Australia and the 'Timor Gap'


Martin P.A. Baltyn

Supervised by
Prof. Chris Rizos
Edited by:

Assoc. Prof. J. M. Rüeger

The boundary negotiated between Australia and Indonesia in the Timor Sea area is influenced by a number of historical factors. Unfortunately the boundary between Australia and Indonesia in the East Timor area, known as the "Timor Gap", has been controversial, and a cause for Australian concern for the last 30 years. No negotiations took place with Portugal before it left East Timor in 1975. With Indonesia occupying East Timor, Australia could not resolve it for many years. The Treaty signed in 1989 established a Zone of Cooperation without determining the actual seabed boundary. The Timor Gap Treaty was never intended to be a final agreement on the "continental shelf" boundary. It was a temporary compromise concluded "without prejudice" to the ultimate resolution of the maritime boundary dispute. Now with an independent East Timor, the original Timor Gap Treaty has lapsed and a "New" Timor Gap arrangement was signed in July 2001.


Following the recent events in East Timor, and the subsequent independence of this small country, the "Timor Gap" issue has come under scrutiny again. The objectives of this thesis are to analyse, and provide an explanation for, a controversial maritime boundary agreement that Australia has negotiated with Indonesia, and to clarify the nature of the Timor Gap Treaty through an analysis of the context in which it was created, and its current status. In addition, to highlight the importance of Australia adopting a generous approach to the Timor Gap Treaty so as to ensure that East Timor will have access to, and make good use of, all its offshore resources, and hence to lessen its dependence on foreign aid.

Extent of Work

Researching the available literature (books, magazines, newspapers) and web sites covering the Law of the Sea (LOS), United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea I, II and III (UNCLOS I, II and III), Indonesia - Australia boundary, Australia and East Timor issues.

Information is organised into 3 parts:

Not a lot of information is published (available) covering the current situation: web sites of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, newspapers and magazines only.
I did include a historical background of East Timor and the Law of the Sea (LOS) to help readers to understand better the Timor Gap problems. Then I concentrated on the boundary between Australia and Indonesia, Timor Gap negotiations, the Zone of Cooperation (ZOC), and finally I dealt with the current Timor Gap negotiations between Australia and independent East Timor.
History Time Line
The pdf file on the history time line contains all available information "organised" in chronological order of events, from WW II up to now: and covering Australia, Indonesia, LOS, Portugal and East Timor.
History Time Line
Negotiations over the Timor Gap have a long and complex history. Australia and independent East Timor generally accepted that the issue of East Timor's maritime boundary is much less important than the wealth that could be generated for the new country by the exploitation of the Timor Sea resources. The signing of the "new" Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and East Timor on 5 July 2001 guarantees that the planned oil fields and infrastructure worth billions of dollars will go ahead, and that the East Timorese and Australian economies will benefit over the next thirty to forty years. This is the current situation, but as history shows, it can change with the passage of time, and at some point the maritime boundary issue between Australia and East Timor will have to be resolved in accordance with the rules of the Law of the Sea. A greater share of the Gap resources for East Timor would greatly help the new country to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Time will show how the seabed boundary issue between northern neighbours of Australia will be resolved, because while there is some resource value in the Timor Sea area no State is prepared to "give ground" on its position. However, once the oil is gone, anything is possible.
Location of the Timor Gap and the Zone of Cooperation (ZOC)
Produced by AUSLIG (Australian Surveying and Land Information Group)
Maritime Zones
Produced by AUSLIG (Australian Surveying and Land Information Group)



Further Information

For more information contact:
Prof. C. Rizos (supervisor)
School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems
University of New South Wales
Phone: +61-2-9385-4205
Fax: +61-2-9313-7493