His Excellency Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao believes that better access to oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea will help the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste accomplish full sovereignty.

In his presentation of the 2015 S T Lee lecture on the 16th March, Gusmao spoke of nation building, international unity and Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste.

Gusmao raised concerns about Australia’s usage of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea, which is allegedly at odds with current international law principles. The Timor Sea Treaty between the Government of East Timor and the Government of Australia, signed in 2002, provides for the sharing of petroleum found in the Joint Petroleum Development Area.

Timor Leste does not have permanent maritime boarders, damaging its sovereignty and resulting in a reliance on the treaty’s median line to divide the oil and gas resources with Australia. Debate remains about access to an overlapping area, as well as the fairness of the current position of the median line.

Gusmao said that “negotiations are ongoing and … [will help in] achieving full sovereignty for our nation.”

Gusmao shed tears as he retold the story of an Australian soldier, who, whilst serving in Timor-Leste, had invested financially in the education of a young Timorese girl and continued this support after his return to Australia.

“This is humanity… this is what we need,” Gusmao said.

Timor-Leste was invaded by Indonesia only nine days after declaring independence from Portugal in 1975. Following two decades of dissatisfaction and conflict, a majority of Timor-Leste voted for independence in 1999. A pro-Indonesian militia uprising, including a campaign of murder, looting and arson, began in response. The International Force for East Timor (Interfet), including many Australian soldiers, was deployed to bring the violence to an end and independence was restored to Timor-Leste in 2002. Gusmao was the country’s first democratically elected President.

Gusmao said that it was the Indonesian regime that had been damaging, not the people themselves, and cited this as a key fact behind his nation’s process of forgiveness.

“It was our history. We don’t forget and it will remind us not to cause the same suffering to our people,” Gusmao said.

Gusmao has been involved in deliberations with other nations facing issues similar to those recently overcome by Timor-Leste. Gusmao suggested that the way forward is to develop a global partnership, and sustainable global goals, through cooperation and communication, which may be based upon mutual respect and human dignity.

“These people need all of us,” Gusmao said. “That should be the best link between people.”

After voluntarily stepping down as Prime Minister in February this year, Gusmao has begun work in his new role as Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment in Timor-Leste.

This was the ninth annual S T Lee Lecture on Asia and the Pacific and was hosted by the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific and the ACT Branch of the Australian Institute for International Affairs.