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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2332


Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - In speaking to this Bill I would just like to make one of two comments on the contribution made by the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin). I will try to be fair and reasonable in replying to what he said. The honourable member claimed that once we resolved sovereignty with regard to submerged lands the other problems would resolve themselves. The honourable member said that once we resolved this everything else would fall into line. I think that is a very optimistic view to take. I do not agree with him at all. But at the same time I do accept the fact that this is a situation which does need to be resolved. I think the argument has been put by some members of the Opposition, including my friend the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), that it should be resolved in a different way from that which has been suggested by the Government.

The other point I wanted to make - and I am sorry that the honourable member for Macarthur is not now in the House - relates to his comment that the Queensland Government has shown that it is not prepared to act nationally m regard to New Guinea. In point of fact the position is the direct opposite. The Queensland Government was prepared to act nationally. It was prepared to act nationally insofar as the preservation of the rights of Queensland and Australian citizens was concerned. It was prepared to act nationally as far as the preservation of Queensland and Australian land was concerned. There is certainly a very big difference between the view that the honourable member for Macarthur holds on this matter and that held by me and also, I believe, many other members of this House.

I would also like to make some comment on what the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh), who is not in the House at the moment, had to say. The honourable member said that the State Labor Premiers will - he hoped - see the error of their ways. I just wonder what makes him confident that they will and also why they made errors in the first place. I wonder whether it will be that the real rulers of the Australian Labor Party - the Australian Council of Trade Unions - will crack the whip on them and this might make them change their minds. I just wonder at the reason for the confidence that was expressed in that view and whether in fact that change will take place. The honourable member said also that the Premier of Queensland was disowned - I am speaking from memory - by every practical politician in that State. The honourable member did not look very far into the article which he quoted earlier from the 'Courier-Mail'. Let me also quote from today's 'Courier-Mail' which states that a motion was carried in support of the Premier's stand, that the motion that it be carried with acclamation was moved and was carried unanimously. The Press article is headed:

The joint Government parties yesterday unanimously carried a motion commending the Premier (Mr Bjelke-Petersen) on his fight for State rights.

Not only was it carried unanimously but also it was carried in an unusual way with an enthusiasm expressed by acclamation. I think that this certainly refutes the argument put up by the honourable member for Bowman. I should like to read the motion. It states:

That this joint meeting of Country Party and Liberal Members commend the Premier for his untiring efforts and statesman-like attitude in placing before Australians in the strongest possible terms, Queensland's sovereign rights and privileges in any CommonwealthState relations'.

The motion added the words:

We also appreciate the steps the Premier has taken to initiate and safeguard our interests in London.'

So there is certainly unanimity on the part of Government supporters in Queensland in favour of the strong action that the Premier of that State has taken in this regard. There are a few points that I want to make on comments made by the honourable member for Farrer. He pointed out, as I said, that there are 2 ways in which this matter can be approached. One is to legislate and wait for a challenge and the other is to try to reach an agreement. Very rightly and, I would say, nationally, he spoke of the value of first trying to reach an agreement as was reached in relation to the off-shore petroleum arrangements. I want to repeat because I think it is worth repeating the words he uttered about the ominous phrase that was used in the second reading speech of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) when he said that off-shore petroleum arrangements will continue 'for the present time'. That certainly indicates that the arrangements will not continue for very long. It must have been put in there for that very reason. I can see no other reason why it should have been put in there. I, too, agree that there will be constant litigation, as the honourable member for Farrer said, if this Bill goes through. He pointed out, and I agree with him, the great number of legal problems that can exist. I also agree with him - I am in pretty full agreement with his address - that it would be in the best interests of the nation if this Bill were withdrawn.

Earlier in this debate the right honourable (member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) said that the Commonwealth now has power to deal internationally and if there is any inconsistency between State law and Commonwealth law the Commonwealth law will prevail. Certainly the Commonwealth has the power to deal internationally. That is one thing that can be said. Indeed it has done so. There was no objection by the State of Western Australia whose Premier, unless the whip is cracked, will go over with the other Premiers to discuss this matter in London. There was no disagreement or objection by him as far as I know when the boundaries between Australia and Indonesia were decided by the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Indonesia. That is the way that this matter should be approached. I am sure that the States will accept reasonable international agreements without question.

In addition to what I have already said I want to point to some of the problems that do exist. I am speaking now in regard to a second reading speech on a Bill presented in 1970 when Mr Swartz was the Minister for National Development. He said:

The exercise by any State - that is to say any country - of sovereign legislative authority and propriety rights beyond its land territory is part of its international relations.

The States are sovereign States, so there is an area of doubt in this matter. It is an area of doubt which in all common sense should be resolved if at all possible by negotiation and consultation with the States. He went on further to talk at some length and referred to the 4 conventions which were adopted at the United Nations conference on the law of the sea in Geneva in 1958. These conventions were adopted by the Australian Government and the States did not take exception to this action. I think that on top of what other speakers have said this should be sufficient to indicate the great area of doubt and the need to try to resolve that doubt. It should give us some confidence to think that the doubts can be resolved when, as the honourable member for Farrer said, the negotiations resulted in agreement in regard to the off-shore petroleum leases and petroleum rights. If they can be resolved, I am sure the other can. But it cannot be done in a hurry. It is not easy to achieve results in this area in a short time.

