This month Australian Catholics have been asked by the Australian Bishops to sign a petition advocating that Australia settle upon a permanent sea border with Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) at the median line between the two states. On the face of it, there is very little reason for the church to involve itself in this political issue. It must be assumed that this petition is useful to someone, as there would not otherwise be any motivation to campaign for signatures. Who it is useful for however, remains murky. Having recently expressed regret that the Catholic Church is often presented as having more interest in political goals than spiritual matters, it seemed worth examining the political motivations involved. It is most unlikely that most Australian Catholics have the requisite expertise to comment on this matter.
Most ordinary people have no particular knowledge or power over the majority of political decisions which are made in their countries. Under the old order, kings and courts conducted state affairs and the common people had no need to concern themselves with politics. Ordinary people were not held responsible for the actions of the ruling authority because it was recognised that they had little influence over those decisions. With the arrival of democracy every citizen is now under the illusion that they are a political actor and therefore must have political opinions. This is a source of great anxiety because most people having committed to a position become emotionally invested in its outcome without any means of effecting it. While the vast majority of citizens are in reality politically powerless, under a democracy they are nominally responsible for the actions of the political class who make decisions in their name. Having realised that we do not have control over these decisions there seems little reason to commit to an opinion on where the sea border with Timor should lie.
The narrative told about this issue to the general public is that the greedy Australian Government strong armed a defenceless new Timorese government into an unfavourable treaty which ensures that Australia gets a share of lucrative oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. This is presented as a clear cut example of unscrupulous avarice on the part of a stronger, wealthier state towards its poorer neighbour which has a simple and obvious moral solution. This solution, which Timor-Leste is advocating, and which Australian Catholics are being asked to support, is to place the border at the median line between the two countries. This arrangement would place the oil reserves in Timorese waters. Of course, Australians are familiar with this narrative at least in part due to an advertising campaign funded by a wealthy Australian businessman who, ostensibly from philanthropic motivations, donates to particular political parties from time to time.
A cursory look into the history of Timor-Leste and the Australian Sea boarder and the right of things quickly becomes less clear. In 1974 oil and gas reserves were discovered off the coast of Timor. East Timor used to be a Portuguese colony until a Portuguese coup in 1975 led to their pulling out of Timor. Before they pulled out, there was no permanent maritime boundary between Portuguese Timor and Australia, although there was a permanent border with Indonesia. This part of the border is referred to as the Timor Gap. The permanent Indonesian seabed boundary with Australia follows the continental shelf, placing it closer to Indonesia than to Australia. It does not seem completely unreasonable to imagine that the existing Indonesian boundary might simply be extended past East Timor to close the gap. This simple solution however, would place the contentious petroleum reserves in Australian territory.
A brief Timorese civil war for political control of the country followed the Portuguese departure. The victor being a communist militia, Indonesia, which is a former Dutch colony, and anti-communist at that time, annexed the territory with Australian, US and British support. Apparently this occupation was extremely violent. Australian recognition of Indonesia’s annexation had several political motivations including the management of communism, as well as interest in the petroleum reserves. It is interesting to note that the three largest companies currently involved in mining the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea are Woodside Petroleum, an Australian company, Royal Dutch Shell, a Dutch and British company, and Conoco Phillips, a US company.
At the end of the Cold War Australia began to support Timorese independence. The UN is also a player in the politics of this small nation, and organised a referendum on the issue of East Timorese independence. This came back in the affirmative, and after some violence Indonesia left East Timor and it became the nation of Timor-Leste. At this time Australia negotiated a temporary sea border agreement with the new nation which ensured Australian involvement in the oil and gas fields in the Joint Petroleum Development Area.
