Timor Leste's language policy and Australian Intervention

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Apr 27 16:32:26 UTC 2007

*Timor Leste:*

 Timor Leste: The Second Australian intervention By Tim Anderson;  published
in *Journal of Australian Political Economy,* No. 58, December 2006

"We did not expect that the elected leader of a party with an overwhelming
mandate could be forced to stand down in this way in a democracy" - Fretilin
press release, 26 June 2006

Two stories are in circulation over the second Australian intervention in
Timor Leste (East Timor). The first has it that the small, newly-independent
country, beset with leadership and ethnic divisions, and led by an arrogant
and even despotic Prime Minister, out of touch with the people, called once
again on Australian assistance to avoid collapse into a 'failed state'. The
second maintains that the losing leadership faction, in a struggle for
control of the senior ranks of the army, initiated a coup, then drew on the
support an Australian oligarchy that had distanced itself from Timor Leste's
ruling party and the then Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri.

How these competing stories are understood has important implications for
the future Australian relationship with Timor Leste, and for the
possibilities of independent development in the new nation. In the reading
of these stories there are important lessons for Australians over their
capacity to act as internationalists, developing friendly and supportive
neighbouring relations, or as neo-colonialists, attempting to dominate the
development of a client state.

Naturally, the historical context of the relationship, the post-
independence policy direction and the main elements of the 2006 crisis need
to be understood, before attempting to look at the future challenges. So
this article will begin by examining the postcolonial tensions in the
relationship between Australia and Timor Leste, and some of the country's
post independence achievements, before analysing the main elements of the
2006 crisis and the arguments over the intervention. Finally the development
of a broader 'Australian elite consensus' (before and after the crisis) over
the future of Timor Leste will be discussed, pointing to some of the
challenges for both countries.

The postcolonial tensionsIn the face of Australian demands, three areas of
tension developed between the Australian elite and the newly independent
state. First, the Australian demand for privileged access to resources, in
particular oil and gas, confronted an East Timorese determination to reclaim
and assert sovereignty over these resources. Second, the systematic
Australian (and World Bank) obstruction of the building of public economic
institutions (in the name of privatisation and open markets) has been
resented and sidestepped by the Fretilin-led government. Third, the
Australian desire for 'strategic denial' of other significant powers in the
region has been frustrated by Timor Leste's diversification of its foreign
relationships, particularly the restoration of ties with the former colonial
power Portugal and the building of a new relationship with China.

The oil and gas negotiations are the best known source of tension between
the Alkatiri and the Howard governments. Even before Timor Leste's
independence day, on 20 May 2002, Canberra had moved to head off a possible
legal challenge to its oil and gas claims. The Howard Government proclaimed
itself "generous" (SBS Insight 2002) for offering to convert the 50-50
royalty share deal it had done with Indonesia - in relation to a designated
Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) - to an 80-20 share in favour of
Timor Leste. Nevertheless, East Timorese negotiators managed to shift this
to a 90-10 deal, which was set to be signed off at independence day. Yet
several weeks before independence, the Howard government unilaterally
withdrew from International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction over
maritime boundary disputes, under the United Nations Convention on the Law
of the Sea (UNCLOS). UN-appointed negotiator Peter Galbraith, who worked for
Timor Leste in the transition period, said he was "shocked" by the
Australian withdrawal, because "Australia has been one of those countries
that has stood up for international law" (SBS Insight 2002).

The significance of Australian withdrawal was not in the 90-10 deal, but in
the question of maritime boundaries, and the second round of negotiations
over the Greater Sunrise gas field, only 20% of which lay inside the JPDA.
Timor Leste claimed that, under UNCLOS, it owned all of Greater Sunrise. The
Australian government said that there was no more talking to be done, and
that it would not open maritime boundary talks as this would raise similar
boundary problems with Indonesia. Total revenues from the Greater Sunrise
field were estimated, over the life of the project, to be $38 billion, of
which Australia was claiming $30 billion (McKee 2002). This amount dwarfed
all the aid money Australia had put into Timor Leste (Anderson 2003: 123),
and even a modest change in share could mean billions of dollars for basic
infrastructure in the poor and underdeveloped country.

