Australia on Tuesday appointed former Victoria state premier Steve Bracks as its special representative for the Greater Sunrise gas project in East Timor as both countries look to break a stalemate over how to develop the gas fields.
Australia and East Timor have not yet reached an agreement over whether to pipe the gas to a new liquefied natural gas plant (LNG) in East Timor or to an existing LNG hub in Darwin in Australia's north, as favored by the project's operator, Woodside Energy.
"Bracks will represent the Australian Government and consult with the Government of Timor-Leste and other key stakeholders, including the Sunrise Joint Venture," Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.
The two fields that make up Greater Sunrise were discovered in the waters between East Timor and Australia in 1974, holding an estimated 5.1 trillion cubic feet of gas and 226 million barrels of condensate, a type of light crude oil typically found with gas.
Development of the project was first stalled by a bitter maritime boundary dispute that was resolved in 2018.
Australia wants the development of the project commercially viable, supporting the economic growth of Timor-Leste and maximizing the benefits to all parties, Wong said.
Bracks has deep knowledge of East Timor and close relationship with its people and leaders as a result of his close engagement over many years, Wong said.
On a visit to Australia last month, President Jose Ramos-Horta urged Canberra to back the pipeline to East Timor and flagged Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, and China could become potential investors in Greater Sunrise.
The project is key to Timor's future as its main source of revenue - the Bayu Undan oil and gas field - will stop producing later this year, leaving the country almost wholly dependent on its petroleum fund which currently holds about $18 billion.
(Reuters - reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast)