Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Australian laws to apply to offence at sea

Download PDFDownload PDF


Senator Durack said he hoped to be able to

announce the new appointments in Melbourne and Brisbane



26 OCTOBER 1979

80/79 ,




~ The Attorney-General, Senator Peter Durack, Q.C.,

announced in Townsville today that the Federal Crimes at Sea

* Act would come into operation next Thursday. .

It will coincide with the proclamation of the 200

mile offshore fishing zone.around Australia.

Senator Durack said the Crimes at Sea Act would

ensure that Australian criminal laws - mainly State laws -

would apply to Australian ships and to offshore areas coming

within Federal authority on a sound and up-to-date legal


Senator Durack said the new Sea Act would correct

a position that required attention for some time. The Privy

♦ Council pointed out in 1977 that Australian passengers who

crossed the Bass Strait by ship from Melbourne to Launceston

were still governed by English criminal law. This was a

relic of the Admiralty jurisdiction inherited from England,

he said.


The Crimes at Sea Act resulted from consultations

with the States in the Standing Committee of

Attorneys-General. The approach adopted was a 1 federal1 one

under which the law of an appropriate State or Territory

would be applied to offences at sea coming under Australian

jurisdiction. ■ ‘

The Attorney-General said that under the scheme

arrived at with the States, i t 'was primarily a matter for

the States to legislate for offences committed on voyages

between two ports in one State, or where a particular voyage

began and ended at the same port in a State.

An Australian ship engaged in an interstate voyage

would be subject to the law of the State where the ship was

registered. The Attorney-General said this should facilitate

law enforcement and would resolve in a practical way the

uncertainties and doubts that had existed. He said : "It is

a practical solution that fits in with our federal system".

The Act did not affect the application of existing

specific federal criminal laws. "Specific federal offences

will continue to be dealt with, as now, under the special

Commonwealth legislation in question, for example, the

Customs Act. However, the application of State criminal laws

by the Act will help law enforcement generally on matters

such as drug offences," he said.

Explaining the scope of the Act, Senator Durack

said that from 1 November, it would apply to offences

committed on or from Australian ships which were on

overseas, interstate of Territory voyages. For these

purposes the Northern Territory was treated as if it were a


The Act would also apply to offences on Australian

ships in foreign ports and to offences by Australian

citizens on foreign ships where they are not members of the


The Attorney-General said that in certain limited

cases the Act could also be applied to offences committed on

or from foreign ships. The consent of the Commonwealth

Attorney-General was required and was only to be given if

the consent of the foreign State was obtained. This special

jurisdiction would only be resorted to where necessary to

ensure that serious criminal offences did not go scot-free

for lack of an applicable law.

Provision was also made in 1 the Act for the

application of the criminal laws of an appropriate State or

Territory in relation to other activites coming under

Australian jurisdiction outside the territorial sea. For

example, activites on structures of the Australian

Continental Shelf would, as at present, continue to be

subject to the law of the -adjacent State or Territory.

Provision could also be made in relation to any

offences by Australian citizens or residents in adjacent

areas outside the territorial sea, but it ws not propsed to

use this power at present.

Senator Durack said the Act contained innovative

provisions. for the removal of proceedings from a Court in

one part of Australia to a Court in another part of

Australia where that would be expedient to avoid hardship on

the accused or to promote a speedy trial. * ·

"Care has been taken to fashion a system of

criminal administration that will function smoothly, fairly

and expeditiously". It was a significant example of

corporative federalism and he acknowledged the co-operation

of the States in the matter, he said.


26 OCTOBER 1979


* * * * *