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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 1741


Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) -I commend the lead speaker for the Government, Senator Cant, on the very knowledgeable way in which he outlined the current legislation and the proposed legislation. I think that he handled the legal side of the matter excellently and I do not propose to devote any more time to it. However, I wish to refer to a number of aspects which certainly have not been clarified by Senator Lawrie. I assume that Senator Lawrie was putting the official case for the National Party. He almost had me in tears. I could see him grazing his stock on the sea grass. I believe that the attitude of the Opposition is summed up in a very brief newspaper article which I propose to read. It was published just before the end of the first sessional period of this Parliament. Under a Canberra byline the article states:

The Federal Liberal Party has changed its mind again about who should control the seas around Australia. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Snedden, yesterday said his party would not support in the Senate a Bill asserting Commonwealth control.

In the House of Representatives last week, the Liberals allowed the legislation to be passed.

The legislation was originally introduced 3 years ago--

Yet Senator Lawrie is calling for yet one more conference with the State Ministers - by the Liberal-Country Party government of Mr John Gorton.

But after a party meeting on Monday night, the Liberals decided more time was needed for a decision.

The Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator Withers, will therefore move to have a decision deferred until Parliament meets again for the Budget session.

The main reason for the last minute switch is opposition from State Premiers.

Then the article goes on to say how the State Premiers had decided to approach the Privy Council in London to get a declaration that the Federal Government had no rights over the territorial seas and the continental shelf. The article then continues:

The about-face of the Liberals was by no means unanimous.

The former Navy Minister, Mr Jim Killen, walked out of the Party meeting on Monday night as soon as he learned the question was to be discussed again.

Mr Killenand Mr Gorton have been strong supporters of Commonwealth control.

I could hardly believe my ears when the matter came up yet again', Mr Killen said last night. 'After 3 years we are still trying to make up our minds '.

After 3.5 years the National Party is still trying to make up its mind, too.


Senator Milliner - Who?


Senator KEEFFE -The National Party. I think Senator Lawrie is the official spokesman. There is no truth in the rumour, of course, that he will be appointed as the Governor of Queensland after secession. This country is becoming a laughing stock around the world. The International Conference on the Law of the Sea will be held in 1974 and we will probably be the only country to go there and say that we have not yet made up our minds on what to do. I do not accept the statements of Senator Lawrie that the imperial orders given some 45 years ago under letters patent from Westminster are the be all and the end all so far as the law is concerned. Then he created further confusion by saying that he was not sure what had happened to the fish in the sea because there was conflict between the orders from Westminster and the Australian Constitution as they applied to Queensland. It is true that Queensland is likely to fight to prevent any sort of law of this nature being passed. There are people in Queensland who are interested not only in what is in the sea but also, and particularly, in what is below the sea. I refer particularly to the possibility of extensive deposits of hydrocarbons being found anywhere from south of the Gulf of Papua down to the bottom end of the Great Barrier Reef. Should there be legislative enactment of this Parliament to protect the environment, the marine environment in particular, and, as Senator Lawrie said, the air above the sea and the soil below the seabed, it will mean that there will be resistance, Queensland leading the way, from those areas in which there is a vested interest in what might be extracted from the sea. When the Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources was established it took some 3.5 years to compile its report and extensive evidence was gathered. Some parliamentary committees which were sitting concurrently with this Committee decided that although some matters that were being investigated by the Senate Committee on Off-Shore Petroleum Resources were covered by their terms of reference it was not necessary for them to carry out such investigations because that Senate Committee was already making extensive inquiries. We spent a lot of money and a lot of time compiling that report. It is with some feeling of modesty, as a member of that Committee, that I say it is probably one of the most comprehensive reports ever compiled by any committee of the Senate.


Senator Milliner - Was it a unanimous report?


Senator KEEFFE - No, it was not an unanimous report. As a matter of fact, it is very interesting to note that the dissenting report made by the then Opposition members on the Committee is today just about solely the law of the land in these matters except for some minor amendments that still have to be carried into legislative effect. A part of the dissent report headed: 'Interstate Trade-National Pipelines Policy' reads:

6.   We are of the opinion that there is no excuse for not having a national pipeline policy. Such a policy should be implemented without delay and gas pipelines, in particular, should be controlled by the Federal Government, especially as we believe that it is only a matter of time before at least every capital city on the eastern and southern seaboard of Australia will be linked by gas pipelines.

7.   We recommend that a national pipelines policy be implemented immediately and that legislation be enacted- this may require the co-operation of the States- to regulate the construction and operation of pipelines for the carriage interstate or intra-State of oil and natural gas.

