dili.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: Did Australia feel in the end that it had to make some substantial concessions on those negotiations simply in order to put the dispute over the treaty behind us, in terms of the bilateral relationship?

JULIE BISHOP: We were pleased to take part in a world first conciliation under international law, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to delimit the maritime boundaries between our two countries. It was a matter of ongoing tension. It was a concern for us in terms of our relationship with Timor-Leste and I am pleased that we were able to commit to a process that led to a fair and balanced outcome. Now we can get on with supporting Timor-Leste in achieving its economic potential.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: On that economic potential, there has been pretty intense debate within East Timor about its plan to set up processing facilities for LNG on the south coast of the country. There has been a pretty concerted attempt to try and attract international capital for that project, but multinational oil companies are simply not convinced the project is viable. Do you anticipate East Timor might request Australian assistance for the project?

JULIE BISHOP: First, we want to work and collaborate with Timor-Leste and the joint venture companies to find a pathway to develop the Greater Sunrise field and maximise the benefits to Timor-Leste as they seek to reap the economic and social benefits for generations to come.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: Just finally on the controversy around Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery, there have been protests at the Australian Embassy in Dili over the Australian Government's decision to prosecute Witness K and Bernard Collaery over that matter. Is there any sense from the East Timorese Government that they are dissatisfied with the way we have approached the case?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I have not had any reason to believe that. The Timor-Leste Government has been asked about it and they have said quite rightly that it is a matter for Australia. It is a domestic legal issue within Australia. It has nothing to do with Timor-Leste. It is not directed at Timor-Leste and I believe the Government sees it that way.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: Some activists argue though that it has got everything to do with Timor-Leste. They say that Witness K is essentially a hero for exposing an Australian plot.

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is a matter before the courts and so I am not going to make any comment in relation to it. It is a domestic legal issue – it is a prosecution that has been taken on advice of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. It is a domestic legal matter for Australia.

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