Steve Bracks has made over fifty visits to Timor-Leste.
His interest in Timor-Leste began during his tenure as Premier of Victoria when he visited the new nation in 2002 and 2003.
The second visit revolved around the opening of a community centre with the Balibo House Trust in the remote village of Balibo where five Melbourne based journalists were murdered by the Indonesian army in October 1975.
These visits led to a lasting friendship with former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. When Xanana Gusmao became Prime Minister of Timor-Leste in August 2007, the month after Steve Bracks resigned as Premier of Victoria, Steve’s offer to help, crossed mid-air with Xanana’s request for governance advice.
A generous donation from philanthropist Harold Mitchell AC to assist with travel, administration and research expenses, and logistical support from the United Nations Development Program in Timor-Leste, resulted in the Bracks Timor-Leste Governance Project.
Steve made his first visit to Dili as Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s Special Governance Adviser in September 2007.
Research Director, Kim McGrath has managed the Bracks Timor-Leste Governance Project since its inception. The Project team helped draft the Timor-Leste Strategic Development Plan, 2011-2030 – the culmination of over 70 public meetings and consultations led by Prime Minister Gusmao. It was launched in July 2011 and continues to frame the nation’s budget and development plans.
The Bracks Timor-Leste Governance Project also provided advice in relation to: a sustainable retirement income scheme for civil servants; the development of a masterplan for sanitation and drainage in Dili; the development of the Dili Chamber of Commerce; the Balibo House Trust and the Balibo Fort Hotel social enterprise project; a national football league initiative; and Cinema Lorosae, a project initiated by Mike Smith from the Sun Theatre in Yarraville Victoria that is taking movies to Dili and the districts.
Mr Bracks supported Timor-Leste’s campaign to achieve permanent, equitable maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea with Indonesia and Australia. This included using his influence with the Australian Labor Party (ALP) at the July 2015 ALP National Conference to secure a policy commitment that the ALP, if elected to government, would begin maritime boundary negotiations with Timor-Leste and resubmit to the jurisdiction of the international umpire.
He launched Dr Kim McGrath’s book Crossing the Line, Australia’s Secret History in the Timor-Sea in August 2017.
While Mr Bracks’ formal role with Mr Gusmao ended in 2017, he continues to regularly visit Timor-Leste, most recently in December 2022 in his role as Chancellor of Victoria University.
In 2022 the Federal Government appointed Mr Bracks Australia’s Special Representative in negotiations with Timor-Leste and Greater Sunrise joint venture partners regarding the development of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea.