AP – East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta arrived in Australia yesterday for a state visit as negotiations over lucrative gas resources reach a critical stage for his nation.
The East Timorese are gaining confidence that they can break a 20-year deadlock with the new Australian government over the development of Greater Sunrise, an estimated USD50 billion in gas that lies beneath the seabed that separates the two countries.
Australia wants the gas to be piped to an existing liquefied natural gas export hub at its northern city of Darwin. East Timor expects more economic benefit for the half-island nation of 1.5 million people if Greater Sunrise energy is piped to the East Timorese south coast.
Australia and East Timor currently share revenue from the Bayu-Undan gas field in the Timor Sea that has been piped to Darwin since 2006. But that field is expected to run dry this year.
Without further oil and gas revenue, East Timor’s USD19 billion sovereign wealth fund could be spent within a decade, according to La’o Hamutuk, an East Timorese research institute.
Ramos-Horta, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 with East Timorese Bishop Carlos Belo for their efforts to end conflict in their homeland, has suggested approaching new potential partners including China to finance an East Timor LNG plant.
Ramos-Horta also suggested the Japanese, South Koreans and Indonesians as potential partners.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described Ramos-Horta’s visit that ends on Sunday as an opportunity to deepen the two countries’ relationship, as well as to explore avenues for strengthened cooperation both bilaterally and in the region.
“Australia is committed to supporting Timor-Leste’s economic development,” Albanese said in a statement, using East Timor’s Portuguese name.
An East Timor expert at Melbourne’s Swinburn University Michael Leach described East Timorese talk of international partners as an effort to leverage Australia to agree to an East Timorese gas hub.
“The big blocking point is whether it goes to Darwin or the south coast of Timor,” Leach said yesterday.
“What’s going to happen is anyone’s guess,” Leach added.