Address to the Timor-Leste Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Dili, Timor-Leste

  • Speech (check against delivery)

Ha'u-nia respeitu ba.

His Excellency, President José Ramos-Horta;

His Excellency, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao;

My host, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, His Excellency, Bendito dos Santos Freitas;

Ministers, Vice Ministers and Secretaries of State of the Government of Timor-Leste;

Members of the National Parliament of Timor-Leste;

Members of the diplomatic corps and international organisations;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen.


It is a pleasure to be in Timor-Leste again, my second time in the year or so since I became Foreign Minister.

And it is a great honour to have met Prime Minister Gusmao and Minister Freitas so soon after the formation of your new government.

I want to begin by congratulating Prime Minister Gusmao on the election result, and congratulating all those elected or who ran as candidates.

I also wish to extend my congratulations to all the ministers who were sworn into their positions just a few days ago.

It is an enormous privilege and responsibility to have been chosen to lead by your people, who turned out in record numbers to exercise their democratic right.

The Australian Government looks forward to working closely with you in the years ahead to support your priorities.

I welcome the sentiments and aspirations expressed by Prime Minister Gusmao in his inauguration speech this week, when he spoke of greater trust and mutual respect in our bilateral ties.

Like Prime Minister Gusmao, we want to move beyond past differences.

We want to work alongside Timor-Leste to achieve your new Government's vision of a prosperous, healthy, educated, skilled, innovative and dynamic society.

Australia and Timor-Leste are the closest of partners.

Of course we are neighbours. That means we have issues to manage, and being neighbours means we have an interest in managing them together.

Timor's success matters to Australia, and I believe Australia's success matters to Timor.

Our success matters to each other because we share a region and we share a future.

We share an interest in both of our countries being prosperous and peaceful.

Just as important as these interests is our friendship.

Because fortune may have chosen for us to be neighbours, but we choose for us to be friends.

There has always been a deep reservoir of respect, friendship and solidarity between the Timorese and Australian people.

This friendship means all Australians want your nation to continue to flourish and reach its full potential.

Often the strongest friendships are those that have been forged in the greatest trials.

Together, we fought the battle for survival in the Second World War, when Timorese worked alongside nearly every Australian soldier; helping navigate, gathering intelligence, helping carry the wounded, securing food supplies.

As one Corporal, Jeremiah Haire recorded in his diary, “sharing common food and plate”.

Around 50,000 Timorese died in that war, an immeasurable loss and sacrifice we will never forget.

When you took the courageous step of voting for independence in 1999 and asked the international community for help to secure your nation, Australia answered.

More than half of the 11,000 personnel in the International Force in East Timor, or INTERFET, were Australian; the single largest deployment of ADF personnel since the Second World War.

The Commander of INTERFET, General Peter Cosgrove, said that with this support, Australia, had “fulfilled the promise made by their spiritual grandfathers at the end of World War II.”

In 2006, when Timor-Leste asked for military and policing help to re-establish and maintain public order, Australia was honoured to lead these efforts, as a friend and as a neighbour.

And in 2008, following the coordinated, violent attacks on President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Gusmao, we stood resolutely behind Timor-Leste, responding to Timor's request for more peacekeeping troops and police to stabilise a dangerous situation.

We were there in 1999, in 2006 and in 2008 because it was the right thing to do and because of our belief in a free and prosperous Timor-Leste taking its rightful place in the world and the region.

Indeed, following your independence, Australia quickly became Timor-Leste's largest development and security partner.

The depth of that partnership continues to this day, with Australia providing an estimated A$118 million in development assistance this year, putting Timor in our top five development partners.

We will continue to support your ambitions and respond to your priorities.

Our cooperation extends across a wide range of sectors, including security, health, agriculture and human development, and economic resilience.

We are expanding our cooperation on major infrastructure projects, including the redevelopment of Dili International Airport and the Timor-Leste South Submarine Cable.

