Why is the board of Chevron Corp visiting Australia, all at once?

A cavalcade of five private jets landed at Fiji’s Nadi international airport on Saturday that reportedly carried the upper echelon of the oil giant’s board and management.

The Fiji Sun newspaper reported on Sunday that the jets were ferrying the board of directors of Chevron Corporation to meetings in Australia.


The paper said the Chevron jets were in Fiji five years ago, so the visit is not a first.

A spokesman for Chevron Australia confirmed that members of the board were visiting Western Australia for a few days.

However, the company did not respond to questions on the purpose of the visit and whether any major decisions were pending.

The interest of the board is understandable, given an interrupted mid-year start to production at its $US54 billion Gorgon LNG plant on Barrow Island which has endured big cost blowouts in the construction phase.

There have also been delays at Chevron’s $US29 billion Wheatstone project in WA

So there’s a lot for the Chevron chairman and chief executive, John S. Watson, to mull over  with the rest of the board (https://www.chevron.com/about/leadership).


Australian objections in Timor Sea case thrown out

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has thrown out the Turnbull government’s argument it did not have jurisdiction to hear a dispute about disputed maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia.

In a decision published on Monday the five-member Commission said it was competent with respect to the compulsory conciliation over the maritime boundary.

“There are no issues of admissibility or comity that preclude the Commission from continuing these proceedings,” the decision.

Under the ruling, the 12-month period for the compulsory conciliation will run from the date of the arbitration which was dated September 19.

The conciliation will not be binding on the parties, but the Turnbull government will come under increased international scrutiny during the process, which is conducted under the UN

Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Timor-Leste government welcomed the decision, which followed a three-day hearing held in The Hague.

Timor’s Minister of State Agio Pereira – who is also their agent in the proceedings – said: “This process is an opportunity to set a good example in our region and we will engage with respect for the commission and its recommendations, ever conscious of the importance of maintaining the best possible relationship with our close neighbour Australia.”

Chief Negotiator and former Prime Minster, Xanana Gusmão thanked the Commissioners for their expertise and noted “Just as we fought so hard and suffered so much for our independence, Timor-Leste will not rest until we have our sovereign rights over both land and sea.”

Before the decision, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Attorney-General George Brandis said that Australia would abide by the Commission’s finding on jurisdiction but noted the final report was not binding.

Link to further information on the proceedings:


Link to today’s decision:





Aus govt defends status quo in Timor Sea


The Turnbull government has confirmed that it will challenge the jurisdiction of the UN-sponsored conciliation commission on the disputed maritime boundary with Timor-Leste.

A joint statement was issued in Canberra today by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, and the Attorney-General George Brandis.

The announcement comes hours before Australia is due to participate in the first meeting of the Conciliation Commission proceedings brought by Timor-Leste under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in The Hague.

“We will deliver a statement explaining the background of the dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste, as well as our position on matters relating to the legal competence (jurisdiction) of the Commission,” the statement said.

“In line with our pre-existing, legally binding treaties, which are in full accordance with international law, we will argue that the Commission does not have jurisdiction to conduct hearings on maritime boundaries.”

“Australia will abide by the Commission’s finding as to whether it has jurisdiction to hear matters on maritime boundaries.”

“If the Commission ultimately finds that it does have jurisdiction to hear matters on maritime boundaries, then its final report on that matter is not binding.”

The Ministers said the statement to the conciliation commission would reaffirm Australia’s “principled commitment to upholding existing treaty obligations with Timor-Leste.”

“These have benefited both our countries, and enabled Timor-Leste to accumulate a Petroleum Fund worth more than $16 billion, more than eight times its annual GDP.”

However, the Australian stance will not be accepted by Timor, which will give its opening statement to the proceedings later today.

Its main speaker will be former president, Xanana Gusmao.

Here’s link to the Aus govt statement:









Has Australia really changed its stance on a maritime border with Timor-Leste?

Australia has injected last-minute intrigue into the opening of compulsory conciliation proceedings over the unsettled maritime border with Timor-Leste.

The utterances came – more or less out of the blue — ahead of hearings which are due to start in The Hague on Monday evening (AEST).

To recap, Timor has triggered compulsory conciliation under the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in an attempt to settle the maritime boundary between the two countries and claim a bigger share the large oil and gas deposits.

The process is the first such conciliation commission. The result is not binding but the recommendations carry moral force in being made in a report to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Timor can’t take its case to the International Court of Justice under because, in 2002, Australia withdrew from the treaty clause that provides for compulsory dispute resolution shortly before Timor-Leste’s independence.

It argues that international law supports the maritime boundary being on the median line between Timor and Australia.

Australia has argued that the 2006 Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea Treaty (CMATS) put a 50-year hold on negotiating a permanent maritime border.

But Timor has argued that Australia did not negotiate CMATS in good faith because our spooks allegedly bugged the Timorese government offices in 2004.

Until this weekend, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop has argued that Australia negotiated CMATS in good faith and remains committed to it.

Bishop has argued that the Timor Sea treaties, including CMATS, have allowed oil and gas reserves to be developed for the benefit of Timor and Australia and are “entirely consistent with international law.”

timor5That’s the summary. But Australia has been a strong supporter of arguments mounted by the US and others that China should respect the ruling in favour of The Philippines on the South China Sea.

This has raised the question of why – if Australia is such a strong supporter of the international law of the sea – why not submit to arbitration on the maritime boundary with Timor-Leste?

This weekend, The Australian’s Southeast Asia correspondent, Amanda Hodge, quoted Bishop as insisting that Australia’s stance was fully consistent with its position in The Philippines arbitration case.

“In both situations we emphasise the importance of the rule of law and the willingness resolve disputes peacefully,” Bishop said, adding that Australia considered “the decision of the upcoming conciliation binding on both sides.”

A story about the Hague hearing for the ABC Online by Europe correspondent Steve Cannane included the following statement by Bishop: “As with the ruling in the Philippines arbitration case, we consider the decision of the upcoming compulsory conciliation binding on both sides.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Embassy in Dili issued a statement last week about the Hague proceedings.

“In this opening session, both Australia and Timor-Leste will present a statement,” the Embassy said. “Australia’s statement will outline Australia’s view of the Timor Sea dispute and how it might be resolved.”

These comments have brought speculation per whether Timor is close to a “win” on the maritime boundary, but it that true?

I interviewed the Prime Minster of Timor-Leste, Dr Rui Maria de Araújo, in Dili in April.

TimorPMPrime Minister Araújo said Timor-Leste was “very appreciative” of Australia participating in the conciliation, even though the “first point of disagreement” was that Australia had indicated it would be challenging the jurisdiction of the conciliation commission.

He said Australia had already indicated it would argue the 2006 Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea Treaty (CMATS) deferred establishment of a permanent maritime boundary for 50 years.

“The way it is framed is that Australia is claiming that because of the agreement that we had, CMATS, the compulsory conciliation doesn’t have jurisdiction on that,” Araújo said.

“So the commission of conciliators will have to go through the arguments from Australia, and also the arguments for Timor-Leste, and make a decision.”

But has the position of the Turnbull government really changed between April and August?

The Timorese are skeptical, given their experience of the last 40 years or so.

They are wondering why Bishop refers to the outcome of the conciliation commission being binding from Australia’s point of view? Is Australia confident of winning the jurisdictional argument and then running the line that settles things for 50 years?

The opening arguments to the conciliation commission will be broadcast live on the Permanent Court of Arbitration website https://pca-cpa.org/en/news/timor-leste-australia/

Further hearings will be held in private. Stay tuned for the openings – they should be interesting !

Introduction (AEST) at 17:30 – 17:45

Timor-Leste’s Opening  17:45 – 19:15

Break  19:15 – 19:30

Australia’s Opening  19:30 – 21:00












J’accuse Fairfax Management IV (local communities want local stories)

Time is certainly on the wing. I haven’t criticised my old employer, Fairfax Media, for eight months.

