Oceans, oysters and oil: A survey of Australia's maritime agenda in the Timor Sea to 1970

Kim McGrath

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


This paper traces the origins of the current maritime border dispute in the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor-Leste to attempts by Australian colonial jurisdictions to exclude Japanese pearling fleets from the oceans off the north coast of Australia in the late 19th century. Primarily based on an analysis of records from the National Archives of Australia (NAA), the paper examines the connection between Australia's legal and diplomatic efforts to secure exclusive rights over oyster beds, and Australia's exclusive jurisdiction claim over its 'continental shelf in 1953. It explores the shift in focus of Australia's diplomacy from oysters to oil in the late 1950s as demand for petroleum escalated and technological advances allowed offshore petroleum exploration. In Australia's case, this segue into what energy analyst Andreas Goldthau (2010) calls 'energy diplomacy',1 the use of foreign policy to achieve energy objectives, involved domestic and international initiatives to achieve Australian sovereignty over energy rich areas of the Timor Sea north of the median line between Australia and Indonesia and Portuguese Timor. The paper concludes that while the passage in 1967 of mirror federal and state legislation, designed to provide security of tenure for holders of exploration permits issued by Australia north of the median line in the Tim or Sea, resolved domestic constitutional issues 2, Australia's energy diplomacy was unable to resolve doubts about the validity of exploration permits in the Timor Sea under international law.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTimor-Leste:
Subtitle of host publicationThe local, the regional and the global
EditorsSarah Smith, Antero B. da Silva, Nun Canas Mendes, Alarico da Costa Ximenes, Clinton Fernandes, Michael Leach
Place of PublicationTimor-Leste
PublisherTimor-Leste Studies Association
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9780987593085
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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