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Tuesday, 7 December 1971
Page: 4147

Mr GORTON (Higgins) - I am very glad that the Opposition has now decided that this is a matter of urgency and of great national importance. Indeed it is, and a Bill should have been passed by this Parliament months ago. It would have been passed by this Parliament months ago if the Opposition had not been so opportunist and had not taken the opportunity to support a move by the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) against myself and the Government on the grounds that they had not delayed the matter farther by having more discussions with the States before the Bill was brought in. Indeed. I think that the attitude adopted by the Opposition at that time was a subjugation of national interest to the purest ephemeral political tactics. In doing so the Opposition did the Government a disservice; it did this nation a disservice.

It is urgent and it is important that this matter should be cleared up and it cannot, in my view, be presented in any way as a party matter. There is no ideological difference here clearly delineated between the parties. There is no basic different political approach. There is nothing that can be represented as something that involves budgetary expenditure by the Government. There is nothing that can be represented as involving budgetary expenditure by the Government. It is purely a matter of where Australia's interests lie.

In support of the contention that it is by no means a Party matter, I reiterate that the proposition that this should be cleared up was adopted by a national Liberal government every member of which accepted that proposition. We have on record an interim report from the Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources which states that it is against the national interests for this matter to remain unresolved. I think the Chairman of the Committee was the present AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood) Certainly he was a signatory to that report. We have on record the evidence of the present Minister for Works (Senator Wright) saying how wrong it is for the present confused situation to continue and we have the Bill which was introduced into this House so ably by the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) on behalf of the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). Finally, we have the statement on behalf of the Government, made from the Throne, that this legislation would be passed during this session of Parliament. With that record, who can say that this is in fact a Party matter? It is a matter which, if people have views on it, I should like to see debated in this Parliament and voted on in this Parliament with a free vote. Surely if ever there was a matter which should be so voted on, it is this.

We cannot continue in a situation where people do not know what the law is and where sovereignty resides. As a member of the Opposition said, it is ludicrous for us to be the only country in the world that does not in fact know who has sovereignty over the waters which wash its shores. This matter involves fisheries and fisheries protection. It involves conservation of those things which grow on the sea bed. It involves control of pollution. If a tanker is to blow its oil out off the coast of New South Wales within the 3-mile limit, who has jurisdiction? Who can punish those responsible? If it is done off the coast of Victoria, is it a different penalty? Surely wherever it is blown it pollutes Australia, not just a part of a State. It involves mining and conservation, not only mining of such magnificent national monuments as the Great Barrier Reef but also on the sea bed itself. It involves the question of whether it is wise to take action which may involve changes in currents and in ecology and whether it is wise to leave these matters to State governments rather than to a national government. No-one can tell me that this can be resolved by uniform legislation, because uniform legislation remains uniform only until one party changes the legislation which its Parliament has passed. There needs to be a national authority in these matters. It also involves matters of defence - it involves naval matters and that involves control of devices which may be put on the sea bed either for offensive or for defensive purposes. As I said, no-one knows who has authority in these affairs.

There are at least 3 schools of thought on this matter. One claims, as I do, that the Commonwealth has sovereignty in law from the low water mark to the outer limits of the continental shelf. Another school of thought claims that the States have sovereignty from low water mark to the outer limits of the continental shelf. They do not confine their claims to the territorial sea. Yet another claims that the States have sovereignty from low water mark to the limit of the territorial sea - at present 3 miles - and the Commonwealth has authority after that. But nobody knows and nobody will know what the position will be when and if the territorial sea limit is moved from 3 miles to 12 miles. This will confuse the matter even more. Will the States then have authority from low water mark to the 3-mile limit and the Commonwealth from the 3-mile limit to the outer limit of the continental shelf, or will there be a still more disputed area between the 3-mile limit and the new 12- mile limit? The possibility of confusion and lack of any legal action being able to be taken to conserve and to look after our national interest will grow and grow until this is resolved.

I am very taken with the argument, as I understand it, that there is an unbroken continental shelf between the coast of Australia and Indonesia. At some stage, there will need to be an agreement as to just where the sovereignty of whoever it is in Australia extends to and where the sovereignty of Indonesia extends to. But who knows who is going to do it for Australia? Is it going to be the national Government or will it be the Western Australian Government for part of it and the Northern Territory Administration for part of it? Will it be the same between ourselves and Papua New Guinea, which is advancing so rapidly towards independence? Are arrangements concerning that continental shelf to be carried out only by Queensland, as they would be if Queensland had the sovereignty over those areas as it claims, or will the national Government, as it ought to, clearly have sovereignty in these affairs? I am not going to vote for the suspension of Standing Orders and to take the business out of the hands of the Government at this time. However, I noted that there was no nodding of the head by the Minister for National Development in response to the appeals of the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and I think therefore that the Minister and all concerned should know that if it appears that this Bill is not ever going to be brought on in this Parliament, as it was promised that it would be, then I will cast whatever vote is open to me to cast to endeavour to see that it is brought on, debated and passed.

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