We are also expanding access to Australia for Timorese workers under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme, an initiative which began under the previous Labor Government in Australia.

Some 4,680 Timorese workers are currently in Australia, employed across rural and regional areas, remitting 37.5 million dollars each year to their families in Timor-Leste.

Aside from remittances, we are expanding opportunities for seasonal workers to gain valuable skills, and improving workers' rights and conditions.

When I was here last year, one of the messages I received was that you wanted further support to develop education and skills for your people.

As part of that, the Australian Government will support an additional 35 Timorese to complete formal qualifications in aged care, helping to build critical skills for your people and bolstering your economic resilience.

And I am pleased to announce further support today for skills and education today.

This includes a doubling of our Australia Awards scholarships - also created under a Labor Government - from 10 to 20 places; the creation of 18 places in the Australia Awards fellowship program to help build capability in disaster response and preparedness and biosecurity; and new scholarships for Timorese to attend the Australia Pacific Training Coalition in Suva.

We will continue to work with you to find opportunities for your people.

Australia recognises that Timor-Leste's path to independence and sovereignty has been long and arduous.

You rightly seek to make your own choices, without having them encroached by others.

Timorese have struggled, through colonisation, and occupation, to achieve what we all seek – our place in the world and the ability to decide our own future. The white star on your flag – representing peace and having overcome so much.

Since independence, Timor-Leste has proudly taken its place in the region; a champion of human rights; a vibrant democracy emerging successfully from conflict that is assisting other post-conflict countries, including through the g7+ organisation of conflict affected-countries.

It has always been true that for small and medium countries, our sovereignty is enhanced by our support for the rules and norms that protect us all, and our engagement in multilateral organisations.

That's why Australia has been so committed to supporting Timor-Leste's participation in regional and multilateral organisations, including your bids to join ASEAN and the World Trade Organization.

Australia was ASEAN's first dialogue partner almost 40 years ago, and has since become its first Comprehensive Strategic Partner.

From this position we have been among your strongest supporters for ASEAN membership. So we warmly welcomed ASEAN's in-principle decision to admit Timor-Leste as the 11th member of ASEAN and formal admission as an observer.

ASEAN matters for Timor-Leste because it is at the centre of shaping the future of this changing region; the core of regional peace and stability.

And Timor-Leste's membership of ASEAN will reinforce that centrality.

We've heard Prime Minister Gusmao's reflections that you have more work to do to ensure you can meet the stringent technical requirements for ASEAN accession.

Which is why we are so committed to supporting you to build your capacity, including helping your biosecurity and statistics agencies to enhance their capabilities, a key step in meeting ASEAN's accession requirements.

And it's why today I announce that we are increasing our package of support for Timor's accession to ASEAN and the WTO, by a further $2 million – bringing the total to $8.6 million.

But Australia's support for your sovereignty goes beyond our support in international organisations.

We understand that for you to maintain your sovereignty, you need to be economically resilient.

Key in that ambition will be the sovereign choices Timor-Leste makes now.

We will keep striving to be the best possible partner, and a partner who will stand by you today and throughout your future.

The partner who shares Prime Minister Gusmao's belief in the Timorese people's “fundamental right to decide their own future”.

A partner who wants you to have your own, powerful voice. Who won't ask you to toe a line.

That means listening carefully to your interests and priorities.

That means being a partner who will support the sustainable growth of your economy and deliver the greatest wealth and security for your people.

And avoiding the risks of unsustainable lending that have hobbled other countries.

That is why Australia is so deeply committed to working with Timor-Leste to realise the development of Greater Sunrise.

But before I talk about the future of Greater Sunrise, I want to acknowledge some of the past.

There have been past instances in which Australian governments have acted in ways that Timorese people – and many Australians - found disappointing.

Timor-Leste was right to initiate compulsory conciliation, as you were entitled to do under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Australian Government should not have formally challenged the competence of the Conciliation Commission, when a broader, more understanding approach was needed that reflected the unique relationship we had with such a close neighbour.

