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Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2604

Mr COHEN (Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment)(5.23) —in reply-First, I would like to congratulate most of the members who made a speech on these sea installations Bills for their excellent contributions. I say `most'; the only person I would exclude from that congratulation is the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) who gave his usual ratbag performance. The honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer), the shadow Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, gave a very good performance in what I think was his maiden shadow ministry contribution. He had obviously done his homework and I thought he took a very sensible and thoughtful approach to the legislation, which appears to have the bipartisan support of the House. I commend the honourable member on his maiden performance. I commend all other honourable members of the House who contributed to the debate, including the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper), who is another shadow Minister, acting on behalf of the National Party of Australia. I understand that there is another shadow Minister in the Senate, so I could be excused over the next few months if I start jumping at shadows. However, I take it that the honourable member for Mayo is the serious shadow Minister and the representative of the Opposition. I also commend the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay), in whose electorate the floating hotel will be. He has taken a considerable interest in this matter over many years, and I know that it gives him a great deal of satisfaction to see this legislation introduced as it is the forerunner of the hotel in question. The hotel has now been completed in Singapore and it is hoped it will be established on the reef sometime in August, with an official opening in October. I also thank the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton) and the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth) for their contributions. Their interest in conservation and the environment is, of course, well known, and they made their usual excellent contributions.

A number of matters were raised but I shall deal first with the questions raised by the honourable member for Mayo. He was concerned about why Commonwealth legislation rather than State legislation had been prepared to regulate off-shore structures. The constitutional basis for State legislation is uncertain. Although the Australia Act passed last year provides for State laws to have extra-territorial effect, it is not clear that a State law purporting to apply to the expected distance from the coast that off-shore structures would be moored is a law for the peace, welfare and good government of a State. The Bill does not apply to the territorial sea regulated by the States under the Off-shore Constitutional Settlement. The Commonwealth has responsibility for international marine matters and therefore it would bear the political responsibility for any mishap involving an off-shore structure on the continental shelf.

The Commonwealth legislation will be consistent with existing Commonwealth regulation and control of off-shore petroleum structures. It will enable Australia to ensure compliance with its international obligations and it will enable the Commonwealth to control the body of law applicable to sea installations. The Commonwealth legislation would override inconsistent State or Northern Territory legislation. The Queensland Off-shore Facilities Act 1986, which purports to apply Queensland law to the area in question off the coast of Queensland, acknowledges that State laws apply except where application of a law would be inconsistent with Commonwealth law.

The honourable member for Mayo raised the question, quite sensibly I think, about the number of hotels that might be established. I think I speak for my colleagues on this side of the House in saying that we have given a lot of thought-as has the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee and many people in the environment movement-as to whether or not such structures should be permitted. I think that we all had a lot of reservations but, on balance and after considering the alternatives, we thought that it was worth while giving one of them a trial, to at least see how that went. For many years people coming to the reef, both domestic and overseas visitors, have had difficulty in actually getting out to the reef. In the cyclone season it may be very difficult; it is very hot, wet, windy and choppy and often people having come to Australia to see the reef, perhaps from thousands of miles away, have only two or three days and cannot get out there. This installation will obviate that problem and will enable people almost certainly-unless in the worst conditions, that is, cyclonic conditions-to get out to the reef and to stay there. Of course, conditions are often better on the reef proper than on the mainland. This will virtually ensure that everyone will be able to get to the reef.

We will allow this initial floating hotel to be established and will monitor very carefully the sorts of problems that we might have. I, for one, would not be enthusiastic about giving permission for a second one, at least until we have had a chance to see how the first one functions. Certainly, I agree completely with the honourable member for Mayo that the idea of a string of floating hotels right up the Reef would be horrifying. I suppose one could ask how long is a string, but let us see how this one goes and consider any further applications after we have had the opportunity to monitor its impact on the environment. The honourable member for Dunkley raised a number of concerns about the environment. In putting the hotel in place some small damage will have to be done to a section of the reef. I understand that that damage will be very minimal and that it will be monitored very carefully. I shall read from some information I have here about water and waste. This information is in a brochure provided by the company. It states:

Fresh water will be supplied through a desalination plant with a storage capacity of seven days of normal resort operations. All wastes, even the waste water, will be strictly controlled through treatment or incineration plants.

No wastes, not even those treated, will be released into the reef lagoon at John Brewer. They will be carried by barge to the mainland, or in the case of some treated components, deposited at selected and approved locations at sea.

