The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

Speaking notes for address by to the Opening of the Arafura-Timor Research Facility

June 30 2005

Collaboration and Cooperation in the Arafura-Timor Sea Region


Thank you Bruce McKay [M.C].

Chief Minister (the Hon. Clare Martin MP), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to be here in Darwin today to officially open the Arafura Timor Research Facility - a joint venture between the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Australian National University.

I would like to acknowledge some of those who have helped make this event possible.

  • Firstly, I would like to thank the members of the Arafura Timor Research Facility Board whose expertise and dedication have helped make this centre a reality.
  • I also wish to note the support provided to this Facility by the Northern Land Council and the North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance.

Thank you also to the musicians from the Centre for Youth Music for their delightful performance.

The Arafura Timor Research Facility promises to make a sizeable contribution to the region, fostering world class scientific research into the marine and coastal ecosystems of the Arafura Timor region.

  • By bringing together the best minds and expertise from the region, it will act as a "hub" for research into our shared marine environment.

The facility has been made possible by a $3.25 million grant from the Australian Government under the Major National Research Facility Programme.

  • A Programme - administered by my colleague, the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson - which is designed to support major research facilities in Australia attracting international collaboration.

Australia places great value on developing relations and collaborating with our close northern neighbours.

The Arafura-Timor Research Facility will provide yet another important link between those nations that share the Arafura and Timor Seas - Australia, Indonesia and East Timor.

  • The precious marine environment of the Arafura and Timor Seas represents one of our most valuable shared resources.

The facility will help build our common knowledge of this shared resource - and, most importantly, of how we can manage it in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner.

  • Adding further to our already strong bonds with these nations.

One issue, however, that directly challenges the sustainable management of these resources is illegal foreign fishing.

  • As you would all be aware, the scale and frequency of illegal fishing by foreign nationals in our northern waters has increased significantly in the last five years.
    • Foreign Fishing Vessels are regularly apprehended deep within our Exclusive Economic Zone and frequently land along the coast of northern Australia.

The growth of illegal foreign fishing poses significant economic, environmental and security risks to all who share these waters.

  • It seriously threatens important fishing stocks in the region, including shark, trepang, trochus and several fin-fish.

Alarmingly, apprehended vessels have been found with protected species, such as dugongs and dolphins, on board.

  • The unsustainable practices of illegal fishers represent the most significant and direct threat to the biological diversity of our northern waters.

Furthermore, the problem is not caused by traditional fishers.

  • But by sophisticated, commercial syndicates feeding the regional market for shark fin and other high value catches.

The Australian Government has re-doubled its efforts to apprehend and deter those who would seek to illegally strip our waters of its precious marine bio-diversity.

  • For example, Operation Clear Water, a joint anti-illegal fishing exercise held in mid-April, apprehended 29 Indonesian Fishing Vessels in Australian waters.
  • We will continue our enforcement efforts in this regard.

However, the only long-term solution to the challenge of illegal fishing comes through cooperation with our neighbours.

  • So we are committed to working closely with our neighbours, especially Indonesia, to resolve this common challenge.

I am pleased to note that Australian and Indonesian officials are already discussing joint action to stem the flow of illegal fishers.

  • I look forward to further cooperative measures with Indonesia and others to confront this major problem.

Research fostered by centres such as this can play a vital role in informing the development of sustainable resource management solutions.

Before concluding, I would also like to touch upon another important area of cooperation in the Arafura-Timor region - the joint development of the non-renewable resources of the Timor Sea.

  • Negotiations held on 11-13 May have put us on the threshold of an agreement with East Timor, based upon its proposal for a creative solution to outstanding maritime boundary and resource-sharing issues.

All major elements have now been agreed and, I am relieved to say, there should not be a need for a further round of negotiations.

  • Officials on both sides are currently working to fine-tune details of the agreement before it is referred for consideration by Ministers in both Australia and East Timor.
  • I would like to take this opportunity to stress, however, that the value of this agreement - to both Australia and East Timor - will exceed whatever revenue it may produce.
  • As well as providing a basis for the distribution of petroleum revenues, this agreement should provide a holistic framework for the management of our shared resources
    • including joint regulation of maritime security, especially offshore oil and gas facilities and other natural resources, including fisheries.

Let me conclude then by reiterating the importance the Australian Government places on cooperation and collaboration with our northern neighbours.

  • I am confident that in years to come the Arafura Timor Research Facility will play an important role in helping to inform the sustainable management of our precious and shared marine environment.
  • And to building further bonds between the people of Australia, Indonesia and East Timor.

Thank you.