In October 2004, the same month that Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operatives allegedly installed listening devices in Timor-Leste’s cabinet room, Dr Coral Bell gave a prescient warning. One of Australia’s most renowned scholars of international relations, Bell argued that “giving Australia the lion’s share of the oil revenues that East Timor must depend on for its very survival … may be in the interests of local oil companies, but it is contrary to the national interest”.
Kim McGrath’s important essay shows how this played out. Australia’s excessive maritime claims in the Timor Gap negotiations were both morally flawed and a self-inflicted policy failure. They harmed Australia’s relations with the world’s newest nation-state and embroiled our intelligence agencies in controversy. They also ended up undermining Australia’s critiques of China’s undue claims in the South China Sea.