Australia is offering Timor-Leste a multi-billion-dollar lifeline to fast-track the Greater Sunrise offshore gas project, which promises generational wealth for the fledgling nation while keeping Beijing at bay.

Australia has offered Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s government a sizable package of incentives that would effectively give Timor-Leste 90 percent of revenue from the project.

Senior diplomatic and government sources say ensuring the development of the long-stalled Greater Sunrise field, 450km northwest of Darwin and 150km south of Timor-Leste, is one of the Albanese government’s top strategic priorities.

“We don’t want Timor to become another Solomons,” one high-level political source told Sydney Morning Herald.

Timor-Leste has forged closer relations with China, with Gusmao signing a strategic partnership with President Xi Jinping in September.

The offer includes a dedicated infrastructure fund, financed by Australia’s share of the gas revenues, and an acceleration of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) programme that would see more Timorese come to Australia for work and training.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s handpicked negotiator, former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, confirmed a “significant offer” had been made.

“It shows the determination of the Australian government to get this project up because we believe it’s in the best interests of Timor-Leste and its people for this project to proceed,” Bracks said.

He said Australia wanted Timor-Leste to view it as the international “trusted partner”.

“We don’t want to push them to the extent that they need to even think of going to China.”

But the unresolved issue is where gas from the Greater Sunrise reserve would be piped and processed.

Under a 2018 treaty between the nations signed in New York, if the gas field is processed in Timor-Leste, Australia would receive 30 per cent of the revenues and Timor 70 per cent.

But if the gas is instead piped to Australia and processed at an already existing LNG processing plant in Darwin, the Timorese share would increase to 80 per cent, with Australia receiving 20 percent.

This treaty was reached after Timor walked from an earlier agreement when it became known that Australian spies had bugged the Timorese parliament to get the upper hand in negotiations two decades ago.

There is up to $50 billion (US$33 billion) worth of gas in the Greater Sunrise field.

Gusmao’s preference is to process the gas on the southern Timorese coast, believing the industrial and job opportunities would outweigh the extra revenue from the Darwin alternative.

“We don’t want a pipeline for the sake of a pipeline,” Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta told this masthead.

“A pipeline coming to Timor-Leste would power the diversification … the industrialisation, modernisation of our economy.