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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1899


Mr HAYDEN (Minister for Foreign Affairs)(10.55) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to amend, as appropriate, existing Australian legislation to enable the ratification of the 1978 Torres Strait Treaty. That Treaty, as honourable members will recall, is an important milestone in the history of Australia's relations with Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour. It provides a solution to the problems of territorial and maritime jurisdiction in the Torres Strait, which at one stage had the potential to disrupt our good bilateral relations. The Torres Strait area includes many islands forming part of Australia-some only a few kilometres from the Papua New Guinea coast. The Treaty takes account of the interests of the traditional inhabitants of the Torres Strait who have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy wide freedom of movement in the area, of the interests of commercial fishermen and mining companies, of the need to protect the marine environment, and of our ultimate right to take restrictive measures necessary to meet any problems which arise. The Treaty balances all these considerations. As part of the novel regime that it requires, it establishes a 'protected zone' to facilitate administration of the key area of the Strait.

It is a matter for regret to us all that, although nearly five years have passed since the Treaty was signed, it has not yet been ratified by Australia and Papua New Guinea. This has not been the result of any lack of will on the part of anybody-in Australia, successive governments have given it unqualified support and I know that this has also been the case in Papua New Guinea-rather it is because of the novelty and complexity of the Treaty's provisions and the need to co-ordinate implementing legislation in two national and one State jurisdictions-the Commonwealth, Papua New Guinea and Queensland. It has not been a simple matter to harmonise Commonwealth and State interests, especially in relation to fisheries administration. My colleague the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), who will shortly be introducing the Torres Strait Fisheries Bill, will comment on the detailed fisheries arrangements that are now proposed.

Since the Treaty pays particular attention to the interests of traditional inhabitants in the Torres Strait area, the people of that area have been consulted, both during the period leading to the signing of the Treaty in 1978 and more recently, when the objectives of the proposed fisheries legislation were explained to them. This process of consultation will continue; indeed, the Treaty makes a number of arrangements for the participation of traditional inhabitants in its operation. The people known as Torres Strait Islanders have been in occupation of this area since time immemorial. They are the original owners of this land. The Commonwealth accepts that these people have the right to recognition of their just claims. We recognise their interest in these lands, as Australian citizens of indigenous descent. My colleague the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) has foreshadowed legislation to take a consistent national approach to Aboriginal land rights. The same principles will apply as much to the Torres Strait Islands as in any other parts of Australia.

The Bill before us, which would not have any measurable financial impact, would amend 10 Commonwealth Acts. I shall describe briefly the effect of each of the amendments. The Fisheries Act 1952 and the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act 1968 are amended by disapplying those Acts in the future to the protected zone and to any waters outside the protected zone proclaimed to be waters in which the Torres Strait Fisheries Act applies to a particular fishery. The powers of officers, and the offences relating to obstruction of officers, are preserved in those waters under both the amended Acts to enable fisheries enforcement staff to cross protected zone boundaries without diminution of their authority. The Torres Strait Fisheries Bill will authorise the making of arrangements between the Commonwealth and Queensland for management under a single law of a particular fishery in the protected zone or in an area outside that zone proclaimed in relation to that fishery, including, in either case, in Queensland coastal waters. The present Bill, therefore, amends the Fisheries Act to preclude an arrangement under that Act from having effect in relation to that fishery in those areas.

The Fisheries Act is further amended to allow a Papua New Guinea boat that has an entry under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act to land its catch from the protected zone in any place in Australia. This authority will be granted under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act in specific cases and will not be a right that Papua New Guinea boats will enjoy automatically. Both these fisheries-related amendments contain savings provisions in respect of matters that occur before the amendments come into force.

The Coral Sea Islands Act 1969 is amended to adjust the boundaries of the area which includes the Coral Sea Islands Territory, to take account of the boundaries established by the Treaty. This amendment will neither add to, nor subtract from, the islands currently comprising the Coral Sea Islands under the Act. Another amendment converts the geographic co-ordinates which define the Territory to the Australian geodetic datum. This enables the points to be more accurately plotted on the earth's surface.

The Treaty requires Customs procedures to be applied by each party in such a way that there is no hindrance to the free movement and performance of traditional activities in the protected zone and its declared vicinity by the traditional inhabitants of the other party. Part IV of the Bill, which inserts a new section 30A in the Customs Act, is designed to achieve this end by providing for exemptions to be able to be made from specified provisions of the Customs Acts. Not all of the provisions of the Customs Acts will be exempted however, as it will be necessary to continue to impose controls over such things as narcotic drugs. This action is permissible under Article 16 of the Treaty, which allows each party to apply such measures as it considers necessary to meet problems which arise. Part V of the Bill inserts a new provision into the Customs Tariff Act to exempt goods relevant to the Treaty from Customs duties.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 is amended to ensure that Papua New Guinea wrecks of special significance are placed in a similar category of protection to old dutch shipwrecks as provided for in the Historic Shipwrecks Amendment Act 1980. Papua New Guinea wrecks located in waters adjacent to Queensland will continue to be protected should Queensland ever request that the Historic Shipwrecks Act cease to apply in relation to its waters. In addition, where the Governor-General is satisfied that arrangements which have been made with respect to Papua New Guinea shipwrecks and Papua New Guinea relics make it appropriate, he may by proclamation declare that the principal Act ceases to apply to them.

The Migration Act 1958 is amended to exempt from entry permit requirements citizens of Papua New Guinea who are traditional inhabitants engaged in traditional activities in the protected zone area. However, the exemption will not apply to persons who would be prohibited from entry by virtue of suffering from prescribed diseases or having a criminal record or having been deported or excluded from Australia or another country in the past. Equally, the exemption will not apply to persons who cease to be inhabitants of the protected zone, who remain in Australia otherwise than in order to perform traditional activities or who enter a part of Australia which is not in or in the vicinity of the protected zone. Finally, it is proposed that the carriers of traditional inhabitants will be exempted from the provisions of the Act relating to the carriage of persons without visas or return endorsements. The Petroleum ( Submerged Lands) Act 1967 is amended to ensure that the northern boundary of the Queensland adjacent area will coincide with the Torres Strait Treaty seabed line .

I turn now to the amendments to the Quarantine Act. That Act regulates for quarantine purposes the entry into Australia of persons, vessels and goods from any overseas place. Certain animals, plants and goods are prohibited entry, and all those not totally prohibited must pass quarantine clearance before being released to the importer. People entering the country are screened for various exotic diseases. In this way we protect ourselves, our rural industries and our unique range of plant and animal life. The Bill amends the Quarantine Act to allow the Governor-General to make special provision in relation to traditional inhabitants going about traditional activities, and for their vessels and goods. At the same time, however, the Government will take steps to ensure that proper quarantine controls are maintained.

I draw honourable members' attention to clause 31 of the Bill, which proposes that the Governor-General be empowered to allow the entry of specific articles, animals or plants which otherwise would be prohibited imports. That provision will allow the Governor-General to exempt goods that are brought into a part of Australia that is in the protected zone by a traditional inhabitant for use in connection with the performance of a traditional activity.

Clause 32 of the Bill amends the Quarantine Act to allow the Minister for Health to exempt from all or specified provisions of that Act or its regulations traditional vessels that enter a part of Australia that is in the protected zone and on board which there are, apart from any government officials, only traditional inhabitants. By the exercise of this power the Minister will be able to allow the free movement of such traditional vessels in and around those parts of Australia that are within the protected zone. Without such an exemption persons on a vessel from a part of the protected zone outside Australia who wanted to land in Australia would first have to go to a first port of entry, such as Cairns or Thursday Island.

The Government is determined to do all that is required to prevent these relaxations from lessening this country's quarantine security. The Minister for Health will be proposing compensating measures to the Governor-General, who has power under the Quarantine Act to regulate the movements of animals, plants and goods from those parts of Australia that are within the protected zone to any other part of Australia. The Minister will be able to ensure that, if an exotic disease is introduced into the protected zone, it will be excluded from the rest of Australia.

The Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 is amended by this Bill to reflect the fact that hunting of certain wildlife for subsistence and cultural purposes is an important traditional activity recognised by the Treaty. The Treaty also provides that each party may implement within its area of jurisdiction measures to protect species of indigenous fauna and flora which are or may become threatened with extinction, or which either party has an obligation to protect under international law. The Government reaffirms its commitment to nature conservation in the Torres Strait. In particular, it will maintain safeguards to ensure compliance with Australia's obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. My colleague the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment will initiate programs to monitor wildlife populations in the Torres Strait region, with particular emphasis on dugong and marine turtle.

In conclusion, and on a general note, I draw honourable members' attention again to the fact that, while we have accepted an obligation to apply procedures in such a way as not to prevent nor hinder the free movement or traditional activities of traditional inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, the Treaty reserves our right to apply immigration, customs, health and quarantine measures, temporary or otherwise, as we consider necessary to meet any problems which may arise. Papua New Guinea has, of course, reciprocal rights and duties in this regard.

This Bill, together with the Torres Strait Fisheries Bill, would provide the complete legislative framework for Australia's ratification of the Torres Strait Treaty. We expect that it will lie on the table now for a time, so that all interested groups can become fully familiar with its details before we proceed to consider it further here. We expect too that in both Port Moresby and Brisbane complementary legislation will very soon be introduced, so that we can move forward together in all three jurisdictions to complete the formalities of implementation of a treaty which has been widely recognised as providing an innovative and balanced solution to a complex problem. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr MacKellar) adjourned.