East Timor flags conditions for refugee centre
East Timor says it will go ahead with a planned four billion dollar oil and gas hub on its southern coast whether Woodside Petroleum commits to onshore gas processing or not.
The multi-national oil and gas firm has said it will go ahead with a floating plant for the processing of gas from the Sunrise Field - but East Timor wants a pipeline and plant to be built in East Timor. Talks have been suspended. And now East Timor's economic development minister says other companies are ready to step in if Woodside refuses. He also says running a pipeline to East Timor would have to be a condition that Australia agrees to if it wants East Timor to host a planned regional processing centre for asylum seekers.
Presenter: Karon Snowdon, finance correspondent
Speaker: Jao Mendez Goncalves, East Timorese minister for economic development
SNOWDON: East Timor has been mentioned during Australia's national election campaign but as a possible site for a processing centre for refugees seeking asylum in Australia.
The minister, Jao Mendez Goncalves, might have only been half serious when he suggested his country's dispute with Woodside become an election issue, but he is disappointed the Australian government seems to be siding in his view with Woodside in the dispute over the Sunrise Field.
Woodside says it's too expensive and not technically feasible to pipe gas for processing from the Timor Sea to East Timor.
East Timor disputes both points and adds that onshore processing is essential for jobs and development.
GONCALVES: Well, the Australian government has always stated it would not get involved in this, that it's merely a commercial issue. But in the negotiations that our people have had with the Australian government there is a clear indication that the Australian government is somehow protecting Woodside's interests, that's the way we see [it].
SNOWDON: Are you disappointed with that?
GONCALVES: Yes, I think our prime minister and our government, we are all disappointed by that because I believe that it would be in Australia's interest for this pipeline to also go to Timor-Leste. If the pipeline goes to Timor-Leste, there will be Australian companies working there, there will be skilled people from Australia coming to work there. And whether the pipeline comes or not, we're still going ahead with our development of the oil and gas industries there. If we're not having the cooperation of the Australian government, then of course, we need to look somewhere else and we may probably go to other countries that can also provide us with expertise.
SNOWDON: China would be expressing some interest there.
GONCALVES: China, Malaysia, South Korea, even Brazil, but, as I said, as a neighbour country we would like to work with Australia, we would like to have this close cooperation with the Australian government and I hope the Australian people will continue to support our bid to have the pipeline come to Timor-Leste, and I think that - getting close to the elections, probably - the Australian people will take that as an issue to their members and maybe persuade them to support the Timor-Leste position.
SNOWDON: Jao Mendez Goncalves is in Australia to discuss with potential investors opportunities in East Timor.
Yet it's a tough job the minister has. According to a World Bank report his country ranked 170 out of 181 nations for the ease of doing business in 2009, with inadequate company law and banking services.
Despite its oil wealth, 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, unemployment is high and education and labour skills are lacking.
But East Timor has experienced double digit economic growth for several years and expects that to continue for several more.
And it's open to negotiations about a refugee centre after the Australian election on August 21.
GONCALVES: We can get benefits out of it. My suggestion - as I said, this is not the government view, this is my personal view - we've got the island of Atauro that needs to be developed, so we can say, if the processing centre goes there, let's develop the island, put roads and water for the local people, basic infrastructure, a port, airfield, they are things that can be attached to any conditions if we are going to accept anything like that. And the other condition that you should put of course is that the pipeline should go to Timor-Leste, for sure! I can say that. But certainly we are open for negotiations and let's see what happens after that.