That is one of the reasons why we approved this type of proposal in the first place. There will be increased pressure on the reef. I pay tribute to my colleague the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) who has done so much to increase tourism in this country. Hundreds of thousands more people will be coming to this country and hundreds of thousands-millions eventually-will be visiting the Barrier Reef. With, those people going there, there will be an inevitable increase in pollution and risk to the reef. It is important that we minimise that risk. In this controlled way I believe we will minimise that risk. That is the basis for our approval and support of this proposal.

The honourable member for Mayo also raised the matter of the legislation being used to foster some tax or excise avoidance device, some top of the harbour scheme. I assure him that the legislation will not be used in this fashion. Sales tax and income tax will be the subject of separate legislation to be introduced later in these sittings, and the issue of tax avoidance will be addressed in that context. I remind the Parliament that, while State laws are applied, the Commonwealth retains the power to vary or deny the application of these laws if it is ever deemed necessary.

The honourable member for Denison raised the matter of what he seemed to be saying was a grab for power by the Commonwealth. I would have thought that even he would have known a bit about the history of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The legislation was introduced by the Whitlam Government in 1975, and it was passed through this House in that year. I am not sure of the date of proclamation-I am not sure whether it was in that year or under the Fraser Government-but the Authority was established by the Fraser Government after some years of arguing and fighting with the Bjelke-Petersen Government. By 1979 the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council had been set up and the Authority became a reality. In the period from 1979 to 1983 only 14 per cent of the region had been gazetted as part of the park. From the time this Government came to office until now the rest of it-from 14 per cent to 98.5 per cent-has been incorporated into the park. I would have thought the honourable member for Denison would have known that the question of constitutional authority was settled during the period of the Fraser Government under the off-shore constitutional settlement legislation, and it was agreed to by the Queensland Government and the Fraser Government. He talked about our suddenly usurping some powers, but that matter was settled a long time ago and under a conservative government.

He mentioned overregulation. The Bill relies almost exclusively on existing regulatory mechanisms. The aim is to put investors in the same position as they would be in if they used a mainland location. He raised the matter of the amount of the levy. I have been involved in discussions with the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee and various other bodies in the Queensland Government over many years. If a private company, such as this one, is to establish a major hotel, motel or whatever one likes to call it on the reef, which is Commonwealth property and which is the people's property, it seems to me to be eminently reasonable that it should pay for the vast amount of work of our departmental officials in legislating, monitoring and doing all the things that need to be done to make sure that that is in harmony with both our existing laws and the environment. The company is there to make a profit, and that is perfectly legitimate-I do not question that at all-but it incurs certain costs which we as a government have to pick up. It seems to me to be eminently reasonable that the people should be compensated for them. That would be incorporated in a levy.

Similarly, if the company were to take a piece of land that was Commonwealth property anywhere else it would be expected either to buy or to lease it and pay a levy for it. We believe that all those costs, charges and a reasonable rental should be paid to the Commonwealth. We are not out to create a situation where we would rip off the company. Of course not. We know that it is a very risky venture. It has shown a lot of courage and a lot of imagination. We wish it all the success in the world, but we think it only reasonable that it pay some sort of compensation for those matters that I mentioned before.

The honourable member for Denison mentioned the matter of appeal on valuation. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will resolve that. Fines are based on normal Commonwealth policies on penalties which are administered by the Attorney-General. I suggest to the honourable member that his fears are totally unjustified. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the very sensible and moderate approach taken by the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Peter Fisher) and the honourable member for Mayo who recognise that there is nothing particularly tricky, deceitful or underhand about this legislation. It is up front; it is a sensible approach to a very sensitive problem. It is a shame that the honourable member for Denison, who does not seem to think that anything that this Government ever does is right, cannot ever get up in this House and make a contribution on the basis that maybe we are just interested in doing things for the benefit of Australia.

The honourable member for Mallee sought an assurance that proper compensation payments will be made to States for administration. We agree. We are approaching this from the point of view of the honourable member's suggestion of an intelligent approach to ensure full co-operation. I think I have answered all the questions that honourable members have put. If not, I apologise. Once again, in conclusion, I commend honourable members for this very sensible debate. It is a pity that in Australian politics the people who so often criticise us for belting into each other do not realise that so much of the legislation which passes through this House has, if not total support, near total support and that, by and large, the majority of legislation has the support of both sides of the House. I thank the House for its support.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.