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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2214

Senator DURACK - My question is directed to the Attorney-General. I refer to the refusal of the Minister for Minerals and Energy to agree to the renewal of a number of permits for the companies drilling for oil in the off-shore areas of Australia under the Petroleum (Submerged

Lands) Act, the reason being, I gather, the uncertainty about the question of the ownership of the off-shore areas and the sea bed. Is the AttorneyGeneral aware of the fact that it does not appear that the High Court will be commencing to hear the question to determine the ownership of the continental shelf and the sea bed until early next year and that it may well be this time next year before any resolution of the question of sovereignty is made? In view of the severe effect that this uncertainty and the policy of the Minister for Minerals and Energy is having on the program of oil exploration, will the Government agree to carry on the permits under the existing legislation, or can the Attorney-General in any way expedite the High Court hearing and the resolution of the matter?

Senator MURPHY - The question raised by the honourable senator is a very important one. It has given me and also the Government great concern. The fact is that there is a challenge to the legislation in the High Court. The fact is that I asked the Solicitor-General to take every step to endeavour to have the hearing of the matter expedited in the national interest.

Senator Webster - When did you do that?

Senator MURPHY -Some months ago. My recollection- and if the Senate will permit me I will depend upon my recollection now- is that a month or so ago the Solicitor-General approached the Court and indicated that it was the concurring wish of the Australian Government and the 6 States involved in the litigation that the hearing of the case be expedited. As I recall it, they wished it to be heard this year. I am given to understand that, as the honourable senator indicates, the case probably will not be heard this year but will be heard sometime next year. The Government is, of course, in the hands of the High Court of Australia as to when the matters will be heard and when any judgments will be given. But there is no doubt that in this and a number of other important constitutional cases it is quite disturbing that in the ordinary course decisions may not be given to resolve matters until a very considerable time passes. I assure the honourable senator that I will continue to do whatever can be done to have the matter resolved as soon as possible.

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