That aspect of the minority report is well on the way to implementation as a national outlook by a national government. I say again modestly that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation. As Senator Cant pointed out in reply to an interjection from an Opposition senator, the legislation might be the subject of challenge. The senators who compiled the minority report inserted the qualifying line: -this may require the co-operation of the States-

However, to date there has been no challenge of this nature. Then, we went on to recommend a number of other things concerning pricing and other matters which do not have a great deal to do with the Bill currently before the Senate. But there are other aspects, particularly in relation to the preservation of the environment. On page 460 of the report there is a statement taken from the report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution which takes up the statement that I made a few moments ago. It is stated:

This Committee, during its public hearings in Queensland, was tendered evidence of concern over possible pollution of the Great Barrier Reef, but we did not pursue this as a particular area of investigation since it was understood that the Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources had received a great deal of evidence on the subject.

However, we share the common concern for the future of the Reef and welcome the actions being taken to protect this great and unique natural wonder of the world.

I quote paragraph 13.2 of the introduction dealing with conservation and the marine environment:

In Australia, also, considerable public controversy has been aroused over the question of whether drilling for oil should be permitted on the Great Barrier Reef. Much of this controversy has been engendered by fears of damage to the Reef in the event of an oil spillage. Many witnesses approached the Committee seeking to give evidence on this question.

In the case of the oil tanker the 'Oceanic Grandeur' which ran aground on a reef in the Torres Strait on 3 March 1970, the containers of that ship punctured to the extent that almost 250,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled into the sea. Of course, this matter was supposed to be the responsibility of the State. We had the Premier of Queensland saying at that time that little or no damage had taken place.


Senator Drury - Who was the Premier?


Senator KEEFFE -Premier Holy Joe, otherwise as known as the honourable Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. At the time I had the opportunity to do an aerial inspection of the area. There were large drifts of oil floating in various directions. It was emphasised by the Premier and others on his behalf that no damage had been done to the environment. We find that this was a complete misstatement of fact. As a result of that oil spillage the cultured pearl industry is now virtually non-existent in the Torres Strait area. The shellfish that were not destroyed by the drift of oil were subsequently destroyed by the very potent detergents that were used to clean up the oil. I quote again from page 460, paragraph 1 3.3 of the report:

The Committee was charged in term of reference 1 (g) to examine 'the provisions of the legislation generally' and it was aware that the legislation (in section 124) makes specific reference to 'the conservation of the resources of the sea and sea-bed'. The Committee therefore considered it desirable to hear evidence and give detailed study to not only the question of the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef, but also to the wider question of the conservation of the whole off-shore area of Australia from any possible deleterious effects of exploration for, and exploitation of, petroleum.

I might add that at this time, as the result of wide publicity, the Queensland Government and the then federal Government decided that they would co-operate in establishing a royal commission to examine the problems associated with exploitation and exploration of the Great Barrier Reef. After the announcement had been made by the Prime Minister of the day there was a lengthy period of time in which certain people who were apparently anxious not to have too many pro-reef preservation people on the royal commission continually held up proceedings. The report was compiled but the position is now like a Blue Hills or a Bellbird serial. The report was to be made available, I think, late last year; then it was to be made available early this year; and then it was to be made available in September. We are now reliably or unreliably informed that the report will probably not be available until March or April 1974. 1 return again to quote from the report of the Senate Select Committee on Off-Shore Petroleum Resources at page 461: 13.4 To examine this question adequately the Committee found it necessary to range wider than would at first have appeared necessary. The Committee was concerned, however, to ensure that:

(   1 ) within the framework of the legislation there were adequate areas of control capable of being implemented which would ensure that all possible steps are taken to prevent pollution from off-shore oil operations; and

(2   ) the present form of the scheme would permit and ensure sufficiently concerted Commonwealth and State action to have blowouts stopped; to contain effectively and subsequently to clean up any spillage, which did occur, with the least possible damage to the environment and with the greatest expedition. 13.5 There are two extreme attitudes capable of being taken to exploitation of the mineral resources of the off-shore areas of a country or State. These were posed by Dr R. D. Lumb, Reader in Law, University of Queensland:

The State, . . . cannot say: "We want to preserve the primitive beauty of the coastline and no mining at all can be carried on." I think that this is an extreme conservationist approach which does not benefit the State. On the other hand another extreme approach is expressed in this policy: "Let us get all of the minerals from anywhere as quickly as possible. " That does not benefit the State either. That is the extreme exploitationist approach. Somewhere in the middle the whole solution of these two interests can be worked out . . .'

That can be worked out most adequately by having this legislation that is before the Senate passed by both Houses of the Parliament. I understand that another matter has to be dealt with. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.







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