Australia & East Timor

A Tale of Oil and Exploitation

by Vinita Ramani & Kathy Xu

East Timor is a young, impoverished nation with natural resources in its backyard. But Australia has benefited for decades from drilling for oil and gas in the Timor Sea instead. In 2018, the two countries signed an historic maritime boundary treaty, finally determining that the Greater Sunrise fields belong to East Timor. Will Australia repay what it owes, and is China going to play a role in developing the country’s oil and gas sector?

What is the Greater Sunrise fields?
The Treaty to end all Treaties?

Map of Timor Sea, East Timor and Australia with maritime boundaries and the oil and gas reserves. Source: IMF/WB/DFAT/ (AFP).

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and East Timor’s Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak exchange the ratified maritime boundary treaties. Credits: Premierminister Osttimors, Public domain. 

How was East Timor exploited?

Timorese people re-enact the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre that took place in Dili, as an act of protest. Credits: Mark Rhomberg/ETAN, CC BY 4.0.

What happened after East Timor gained independence?

People in Brisbane protesting Australia's claim on East Timorese oil. Part of the May Day parade - 1 May 2017. Credits: Andrew Mercer, CC BY 4.0. 

Can East Timor develop its own oil and gas industry?

Xanana Gusmao, a key figure in East Timor’s struggle for independence, also served as the country’s president (2002-2007) and prime minister (2007-2015). Credits: Isabel Nolasco, CC BY 4.0.

Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at
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