Slugcatcher gets it half right on Sunrise shenanigans

IT'S not often that anyone gets to be both right and wrong at the same time, but that’s just what happened to Slugcatcher last week in his rant about the idiots running the world’s self-proclaimed poorest country, East Timor.

The theme of the Slug’s idea, that East Timor had totally misread Australia’s relationship with Indonesia and had therefore blown the Sunrise project out the window, was spot on.

The error appears to have occurred when it was suggested that someone might make an urgent phone call from Dili to get project development talks back on the rails.

Despite background chit-chat that such a call was made it seems that no-one at Woodside Petroleum or in Canberra was very receptive.

In fact, what the Slug heard is that someone did ask for Woodside to send a delegation up to Dili – but that Woodside said “No more plane fares, if Timor wants to talk tell them to get down here.”

Disregarding the game of hardball now being played with Mari Alkatiri and his advisers there is more than one valuable lesson emerging from the Sunrise project.

First, how on earth did Woodside manage to rack up a $200 million bill on the project without being absolutely certain that the fundamentals, such as security of title and government agreements were in place?

Second, how could the advisers in Dili so badly misunderstand Woodside’s position, and that of the Australian Government which is desperately keen to keep the world’s biggest Islamic nation as a friend – because it’s got plenty of small Catholic ones?

And third, can it be true that the same people in Dili who got Sunrise so wrong actually believe that anyone will want to do business with them now?

This final thought will be the Slug’s last word on East Timor for some time (or until the next crisis) – and it goes like this:

According to reliable media reports government officials from Dili are planning a “global roadshow” to – wait for it, wait for it ... “attract energy companies” to its waters.

No, dear reader, that is not a sick joke. This is government which tried, quite disgracefully, to screw rotten a syndicate led by Woodside over the Sunrise project. It’s position was untenable under international law, its demands verging on the ridiculous – if not geographically impossible.

And now, with that fresh in the minds of every oil company executive in the world, that government says come over here and we’ll do to you precisely what we did to Woodside.

Oil company executives may be slow sometimes, but they have seen too many dodgy little countries promise the world if you come and explore – only to be knee-capped if a discovery is made.

In other words, take all the risks, spend the capital (oh, say $200 million, like Woodside) and then we, the government, will create a situation whereby you give up the lion’s share of your discovery.

As PT Barnum so famously said, “there’s a sucker born every minute” – and that appears to be a business policy alive and well in Dili.