Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre Uniya
About Us
- -

Speech by Richard Woolcott AC at the launch of The Timor Sea’s Oil and Gas; What’s Fair?

Richard Woolcott AC

Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre, St Canice's Church Hall, Kings Cross

3 September 2004


Richard Woolcott AC (right) launching Frank Brennan's Timor Sea paper

I regard it as a signal honour to have been invited by the Jesuit Social Justice Centre and Frank Brennan personally to launch his booklet, The Timor Sea’s Oil and Gas; What’s Fair? (Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, ISBN 1-86420-252-1)

I also feel a measure of humility as there are eminent persons in this audience, including Sir Gerard and Lady Brennan – Frank’s father and mother. Eminence reminds me of a remark made by Gough Whitlam to the Head of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, Cardinal Jaime Sin, when I was our Ambassador to that country. Having been correctly introduced to the Cardinal, Gough said, that if he could choose his own title, it would not be Mr Prime Minister, Mr President or Your Excellency. He would far prefer to be addressed as Your Eminence!

I am not sure that I am the best choice to launch Frank’s work for three reasons. Firstly, as one of the group of forty three former military officers and diplomats who signed a statement calling for the restoration of truth in government and criticising the government for joining the destructive invasion of Iraq on false assumptions, I have been dismissed by a member of the federal parliament, along with my 42 colleagues as a doddering daiquiri drinking diplomats.

Secondly, surrounded as I am by so many distinguished fathers – in the religious context of course – and Jesuits, I am conscious of the fact that I may not be in a state of grace.

And, thirdly, I was our Ambassador to Indonesia in 1975 at the time of the invasion of East Timor and there will be some in this audience tonight who are critical of the attitude of the Australian Government at that time towards Indonesia and East Timor. Some may even see me as in some way complicit in Indonesian policy. However those of you who have read my recent book, The Hot Seat; Reflections on Diplomacy from Stalin’s Death to the Bali Bombings (Harper Collins, 2003), will I believe know that this is not the case.

The key words in the title of Frank’s booklet are What’s Fair? And this is very real and topical issue; fairness is what we like to say Australia espouses in its argot of “a fair go” for all.

Four tragedies have befallen the people of East Timor. First, they endured centuries of Portuguese neglect and colonial rule. Second, they lived through an often brutal Japanese occupation during world war II. Thirdly, they were subjected to an often corrupt and insensitive Indonesian maladministration following the invasion in 1975. The fourth tragedy was the death and destruction in September 1999 after the United Nations vote on autonomy or for independence. I believe that it is very important to avoid a fifth tragedy befalling the East Timorese people in the form of a breakdown in governance which would lead to East Timor becoming a failing, or a failed, state within its first decade of independence. Independence in a small state with limited resources is usually fragile and can be threatened, as we have seen in some African countries and in the South West Pacific, most recently in the Solomon Islands.

We must cooperate therefore with East Timor and Indonesia to consolidate Timor - Leste’s independence and nurture its fragile institutions. Frank’s booklet is scholarly, thorough, well researched and also very readable, which I find unusual in a work that deals with complex legal issues such as maritime boundaries. Indeed, at the United Nations we called these mego issues, meaning my eyes glaze over when they are debated! The booklet also has five useful, illustrative maps of the Timor sea area which, I understand, were provided by Woodside Energy, the key partner in the Greater Sunrise project. Importantly, Frank’s booklet does not simply identify the problems; it suggests a fair way forward to a solution.

I should say that Frank’s qualifications for this challenging task are impeccable. He spent 18 months in 2001-2002 as Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor and he worked as an Advisor to the Church Working Group on the Constitution of Timor- Leste.

I think his well argued and balanced booklet demonstrates the depth of understanding of the historical background needed to understand the legal complexities arising out of the competing claims in the Timor Sea. As the Bishop of Broome has written he hopes that Father Brennan’s work will help lead to “a fair go for all three parties, including the one who is the smallest, poorest and newest on the block”.

Indeed, Frank stresses the point that the negotiation of equitable maritime boundaries in the Timor gap could take years involving not only Australia and East Timor but also Indonesia and the investors in the Greater Sunrise development. In this case it may well be possible to resolve revenue sharing arguments well in advance of finalising the seabed boundary. As Frank wrote in today’s The Australian, a fair outcome should not be clouded by politics in the coming federal election or by an artificial time limit to strike a deal.

To conclude, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honour and pleasure to launch Father Frank Brennan’s important booklet this evening.


Mr Richard Woolcott AC was Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 1988 to 1992. Prior to that he served as Commissioner in Singapore, High Commissioner in Ghana, Ambassador to the Philippines, Ambassador to Indonesia (1975-78), Deputy to the High Commissioner in Malaysia, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1982-88), and as a member of the Advisory Panel for the Government White Paper on Foreign and Trade Policy (1997).



 print this page