Australian aid all over the place, says East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta

Ramos Horta

Jose Ramos-Horta and Kevin Rudd field questions at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Ray Strange Source: The Australian

EAST Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta has declared that Australian foreign aid has been "all over the place'' and did not transform the lives of the people.

In a joint press conference with Kevin Rudd today, Dr Ramos-Horta said there was a "general sense'' over the past 10 years that foreign aid had no impact on changing the lives of the people.

"That's why Australia itself and other donors have reviewed their strategy and this next five years Australian aid will be far more focused in four or five critical areas,'' he said.

"In the past Australian aid money was all over the place, in 20, 30 different areas of support. So I don't want to sound ungrateful or anything like that.

"But sometimes countries are generous, no doubt about it, but with their own strategies in addressing these views of world poverty.''

The Prime Minister agreed, declaring Dr Ramos-Horta was "right''.

"In the past I think Australia's development program was too scatterbrained,'' he said.

Mr Rudd said the assistance program would be concentrated in five specific areas including health, education, infrastructure, government and micro-finance.

Mr Rudd also said Australia had no preference for the location of the Greater Sunrise gas plant, proposed for offshore East Timor.

The plant's developers, led by Woodside Petroleum, want the plant floating offshore, while Dr Ramos-Horta argues it must be built on East Timor and called on Mr Rudd to intercede on its behalf in the dispute,

Dr Ramos Horta said at the National Press Club in Canberra this morning that he had raised the issue with Mr Rudd.

“I did mention it to (Kevin Rudd) about talking with the consortium about talking with Prime Minister Guasmao to see how he can help in resolving this,’’ Dr Ramos-Horta said.

“Of course we know the Australian government t does not have a direct involvement in influencing business decisions…but whatever influence he can have would be very much welcome by us.’’

East Timor wants Woodside to construct a multi-billion undersea pipeline to pump gas extracted from the Greater Sunrise gas field, which sits within Australian and Timorese waters. The gas would then be liquefied and shipped abroad from East Timor.

Woodside, however, favours a floating platform, which Dr Ramos-Horta said was ‘untested technology’’.

Mr Rudd said the government had no preference.

"Australia does not support any particular location for processing the LNG,'' he said.

"We agreed that this matter should be settled in the processes consistent with our treaty obligations.''

Dr Ramos-Horta said earlier he had the fullest confidence in his government and the Greater Sunrise proponents to keep in mind the national interest.

"We'll find the best possible option that makes sense nationally but also is ethically feasible and safe in view of the complexity and delicate nature of dealing with oil and gas exploration,'' he said.

"As we see in the Gulf of Mexico we have to take all these things into consideration.''

Basing the project in East Timor had to have more benefits other than "patriotic'' ones, Dr Ramos-Horta said.

"I see the benefits, job creation, helping our economy enter into prosperity,'' he said.

"But I want to see also the costs of it in terms of environmental, in fact, as well as the financial, commercial costs of linking the pipeline to Timor Leste.''

Questioned on how consultations were going with the mining industry over the RSPT, Mr Rudd said consultations were working towards a "sensible and balanced outcome''.

"If we reach this balanced and sensible outcome I can fully predict that a number of the major mining companies will still not be happy with it. But that does not preclude us from engaging those companies who wish to be substantively engaged in negotiations.''

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