But I will have to rectify that now, having been nettled by Fairfax management again forgetting that readers are not mugs and want local stories rather than generic lifestyle pieces that can be re-used across multiple mastheads.

I urge everyone interested rural and regional journalism to sign the petition urging Fairfax not to sack more than 60 regional journalists, photographers and subs from papers like the Bendigo Advertiser, The Courier, Wimmera Mail Times, Stock and Land, The Standard, The Border Mail, The Ararat Advertiser and Stawell Times News.

The petition is available here.

I’ve written previously about Fairfax management being to focused on costs when it comes to the metropolitan mastheads, which have been cut to the bone.

Note: I was one of those Fairfax refugees, taking a voluntary redundancy after almost 19 years at the Fin Review. I want Fairfax to thrive and deliver great journalism

But I find the planned job cuts at the regional papers puzzling. In the US, newspapers/websites outside the big cities have partly bucked the trend of circulation collapse which has forced the closure of many metro titles.

In Australia, titles like the Border Mail, the Warrnambool Standard and The Courier in Ballarat are said to be still making a profit.

But now Fairfax is rolling out the “NewsNow” system which involved getting rid of local sub-editors and having that work done a regional “sub hub.”

It’s been done at the Bendigo Advertiser as well as three NSW titles – The Daily Advertiser in Wagga, the Area News and The Irrigator.

Last year, the Bendigo Advertiser tried to argue last year that the changes would benefit readers:

“We now have more journalists. We have recast our newsroom to focus less on back-office duties and more on the content that you count on. That’s more reporters and photographers in the field to deliver you news and information from across the district.”

But it the remaining regional reporters will also have to also take their own snaps, sub copy and update the website.

Crikey’s media writer, Myriam Robin, last year obtained a job description for journalists under the new model, under which the typical daily output of a reporter was expected to be “six stories a day, two leads, two down pagers and two briefs”.

Her story is available here

Reporters would also expected be able to moderate comments online and post to social media, “as directed by senior staff”, and to “ensure all images gathered during a shift are appropriately archived by the conclusion of the shift”.

To which I say, how are Fairfax managers off for shoes and socks? Would they like staff to give them a free pair?

The changes detailed by Crikey mean further networked copy for the print editions. “Reporters write directly into a space in a newspaper template and format their copy to fit the required dimensions. Layout can be easily replicated across different papers in this way — the ad sales team for the region can sell and place ads in a template of a newspaper, with the local journalists then required to fit their copy to the newspaper layout template given to them. Editors (and potentially news directors) will then look over the almost-finished product, but their role is not to give the copy the careful attention a subeditor would. A finished story is then published immediately and not held over to the print edition.”

The central problem here is that these papers are in communities with a strong sense of identity and particularism. For example, Ballarat and Bendigo have been jostling for prominence since the 1850s – Albury-Wodonga is a unique regional city on both banks of the Murray River.

The readers of these publications want their own stories told.

In 2012, The Border Mail launched a series investigating rural youth suicide and depression, providing families of lost loved ones and the community a voice.

Last year, The Courier launched an investigation into claims that state government spray-hand employees were subjected to toxic chemicals without protection for decades.

Let’s not take their readers for mugs. What happens to these publications when there is less local content, plus lower photographic and sub-editing standards?

There has already been a strong show of support from local MPs and community leaders. Yet so far, Fairfax management seems to be in need of the digital era’s version of an ear-trumpet.

The regional changes seem to be adapting strategies used at Fairfax’s community newspapers in Melbourne.

I used to read The Weekly but it has now ditched local news coverage in favour of networked lifestyle stories and generic pieces that can be run across all mastheads.

As a reader, I find this has left local coverage to News Corp’s Leader group, which I now read for suburban news and sport.

The philosophy at Fairfax’s community newspapers – under their chief Anthony Catalano – seems to be that readers are mostly attracted to the real estate ads.