It was not in the spirit of our friendship, from our struggle together in World War Two to our support for your young nation after independence.

Labor recognised this problem in 2016, when from opposition we pledged to reopen good-faith negotiations with Timor-Leste on our maritime boundary.

As our then Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said at the time, “the maritime boundary dispute has poisoned relations with our newest neighbour…this must change for their sake and ours.”

And after the challenge failed, Australia's then Government, with Labor's support, embraced the Conciliation process, reinvigorating Australia's good faith approach in a way that better reflected the spirit of our friendship.

This became the first compulsory conciliation ever initiated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and its success is a model for how countries in similar maritime disputes can work to resolve them.

And it was a powerful signal globally of respect for the rules-based order at a time when those rules are being challenged.

The result was that in March 2018 we signed the Maritime Boundary Treaty delimiting permanent boundaries, and setting out a Special Regime for Greater Sunrise.

This Treaty was a historic reset in our bilateral relationship, and a chance for new beginnings.

It finally agreed permanent maritime boundaries, long sought after by Timor-Leste, on a basis that is fair and equitable, and consistent with international law.

Australia looked at this issue too narrowly and without properly considering the importance of this issue in the context of your path to sovereignty.

The Australian Labor Government I represent has a deep appreciation of just how much your economic resilience is key to your sovereignty.

And we recognise Greater Sunrise is unfinished business.

Australia has only one ambition for Greater Sunrise: to see the field developed as soon as feasibly possible to support Timor-Leste's development.

Prime Minister Gusmao was right to say that Greater Sunrise needs to be a feasible and economically sound solution, that creates a petroleum industry that can yield direct economic dividends for your people.

There is a new government in Timor-Leste, and a new Australian Government.

And a genuine, good faith commitment to developing Greater Sunrise.

That's why the Prime Minister appointed Steve Bracks, a longstanding friend and supporter of your nation, to be the Australian Government's Special Representative for Greater Sunrise.

I am so pleased that Steve Bracks was able to join me on this visit.

Australia has been listening carefully to understand your ambitions for Greater Sunrise. I can assure you that Timor-Leste's commitment to onshore processing and to the south coast Tasi Mane project is clearly understood.

Timor-Leste is the majority shareholder in the joint venture, alongside Woodside and Osaka Gas. Technology is evolving, and the joint venture is looking afresh at the options. That is why its study into the options for Greater Sunrise should go ahead as soon as possible.

Our support for Timor's economic resilience is also why we strongly support your ambitions to convert the Bayu-Undan field.

It has been such a major contributor to your economy for over sixteen years, and we want to work with you to transition it into a commercial carbon capture and storage project.

We have recently introduced a Bill to our Parliament to give effect to amendments to the London Protocol, allowing us to meet our international carbon obligations and facilitate commercial consideration of Bayu-Undan.

We will continue working with you on these and other projects to support your economic resilience and sovereignty.

And I believe we are embarking on a new phase in our journey together.

We are dynamic nations, in one of the economically fastest growing regions of the world.

We share strong civil societies, backed by the close links between our communities.

There are some 10,000 Timorese living in Australia today.

And so many Australians have spent time in Timor-Leste, and continue to feel great kinship with your people.

Our ties span local governments, universities and schools, churches, NGOs and community groups, and of course our veterans.

Many of these links go back decades, and endured when governments were in serious dispute over our shared maritime boundaries.

Our Australian Labor Government seeks to move beyond past divergences.

To work with you to shape the future we share.

Wherever the future may take our two countries, whatever challenges we may face, I want our friends in Timor-Leste to know that we in Australia will always be with you.

Through thick and thin.

In good times and in bad.

Because our friendship is deep and it is broad.

It has already stood the test of time since the days of independence.

And it is the foundation on which we can build our futures, together.

Thank you, and obrigada wain.

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