The Prime Minister of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, has vowed to make a historic stand against corporate giants that plunder the resources of tiny nations, signalling his country is prepared to forgo billions of dollars from the Greater Sunrise gas fields in the Timor Sea.
Stepping up pressure on Australian-based Woodside over its plans to develop a floating liquefied natural gas platform above the fields, Mr Gusmao said: “Many developing countries fall victim to the corporate resource giants exploiting and plundering the sovereign resources of impoverished nations.
“Timor-Leste [East Timor] will be the country that goes down in history as the nation to put a stop to it,” Mr Gusmao told the Herald at the weekend.
Mr Gusmao also criticised Woodside for appointing the former Australian diplomat Brendan Augustin as its manager in East Timor. “We viewed his appointment as another example of the continued disregard and disrespect Woodside has demonstrated towards our country and our people.”
During speeches in East Timor over the past week, Mr Gusmao has repeatedly referred to Woodside’s failed $1 billion operation in the impoverished north-west African country of Mauritania, which collapsed amid alleged corruption, shady money deals, police interrogations and a coup.
Mr Augustin, who was placed at the forefront of the Mauritania operation while on unpaid leave from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has not been 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 on one of its employees”.
Mr Augustin and another Woodside executive walked out of the office of the National Petroleum Authority, the regulator of East Timor’s petroleum industry, in Dili on May 18.
The authority had refused to accept Woodside’s draft plan for a floating platform, insisting the company also submit detailed plans for pipelines to both Darwin and East Timor.
Woodside says its draft development plan has been formally lodged, while the authority insists it has not.
East Timor’s leaders will today intensify their campaign for the gas to be piped to a processing plant in East Timor by releasing a statement that accuses Woodside and its joint venture partners of wanting to push ahead with a floating plant so it can develop new technology.
Mr Gusmao said his country would not pay for unproven technology at the expense of the Timorese. “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,” he said.
Woodside’s chief executive, Don Voelte, has insisted East Timor cannot walk away from the agreement.