Furthermore, Fairfax management seems to have concluded that local news and sport “doesn’t sell” and they will only run stories that can be “monetised”. The latter types of stories are often linked to advertised products and services or PR pitches.

To which I say, Fairfax management seems to be gripped by a modified cargo cult – the belief that consumers will continue to buy a product when there is less local content (and knowledge) that is specifically aimed at them.

Another problem is that regional media outlets have provided the vital first break for many journos and snappers who made it to the national and international stage. The loss of this nursery ground will be a wider loss for Australian journalism.

However, my prediction is that Fairfax management will discover that communities do value their local news.

Please sign this petition to support local journalism.

Memo to The Saturday Paper – less pics of pollies on Page One please


As a stubborn type, I still read the weekend newspapers while going through them online during the week.

This led to me discovering a pile of The Saturday Paper which revealed a telling pattern about their page one photographs.

I noticed the pattern after a reader complaint this weekend, but haven’t been able to track down who mentioned it first

Now, I should add that I buy The Saturday Paper and usually find some interesting things to read in it.

But I make this plea to the editor Erik Jensen and publisher Morry Schwartz … can you please give us readers a break from p1 photograph of a (usually male) Australian politician every week?

Fair enough, the paper is producing long reads on politics. But they can be illustrated without a mug shot of the main pollie mentioned in the text.

The visual dullness of the front page is sometimes also found on inside photos run with political stories.

Yet it’s curious because some of The Saturday Paper’s inside photos are very good – in particular those used to illustrate cooking and recipes.


Consider the following roll call of p1 pics which I discovered in my newspaper recycling pile:

March 14 –  Bill Shorten

March 7 – Scott Morrison

Feb 28 – Tony Abbott

Feb 21 – Cory Bernardi (intriguing story by Kate Doak on his business dealings)

Feb 14 – Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop (marginally better)

Feb 7 – Malcolm Turnbull

Jan 31 – Tony Abbott

Jan 24 – Peter Dutton

Dec 20 – Jan 23 – John Howard and Tony Abbott

The Saturday Paper is trying to build its subscription sales, but consider the casual reader who is browsing in a newsagency.

Does a weekly p1 pic of a pollie in a suit encourage purchase or does it cause hesitation or resistance?

TPP deal is nigh but flying under the radar


The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement could be signed within weeks, according to Australian Trade Minister, Andrew Robb.

“Mid-February to mid-March: that’ll be, I think, the timeframe,” Robb told the ABC last week.

“We might have to come back again to conclude some things, but that’s the intent.”

“The final issues, as always, are the most difficult. But everyone seems to be in a mood to find some common ground so that we can get this major, major agreement off the ground.”

For the full ABC Rural story see here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-05/andrew-robb-believes-trade-agreement-could-be-weeks-away/6071672

I don’t necessarily share the conspiracy theories about the TPP, but I believe in transparency and in allowing the Australian Parliament and voters to see the detail before it is signed.

In December, I wrote a column for The New Daily arguing that the China FTA needed further exploration for its impact on economic staples, like milk and dairy products. See here: http://thenewdaily.com.au/money/2014/12/03/china-fta-milk-prices/

Before that, I wrote another column arguing for the full details of the China FTA to be released, including the small print of bringing in Chinese contractors and short-term workers. See here: : http://thenewdaily.com.au/money/2014/11/19/china-fta-isnt-cracked/

But I also have concerns about investor state dispute settlement, or ISDS. It enables foreign investors from TPP states to sue the signatory governments which act in a way that harms their interest.

For example, I believe that the Australian parliament should be able to pass legislation requiring plan packaging of cigarettes without being taken through a secretive legal process.

Greens senator David Whish-Wilson appears to have been the only politician to have commented on last week’s comments with Andrew Robb. See http://greensmps.org.au/content/media-releases/robb-rushes-tpp-deal-distract-government-woes

FOOTNOTE: A discussion of ISDS from the ABC’s Background Briefing is here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/isds-the-devil-in-the-trade-deal/5734490