Sunday, May 30, 2010

Timor Ready to Block Joint Gas Project

EAST Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has signalled his country is prepared to forgo billions of dollars from the Greater Sunrise gas fields in the Timor Sea.

Stepping up pressure on Australian company Woodside over its plans to develop a floating liquefied natural gas platform above the fields, Gusmao said "many developing countries fall victim to the corporate resource giants exploiting and plundering their sovereign resources''.

"Timor-Leste (East Timor) will be the country that goes down in history as the nation to put a stop to it," Gusmao told The Age. He also criticised Woodside for appointing former Australian diplomat Brendan Augustin as its in-country manager in East Timor. Gusmao has repeatedly referred in the past week to Woodside's failed $1 billion operation in the impoverished north-west African country of Mauritania - which was fronted by Augustin while on unpaid leave from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That operation collapsed amid alleged corruption, shady deals and a coup. Augustin is not accused of any wrongdoing. But his appointment raised questions about the relationship between the department and Woodside. A Woodside spokesman said the company was "deeply disappointed at the personal attack''.

Augustin and another Woodside executive staged a walk-out in Dili at the National Petroleum Authority, the independent industry regulator, on May 18. The authority had refused to accept Woodside's draft plan for a floating platform, insisting it must also submit plans for pipelines to both Darwin and East Timor. Woodside claims its draft development plan has been lodged; the authority insists it has not.

Timorese leaders will today intensify their campaign for the gas to be piped to a processing plant in East Timor as they release a statement accusing Woodside and its partners of pressing for a floating plant so that it can develop new technology. The floating platform would be one of the world's first. Gusmao, a former guerilla fighter, said his country would not pay for unproven technology proposed by Woodside to benefit overseas companies and shareholders. "Here in Timor-Leste we struggled long and hard for our independence, here our soil carries the blood of those who fought for our freedom, so we respect our laws, our sovereignty and our democratic institutions."

Gusmao said that unless there was an advantage that lifted the Timorese from poverty, "then we will wait until many generations have learnt the lesson that humanity comes before commercial realities. "We will be the nation that others follow … oil giants will be forced to change their indecent behaviour." A Woodside spokesman said yesterday: "As the Greater Sunrise fields lie 80 per cent in Australian waters and 20 per cent in joint waters, Woodside is committed to working closely with governments of both countries to develop these fields."
By Lindsay Murdoch The Age Melbourne

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