>>From this seemingly intractable starting position began a long series of
difficult talks. In the course of these, Prime Minister Alkatiri was
reported to have been lectured by Australian Foreign Affairs Minister
Alexander Downer, "You can demand that forever for all I care … Let me give
you a tutorial in politics not a chance" (Economist 2003). Alkatiri
persisted, at some cost to the balance he had tried to develop between
appeasing the big powers and maintaining a degree of economic independence.
The East Timorese intransigence over Greater Sunrise was rebuffed by the
Australian Government and also by 'realist' academics such as Alan Dupont (a
former diplomat), who muttered vague threats over the consequences of such
'aggressive' bargaining:"There's a line beyond which no government can go
and I think the East Timorese are in danger of actually now crossing over
that line, if they pursue too aggressively the claim to renegotiate the
maritime border and get a greater share of the resource cake. … the East
Timorese have to be careful they don't alienate the Australian government,
and even Australian popular opinion" (SBS Insight 2002).

Aware of such threats, Timor Leste's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta had
been more cautious than Alkatiri over oil and gas. In 2001, when asked
whether he wanted to renegotiate maritime boundaries with Australia, Ramos
Horta replied, "I hesitate to say yes or no .. It's not an issue that East
Timor can negotiate … unilaterally" (Far Eastern Economic Review 2001). In
2002, while admitting he had not discussed the matter fully with his Prime
Minister or his Cabinet, Ramos Horta suggested a possible "gas-for-security"
deal with Australia (Dodd 2002). This came to nothing. In 2003 Ramos Horta
was said to have "reassured investors that Timor is happy with the treaty on
sharing the Timor Sea's oil wealth with Australia, despite claims by a
cabinet colleague [Jose Teixeira] last month that it was unfair" (Australian
Financial Review 2003). Ramos Horta said Australia's attitude in the oil
dispute was "very natural" (Banham 2003).

Yet many East Timorese felt they were being robbed. For example, from 2000
onwards, Australia extracted several hundred million dollars in revenues
from the Laminaria-Corallina field which, like Greater Sunrise, lay just
outside the JPDA. However this field was expected to deliver such revenue
for only a few years. The table below shows an estimate of Australian
revenues, none of which were shared with Timor Leste. The field is much
closer to Timor Leste than Australia and, according to UNCLOS maritime
boundary principles, a maritime boundary should be at the mid-point between
the two countries. Timor Leste should have taken all the revenue, but it
took none.

Table 1: Estimated tax paid to Australia on Laminaria-Coralina 1999 2000
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005US$ million 16 346 277 214 172 133 136Source:
calculations by La'o Hamutuk 2006

Despite Ramos Horta's soothing diplomacy, Alkatiri had not relented on
Greater Sunrise, and in 2004 matters came to a head, with President Xanana
Gusmão joining Alkatiri (despite their political rivalry) in a series of
public pleas over the oil and gas dispute. In April, Alkatiri said the oil
and gas issue was "a matter of life and death" for his country (ABC Radio
2004). In the Portuguese newspaper Publico, Xanana accused the Australian
government of the theft of Timor Leste's assets:"It's a disgrace …
[Australia is] using all the dirty tactics it can … They steal from us and
then they hold conferences about transparency, anti-corruption … We're
creating a wave of noisy protest so that the world can see what's going on."
(ETAN 2004).

This was a shift in diplomatic tactics. Ramos Horta and the opposition
parties joined in. In Australia, a public campaign helped push opposition
leader Mark Latham into declaring the renegotiation of the oil deal Labor
policy, and thus an election issue for 2004 (Burton 2004). Pressure was
being turned up on the Howard government. But in June Alkatiri declared the
discussions with Australia "hopeless" (Alkatiri 2004), and proceeded to call
for new tenders on oil and gas exploration rights, and for building refinery
capacity. Apart from the royalty share, refining of gas had become a
sensitive issue. Australia had pushed hard to send all the Greater Sunrise
gas to a Darwin-based liquid natural gas (LNG) refinery which, apart from
company profits, would create 1,500 jobs in the construction phase and 100
jobs when in operation (SBS Insight 2002). This pulled the Labor government
of the Northern Territory into the Howard government's strategy. Competition
from Timor Leste was unwelcome.

