Timor-Leste & Australia Strengthen Defence Ties

Tuesday, 6 March 2018 was a momentous day for Timor-Leste and Australia’s defence cooperation. On this day, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a new Treaty Between the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Establishing their Maritime Boundaries in the Timor Sea.

For the first time, two nations reached an agreement on their shared border under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea conciliation process. This was a milestone for the international community and a new chapter in the longstanding and deep ties between Timor-Leste and Australia. Importantly for defence, it not only established a new border, it created the conditions for our defence organisations to step up cooperation in maritime security.

The economic potential of Timor-Leste’s natural resources in oil and gas, and fisheries makes maritime security a top priority. Australia shares this strategic interest. However, no single country or organisation can tackle the challenges in maritime security on its own. Strong bilateral and regional partnerships are necessary to achieve shared goals.

To that end, Timor-Leste will soon receive two new Guardian Class Patrol Boats as gifts from Australia. These boats will be new, sovereign assets of Timor-Leste, which Timor-Leste can use to monitor the maritime domain and enforce maritime law. Timor-Leste will also access specific opportunities to build naval capability through the Pacific Maritime Security Program. This is a long-running program in which Australia will help maintain the boats over 25 years. In particular, the Pacific Maritime Security Program will invest in Timor-Leste’s capacity to operate and use the boats. Together, this package provides Timor-Leste with the platform, infrastructure support and skills to enhance maritime security capacity.

Through the Defence Cooperation Program, we are now focussed on working together to prepare for the boats. Developing Naval Component infrastructure and skills are top priorities. Already this year, Naval Component personnel trained on Australian naval ships visiting Timor-Leste, participated in international naval exercises with Australian support, completed core naval skills courses in Australia and Timor-Leste, learned English and mathematics, swimming and other key skills. F-FDTL engineers are also working with Australian advisors to build new classrooms and training areas at Port Hera. This important work will continue.

Our defence cooperation is growing in other areas too. This year, the Componente Formação e Traino (CFeT) established the Centru de Treino de Operacoes de Apoio A Paz (CTOAP) and DCP advisors supported the first Peace Operations Training Course. A new suite of training courses within Componente Formasaun Especializada will continue to raise specialist capability in combat engineering, medical, communications and supply. To ensure the F-FDTL has a strong communications capability and modern logistics system, the F-FDTL will soon introduce an updated, digital VHF radio network and new digital logistics and personnel management system. These achievements could not have happened without the strong people-to-people links between Timor-Leste and Australia.

With education at its core, institutional development is also a major element of the Defence Cooperation Program. F-FDTL and Ministry of Defence personnel learn English full time at Metinaro, Baucau and Hera. Part time classes also happen in Dili. A number of F-FDTL and Ministry of Defence members receive scholarships every year to attend university and military courses in Australia. Every day, Defence Cooperation Program advisors provide mentorship communications across the Ministry of Defence and F-FDTL in governance, strategic engagement, planning, infrastructure, engineering, maritime security and.

These activities show that the foundations for cooperation are strong. The potential for growth is even stronger. Australia and Timor-Leste’s defence relationship first started during World War II when the people of Timor-Leste supported Australian commandos at great cost. Australia remembers this sacrifice. Since 1999, when Australia led the multinational INTERFET force, we have made great progress as defence partners, building a modern, capable F-FDTL and Ministry of Defence. Finding meaningful and creative ways to recognise our shared military history is a potentially fruitful area of collaboration as the 20th anniversary of popular consultation approaches in 2019.

Looking further forward, the decisions we make now about our shared defence interests will determine our capacity meet the challenges of the future. Australia is a willing partner in
Timor-Leste’s ambition to join ASEAN and the Commonwealth as multilateral cooperation and closer economic ties with Southeast Asia benefit us both. As Timor-Leste and Australia respond to the opportunities and uncertainties of the future, our defence cooperation will continue to form the bedrock our strategic engagement.

 

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