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Wednesday, 6 December 2000
Page: 23442


Mr ENTSCH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources) (9:46 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill proposes a mixture of policy and technical amendments to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967 and two other acts that are incorporated with it.

The policy amendments consist first of a partial revision of the Commonwealth-state-Northern Territory relationship in managing offshore petroleum resources.

Under the act, administration of offshore petroleum resources is shared between the Commonwealth, the states and the Northern Territory. Major decisions are made by joint authorities consisting of the Commonwealth Minister for Industry, Science and Resources and the respective state or Northern Territory minister responsible for petroleum. On the other hand, day-to-day administration is carried out by the designated authority (in other words, the state or Northern Territory minister) on behalf of the Commonwealth.

An evaluation of the role of the Commonwealth government in offshore petroleum exploration and development was completed in 1998. On the basis of recommendations from this evaluation, the then Minister for Resources and Energy subsequently announced a number of reforms to improve the administration of offshore petroleum exploration and development in Australia.

The proposed reforms include changes to the administrative arrangements between the Commonwealth, the states and the Northern Territory to clarify roles, minimise duplication and progressively shift administrative responsibility to the states and the Northern Territory while retaining Commonwealth involvement in issues that have national implications.

The administrative aspects of the reforms include development of a memorandum of understanding, at ministerial level, between Commonwealth, state and Northern Territory governments. This memorandum will be underpinned by intergovernmental protocols and regular compliance audits to ensure that all jurisdictions are adhering to the protocols.

The reforms also have a legislative aspect. This is addressed in this bill and partly also in the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) (Registration Fees) Amendment Bill 2000, which is complementary to it. In consultation with the states and the Northern Territory, the government has identified a set of powers under the act which are currently held by the joint authority for each adjacent area but which could be transferred to the designated authority.

The transfer of these selected powers will help streamline the administration of offshore petroleum resources to the benefit of the petroleum industry, and free Commonwealth resources for more strategic policy issues of importance to the industry and the broader community.

The powers recommended for transfer, such as nominating a discovery block or registering a dealing in the petroleum title, are relatively routine in nature. The Commonwealth will monitor compliance with protocols over the next three years and then conduct another review of the allocation of powers between the joint authority and the designated authority. Further powers may be able to be transferred at the end of that process.

The second major policy reform contained in the bill involves changes to the datum provisions of the act.

Adoption of the Geocentric Datum of Australia in Commonwealth legislation forms part of the government's Australian Spatial Data Infrastructure program. The Geocentric Datum of Australia is essentially a response to increased use of the global positioning system, or satellite navigation, for surveying, navigation and similar purposes.

Offshore petroleum title areas under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act are defined by coordinates and the Australian Geodetic Datum, but this is not directly compatible with the global positioning system. The solution which this bill delivers is to bring petroleum title administration under the Geocentric Datum of Australia.

After consultation with the states, the Northern Territory and the petroleum industry, a plan has been agreed for adopting the Geocentric Datum of Australia in the act. The amendments in this bill provide the framework for this to occur. It is important to note that there will be no shift in the position of any petroleum title area over the seabed as a result of the changes. Various elements of the implementation, as specified in this bill, will be provided for in the regulations to be made after the passage of the amendments. The government will progress the implementation at a pace that does not place undue pressure on Commonwealth, state or Northern Territory resources. The relabelling of adjacent area descriptions in schedule 2 is expected to be addressed in future legislation.

The bill also makes a change to the provisions in the act that deal with the liability of officials. It proposes that the liability of officials be made consistent with the right and responsibility that objective based regulations now give to petroleum companies to pursue best practice under their own management systems.

All the other amendments in the bill are minor technical corrections to the act, the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Fees Act 1994 and the Primary Industries and Energy Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 1998.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, the amendments in this bill are one element of a more extensive process to streamline and modernise Australia's administrative arrangements for managing its offshore petroleum resources. As such, the content of the bill will help ensure that Australia remains an attractive location in the world for petroleum exploration and development. This in turn will deliver benefits, in terms of more jobs, an improved fiscal and external position as well as increased energy self sufficiency, to all Australians.

I commend the bill to honourable members and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Horne) adjourned.