Ramos Horta's son, Loro, later observed that Alkatiri's dealings with
PetroChina would attract the "ire" of both the US and Australia (Horta
2006). In fact, by September 2005, PetroChina and a Norwegian partner (GGS -
Geo Global Services) had been awarded the first of the new contracts and, by
late 2005, PetroChina had begun talks to build refinery capacity in Timor
Leste (Petroleum Economist 2006). Alkatiri sought assurances from Australia
that it would not block the construction of a gas pipeline to Timor for gas
from Greater Sunrise. While Alkatiri said he had no "immediate" plans to set
up a national (public) oil company (Dow Jones 2005), in August-September of
2005 his government began to auction a number of exploration rights
'blocks', both inside and outside the shared JPDA. Initial interest was
expressed by Australia's Woodside Petroleum, but also by Malaysia's
Petronas, Norway's Statoil, Kuwait's KUFPEC and China's PetroChina
(Wilkinson 2005).

By the beginning of 2006, the pressure appeared to have worked. In January
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced that Australia had agreed to
"share equally" the royalties from the Greater Sunrise field. As part of
this deal, Timor Leste would agree to suspend for 50 years their claims for
fixed maritime boundaries. Downer estimated that the shift in royalty shares
(from 18:82 to 50:50) would mean an additional $4 billion in revenue for
Timor Leste (Petromin 2006a). Earlier estimates suggested that a 50:50 split
could amount to an extra $11 billion (McKee 2002). The 'realists' had been
proved wrong, on revenue outcomes; but perhaps they were to be proved right
over the consequences of 'alienating the Australian government'?


The third new Australian demand, that *English be officially
recognised, *emerged
from several years of Australian frustration with the adoption of both *Tetum
(the national dialect) and Portuguese as joint official languages. *This
reflected a frustration of Australian governmental and aid industry people
at the problems of communications in a small country with several languages
not their own. Small countries are always cursed by language, in that their
educated classes have to learn several languages. On the other hand,
Australians are notoriously lazy at learning other languages. This
discomfort was elevated into a public policy argument. Kingsbury asserted
that "national unity" can only be achieved by the East Timorese "settling on
one language and embarking on a major literacy campaign in that language"
(Kingsbury 2006). This simple, reductionist view ignores the varying
historical processes that shape the national institutions and languages of
many countries. One cannot understand why, for example, India, Canada, South
Africa and Papua New Guinea have adopted their multiple national languages
without reference to their particular histories.

Canberra academic George Quinn, in a scathing attack on Timor Leste's
institutions, called both for the abolition of the army and "the *scaling
down of the Portuguese language policy" *(Quinn 2006).

There had indeed been an debate within Timor Leste over language, but it was
not so much over English, as over the place of *Indonesian and Tetum. *It
was indeed the case that few East Timorese in 2001 (when the constitution
was created) spoke *Portuguese, *and this seemed to privilege the older
generation. However the younger generation had been educated in *Indonesian,
and most higher education had been in Indonesian colleges and universities
which, after 1999, were no longer accessible. Tetum, a genuine national
language, was only in its beginning stages as a written language. Yet a
significant proportion of Tetum (perhaps as much as a third) comes from
Portuguese, which is of course a world language. *It is therefore somewhat
easier for Tetum speakers to learn than English. Portuguese also maintains
the country's connections with the Lusophone world (Portugal, Brazil and
others). So Portuguese was a rational choice but, more importantly, it was a
*choice made by East Timorese people, through their constituent assembly. *This
is a fundamental matter of self-determination.

At a practical level, there is hardly hostility to the teaching of English
in Timor Leste, as many people wish to learn this important world language.
But that is a different issue to insisting that Timor Leste's Constitution
be changed, for Australian convenience. Those who feel this way might best
look at the very low level of tertiary scholarships offered by Australia to
East Timorese students: twenty per year in the transitional period, and only
eight per year in 2006 (AusAID 2006). This compares unfavourably with the
six hundred medical scholarships offered by Cuba, over three years. In
addition, Cuba provides one year's language training, so students can master
their language of instruction (Spanish). Australia offers no such
scholarship extension for English training, rather it requires that all
tertiary students "have an English language proficiency of at least 5.5 in
IELTS" (AusAID 2006) before they can enter the country.

*Concluding comments*

Australia's second intervention in Timor Leste came after a period of
aggravation in which the independent nation faced down Australian elite
demands for privileged access to the country's natural resources, Australian
and World Bank obstruction of public economic institutions (including
support for domestic agriculture) and Australian irritation at
diversification of the country's strategic partners. Most of the hostility
was aimed at Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, the chief development strategist.
Some modest but important achievements were made in the first few years
after independence, notably the construction of national institutions,
reclaiming natural resources from a greedy neighbour, prudent management of
finances, the consolidation of domestic agriculture and staple food
production, and development of human capital through expansion in education
and in the health system.

However internal rivalry expressed through a struggle over the leadership of
the army, and revolving around a President alienated from the dominant
party, sparked a coup attempt in May 2006. When the military coup failed, a
partisan Australian intervention, including a powerful and partisan media,
forced the resignation of Alkatiri. Evidence does not support the notion of
a benign or independent Australian assistance role. The interim government
appears more 'Australian friendly', but relations between the Howard
Government and Fretilin have been seriously damaged. At the same time there
are a new raft of Australian demands, an 'Australian consensus' that Timor
Leste's main party be 'reformed', that its national army be sidelined or
abolished and that the country adopt English as a national language. These
new demands (seen as necessary for a more energetic and sustained Australian
intervention) are elaborations of an Australian 'elite consensus', the
cultural product of a primary elite (media, mining, finance, government)
with direct interests in resource and strategic control, and a secondary
elite (aid managers, academics, journalists) which has associated itself
with the paternalistic project. However the demands represent a dangerous
escalation of neo-colonial pressures, compromising to East Timorese
independence and corrosive of normal domestic politics. Such pressures will
encourage disaffected groups to align themselves with the neo-colonial
power, to avoid engagement in 'normal' politics. These groups may well be
encouraged to play 'the Australian card', as pro-Indonesian militia groups
did under a previous occupation.

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Inquiry for Timor-Leste', 2 October, http://

www.ohchr.org/english/docs/ColReport-English.pdfUNMISET (2006a) 'East Timor
Company to sell oil in Macau', Macau Hub, from Daily Media Review, United
Nations Mission in East Timor, 22 March,
http://www.unmiset.org/UNMISETWebSite.nsf/v0002?OpenViewUNMISET (2006b)
'President Xanana Gusmão: "Major Alfredo left to clam down the situation"',
National Media Reports, United Nations Mission in East Timor, 13-15 May,
online: http://www.unmiset.org/

OpenDocumentWilkinson, Rick (2005) 'Timor Leste launches first offshore bid
round', Oil and Gas Journal, 18 August, from Republica Democratica de Timor
Leste, Oil, Gas and Energy Directorate, Ministry of Natural Resources, press
articles, http://www.timor-leste.gov.tl/emrd/

pressarticle.htmWorld Bank 2000, Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed
Trust Fund for East Timor Grant in the Amount of US$6.8 Million Equivalent
and a Second Grant of US$11.4 Million to East Timor for an Agriculture
Rehabilitation Project, Rural Development and Natural Resources Sector Unit,
Papua New Guinea/Pacific Islands Country Unit, East Asia and Pacific Region,
Report No: 20439-TP, June 14.

# <http://blogodilo.blogspot.com/2007/03/timor-leste-second-australian.html>posted
by Lian Maubere : Monday, March 05, 2007
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