By Paul Cleary
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Additional info for Shakedown: Australia's Grab for Timor Oil
He introduced oil into the debate by noting: I wonder whether the Department has ascertained the interest of the Minister or the Department of Minerals and Energy in the Timor Situation. It would seem to me that this Department might 21 Shakedown-PAGES 4/4/07 10:06 AM Page 22 SHAKEDOWN well have an interest in closing the present gap in the agreed seabed border and that this could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia by closing the present gap than with Portugal or an independent Portuguese Timor.
Under the seabed dividing these two countries is a treasure trove of more than US$100 billion in known oil and gas resources in a region that is still largely unexplored. In early 2005 the crew of a former Soviet navy minesweeper gained a rare insight into life on the Timor Sea and along the coastline of East Timor. Commissioned to undertake the first complete seismic survey of the seabed off the southern coast, the RV Zephyr-1 sailed in straight lines parallel and perpendicular to the coastline over a total distance of 6600 kilometres, forming a grid pattern along a narrow strip stretching about 100 kilometres from the coast.
President Soeharto advised them of the imminent plans for invasion. Soeharto said Indonesia had no territorial ambitions but it was concerned about ‘security, tranquillity and peace’. Ford wrote later that Soeharto’s efforts to ‘uphold the cause of anticommunism there’ impressed him. In response to the proposed invasion, Ford said ‘we understand and we will not press you on the issue’. 22 Should foreign policy makers at the time have looked at the situation any differently? Was East Timor just like any one of a number of underdeveloped islands in Australia’s orbit whose interests could so easily be dispensed with?