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Thursday, 9 December 1965


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- Thu is the simplest of bills. It makes two alterations, one of two words and the other of three words, in the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act 1957. That Act provided repatriation benefits, in effect, for native members of the forces from the Territory of Papua and New Guinea and from the islands in Torres Strait. Among those who have received benefits as Torres Strait islanders are some mainland Aborigines. They were not entitled to receive benefits under the Act. Accordingly, the Act Is now being amended to include mainland Aborigines in the definition of " native members of the forces ".

There are two matters that I wish to raise. The first is that the Act of 1957, which was assented to on 12th December that year, could not come into force until regulations were made under it. Those regulations were not made until 19th May 1961. It was a particularly grave example of delay in carrying out a statutory provision. This position, however, has now been cured.

The other comment I wish to make turns on the distinction made by the Bill, and later by the regulations, between the natives of Papua and New Guinea on the one hand and the Torres Strait islanders on the other. As honorable members know, all islands in Torres Strait belong to Queensland. It is a matter which should, I believe, be considered by honorable members. It is a technical matter which may well cause grave misunderstanding and tension in the future.

I have on several occasions referred to our imperial legacy in maritime and riparian borders. As honorable members know, all the islands in Bass Strait south of Wilson's Promontory were given to Tasmania by the British Government in 1825. When Victoria was detached from New South Wales in 1851, Victoria still got only the very few Bass Strait islands north of the southernmost latitude of Wilson's

Promontory. We know that this has given rise to difficulties with respect to fisheries laws, navigation laws and oil rights in Bass Strait. These are all problems which concern Australians even if the Australians live in different States.

As regards the islands in Torres Strait, however, a much more serious problem arises. These islands come within a few hundred yards of the coast of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea to which we are obliged by our international engagements, as well as by humanitarian and political motives, to grant independence. The proper time to sort out the islands in Torres Strait is now, before the question can become a matter of irritation between Papuans and Australians.

The border was fixed in 1878. There were many negotiations between the Queensland Government and the British Government, and later between the Queensland Government and the administration of the Brititsh colony - later the Australian colony - of Papua concerning this border. Honorable members who are interested in the details can get them from an article by Dr. Paul W. van der Veur of the Australian National University published in the "Australian Journal of Politics and History " of August 1964. I shall quote a couple of sentences from the article to define the geographic situation. They read -

Even mangrove-fringed Saibai (within two miles of the Papuan shore) and members of the Talbot group at the mouth of the Wassi Kussa River (within a few hundred yards' of the shore) fall under Queensland jurisdiction. It is almost impossible to travel from Daru Oust south of the Fly estuary) to the western boundary of Papua without passing through Queensland waters.

In another section of the article, Dr. van der Veur states that the boundary parallels the seashore of Papua for over 60 miles within the three mile limit. There is much dispute between maritime nations concerning the limits of territorial waters. It has, however, never been contended that any nation should exercise jurisdiction for less than three miles off its own coast. In the case of Papua the Queensland border for over 60 miles is less than three miles from the Papuan coast. The Commonwealth has jurisdiction in many respects within three miles of the Papuan coast and, if the boundary of Queensland remains as it is, will continue to have such jurisdiction even after Papua and New Guinea achieve independence.

The Commonwealth's power over interstate and overseas trade and commerce under section 51 (i.) of the Constitution is extended by section 98 to navigation and shipping. Furthermore the Commonwealth has power under section 51 (vii.) over lighthouses, lightships, beacons and buoys, and under paragraph (x.) over fisheries in Australian waters beyond territorial limits. Accordingly, expressly in the Constitution, it would appear that this Parliament has power to pass laws with respect to navigation and shipping, fisheries, and lighthouses and the like within three miles of the Papuan coast.

The residents of Papua in that area live by the sea. They live from fishing off their coast well beyond the three mile limit. They travel by sea because it is much easier than by land, and it always will be, to judge from the terrain. Furthermore, it is conceivable that Papuans will wish to prospect for oil off their coast. In all these circumstances it is proper that we should avoid the possibility of misunderstanding and tension by readjusting the northern boundary of Queensland particularly where it is within what would ordinarily be regarded as Papuan territorial waters.

The Act with which we are dealing - and more particularly the regulations which have been made under it - turn on the course of the border between Queensland and Papua and New Guinea. All the islands in Torres Strait, even within Papuan territorial waters in the ordinary connotation, belong to Queensland. The outdated border which was laid down in London in 1878 can now be rectified on the initiative of the Queensland Government, the Commonwealth Government and the Papua and New Guinea Administration. Thus Australians are still in a position to avert future trouble. I felt bound to raise the subject when a Bill which turns on this border was before the House for debate.







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