It has long been claimed in this House that it will be in the national interest to have the legal position concerning the control of resources of the seabed off the Australian coast resolved. In that respect I certainly agree that this is what should be done. I do not think that anyone would doubt that. I fully accept that the question of sovereignty should be determined. The only question and argument I believe is how it should be determined. I ask why can we not have this consultation with the States and why cannot we have co-operation with them? We have done it before in regard to the exploiting of the resources of off-shore Australia. Why can we not offer generous royalty distributions to the States in our negotiations which we did in the case of off-shore petroleum? One thing that is acting detrimentally towards an achievement of this goal has been the characteristic of this Government to centralise authority to the detriment of the States and this has aggravated the feeling between the Commonwealth and the States. If there is one thing that is detracting from resolving these difficulties it is the actions of the present' Commonwealth Government in its relations with the States.

To say that progress and consultation with the States has not been successful in the past anyhow is no excuse for not endeavouring to take this action in the future because that is the way in which it can best be resolved. I am not suggesting that these negotiations should go on indefinitely, but I believe that a reasonable time should be given so that the States can have the opportunity of putting up their case to the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Government to present its case to the States. What is more, in a matter of this importance I believe that the Commonwealth Parliament is entitled to know what sort of offer has been made to the States. I certainly will be interested to see what the suggestions are because it is on that basis that we will be able to judge whether the States have been unreasonable in their dealings with the Commonwealth. Why not adopt a reasonable approach to .the States in regard to the exploitation of these other resources and endeavour to reach an agreement with the States? We - should determine what authority each government should exercise and how it should be exercised.

I submit that very special consideration should be given to the rights of Queensland. Queensland has, indeed, very special circumstances. I make no apology whatever for talking as a Queenslander. I completely refute the suggestion that one can talk as a Queenslander and not be talking as an Australian or that what is not good for Queensland is not good for Australia. In a large percentage of cases what is good for Queensland and what is good for any other State is good for the Commonwealth of Australia. It is complete hogwash . for anyone to get up in this House and suggest that because one has some loyalty to one's own State one has not loyalty to the Australian nation. I said that Queensland has special circumstances. One of these special circumstances, as has been mentioned in the speech by the honourable member for Macarthur who has just spoken, is the Great Barrier Reef. A very large proportion of the Barrier Reef is under water at high tide. A smaller proportion of the Barrier Reef is above water at high tide and this forms the islands which the Queensland Government has control over. Where is the line of demarcation or control of conservation of the Barrier Reef? This is another angle in addition to those mentioned by the honourable member for Farrer which has to be decided. I certainly believe it reasonable and common sense that in dealing with conservation of the Great Barrier Reef the one authority should be able to exercise control in that direction. Since the Queensland Government will have control of those islands surely it should have the right, with Commonwealth assistance, to conserve this great national asset of ours.

There is another angle of special importance to my own State of Queensland, and that is the Torres Strait islands. We know the problems that have existed there. They have been mentioned earlier in this debate. I say that negotiations should take place on this matter between the Commonwealth and the States, and particularly the State of Queensland because of the special problems that exist there. But that does not mean that negotiations cannot take place with all the States. I am not suggesting that at all. Is it not possible to arrive at some sort of sensible agreement with the States? I believe it is. I do not believe that all the brains of this country are concentrated in this Parliament. I believe that there are men of high integrity and great national loyalty in our State Parliaments who will stand comparison with the members of this Parliament. I suggest that we do not get a body of people such as the whole of a government of a State and say that they are not prepared to look at anything from a national point of view. I refute that suggestion. Even in this Parliament we have had one ex-Prime Minister taking one point of view and another ex-Prime Minister taking another point of view. I respect the views of both of these men. But this demonstrates the great difficulties that are posed by this problem.

There are a number of other matters I want to mention. However, I want to say that it must be recognised that if the Commonwealth takes authority from the low water mark it is obvious that there will have to be co-operation with the States. Why not try to get this co-operation before this Bill is passed? Let us start that co-operation now between this Federal Government and the States and endeavour to resolve the problems that obviously exist. One would think that the Commonwealth Government would not have the same authority over the continental shelf as it has over the mainland. This is the impression that I have received from some of the speeches that have been made. Some honourable members have suggested that the Commonwealth Government will have no authority over those areas. 1 believe that the Commonwealth would have the same authority over those areas where it exerts authority as it has today. Because it has, the important matters that have to be dealt with by the Commonwealth can be dealt with at the present time.

As I mentioned before, the Commonwealth Government is quite competent to negotiate international agreements as it did in the negotiations which it carried out with Indonesia. It should be of some concern to all honourable members of this Parliament that all the State governments as far as we know at present are looking for advice as to their position in regard to the continental shelf. Why should they not get that advice? Why should they not come to the negotiating table with the maximum of qualified advice available ro them? I believe that they should also come to the negotiating table determined to try to resolve the position in a national way. So let us have a look at the offer which the Commonwealth Government is prepared to make to the States and in the light of that information let us in this Parliament decide whether or not the States have had the treatment that they are entitled to expect from this Commonwealth Parliament.

Mr KEOGH(Bowman)- Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.







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