The Timor Sea Treaty signed between these two states is not obviously exploitative. To a casual observer it seems merely to replace the old agreement with Indonesia while they were in control of East Timor, except that the new treaty’s terms are slightly more favourable to Timor-Leste. Under the Timor Sea Treaty Timor-Leste is given 90% of the proceeds from developing the petroleum reserves in the zone. It should be pointed out that there are other reserves which do not fall within the zone covered by the Timor Sea Treaty. These are subject to different treaties which are not quite so favourable to Timor-Leste. This is because the oil fields covered by the other treaties fall mostly outside the official gap in the Timor border, and are thus in Australian Waters. Because East Timor was not involved in the discussions for the placement of the Indonesian/Australian border, they claim that their section of ocean territory should be wider than the current gap. However, that is how the border currently stands, and the Timorese government did voluntarily sign the treaties.
Further complicating the matter are allegations of Australian espionage during negotiations. This is based upon the testimony of an Australian whistle-blower who claims he was involved in bugging Timor-Leste’s cabinet offices. He apparently felt compelled to make this espionage operation public knowledge after learning that Alexander Downer, an Australian politician involved in the negotiations, has since become an advisor to Woodside Petroleum. An Australian lawyer working on the dispute for Timor-Leste has also claimed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation conducted a raid upon his Australian Office and seized important documents.
It is quite possible that Australia is motivated by money in its dealings with Timor-Leste, but it would be naive to think that Timor-Leste is not equally as motivated by money in dealing with Australia. The public is encouraged to automatically assume that because Timor-Leste is a small, underdeveloped nation with a recent history of suffering, the financial interests of their politicians are above suspicion, in spite of high levels of corruption. Why the church is compelled to take the side of Timor-Leste in this dispute is not clear.
90% of the population of Timor-Leste is Catholic, which may at least superficially explain the Catholic association with this issue. When the Portuguese left only 20% of the populace was Catholic. Indonesia, a majority Muslim nation, requires its citizens to worship a single god. While they were in control of East Timor many people joined the Catholic Church in order to comply with this legislation. Whether the Vatican has a political interest in Timor-Leste at this moment, or whether the Australian Bishops are being pushed to service someone else’s needs is uncertain. According to CatholicTalk this initiative ‘…led by Sister Susan Connelly RSJ, seeks to petition the government to agree to a fair border based on international convention (and common sense.)’ Sister Connelly was recently arrested for refusing to leave the Prime Minister’s office where she was staging a prayer protest over Australia’s treatment of illegal immigrants with representatives of other denominations.
More pressure for a resolution of this issue seems to be coming out of Brisbane, which unfortunately seems to be a centre of strange and suspicious happenings. Tradition in Action has documented an erotic ballet performance about the temptation of Eve and a bizarre fashion show occurring in a Brisbane church with the permission of the Archbishop. Worse, there were priests in a Brisbane Catholic Church who were performing baptisms for years using invented and illicit formulas.
Another potential motivation behind this petition is the US involvement in East Timor, possibly in response to Chinese influence in East Timor. Apparently the Clinton Foundation has interests in Timor which connect with the Australian Government through former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is heavily involved in the Global Partnership for Education, and MP Julie Bishop, who seems to be following in her footsteps. We have already seen a WikiLeaks copy of Tony Podesta’s email to his brother John Podesta floating the idea of supporting the Timorese in this matter. He mentions he has an Australian friend working on this. The Australian friend appears to be Julia Gillard, as documented in this email and photograph. Given previous Soros-funded attempts to influence the Vatican during the last US election campaign, the promotion of this petition may be less organic than many would assume. Perhaps the Clinton/Podesta interest group has nudged the Australian bishops to mobilise their constituents in order to further their own political machinations. They are certainly concerned with the church, as is made clear by the leaked Podesta email on Conservative Catholicism and their discussion of instigating a potential ‘Catholic Spring’. Another leaked email discusses the Podestas attending a spirit cooking dinner with occult ‘artist’ Marina Abramovic, which should raise questions over the Catholicity of the people involved.
Signing the petition asking for a particular sea border agreement is not clearly morally good. This issue indicates the dangers of church leaders permitting her moral authority to be used for the dubious purposes of private interests. To give support to such schemes might be formal cooperation with evil.