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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2337

Mr VINER (Stirling) - This Bill has certainly created divisions in different sections of this House. It is a Bill upon which people speak with honesty and integrity, and those who speak in that way must be respected for the stand they take. I was gratified to hear the way in which the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) spoke when they supported the Bill. It was totally consistent with stands they have taken over the years. The right honourable member for Higgins sought to adopt his stand on what he saw as the national interest of Australia. All of us in one way or another, when we speak on a particular Bill - particularly a Bill of this kind - seek to support what we say in terms of the national interest. So it is not unusual that one person should adopt a different view of the national interest from another person. My view of the national interest is different from that of the right honourable member for Higgins and, more so, the view of the national interest that is taken by Government supporters. When Government supporters speak of the concept of the national interest I wonder whether they are speaking politically or whether they are speaking in terms of the people whom a Bill like this will affect. I look at the Bill to discover how it will affect people. When we speak of States and States' rights I sometimes feel that we forget the people who live in particular places. There should be no condemnation of a person who says that he seeks to represent people in a particular place and so uphold a point of view because what he sees as happening will affect their vital interests detrimentally. That is the way in which I look at this Bill because it does affect the people of Western Australia in a most vital way. Where it affects people we can invoke the national interest on their behalf. To me the 2 things are synonymous because people make up a nation.

The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Kiilen) said that it does no harm at all to be involved in hard argument on a matter of this kind. Certainly it does not. I am grateful that I have been able to have hard argument with the honourable member, that he has been able to take the stand he has taken and that I have been able to take the stand that I have taken. This Parliament is a better place for it. I ask the House to look at the Bill in this way: We have heard a great deal about the need for the States and the Commonwealth to get together to agree, but if this Bill is considered as affecting people wherever they live, let us take our minds back to the time of Federation. What happened then? It was hard argument that created this great Federation and this great nation. It took years of effort and reason, years of argument and compromise until the people wherever they lived had a unified spirit to create a new nation.

At that time, the land mass of Australia was not considered to go beyond the low water mark, or perhaps 3 miles out from the low water mark. This was the area of concern to the people of Australia then, because they lived on shore. The search for minerals was conducted on shore. They farmed on shore and when they fished, they might go a mile or so off shore to catch a few fish. It has taken about 50 years for the people of Australia and the world to realise that off the great land masses and under the seas there is wealth. That is why people explore the sea bed. They explore it because there is wealth to be found there. Wells have to be drilled? there is oil or gas to be drawn up and converted into wealth for the benefit of the people who live on the land masses. 1 ask honourable members to bear that in mind when considering this Bill. Is it any wonder that people in the different parts of Australia are concerned when a government - not being the government which affects them directly - seeks to control absolutely the wealth that can be drawn from off their shores? Of course, when it is put in this way one would expect the people of Queensland to react in the way in which they have reacted. The same is true of the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Make no mistake - this Bill is not one that affects only the people of Western Australia or Queensland. After listening to honourable members opposite one would think that only Queenslanders and Western Australians are affected, but the continental shelf spreads right around the coast of Australia. The prospects of wealth being drawn off-shore may be as great for New South Wales as they are for Western Australia. I say that they may be, because the off-shore continental shelf of New South Wales has not been explored in the same way as the north-west shelf of Western Australia.

This Bill seeks to declare unilaterally by this Parliament that the Commonwealth has sovereignty over the territorial sea and the sea bed that hes underneath it. What is sovereignty? It ls a political concept which, when looked at fundamentally, has legal ramifications touching on international law. Certainly the subjects about which the honourable member for Moreton spoke, relating to the law of the sea, have ramifications flowing from the concept of sovereignty. Certainly on the international scene they have to be worked out in their own way, but so far as concerns Australia it is undoubted that the

Commonwealth Government is the Government of this nation which has international legal personality and it does this by invoking the external affairs power under the Constitution.

When we talk about the boundary between Papua New Guinea and Queensland and about inland waters and historic bays, these are matters on which the Commonwealth has constitutional power. The argument is put that the High Court of Australia is the appropriate legal authority to sort out the question of sovereignty but I suggest that when the High Court is invoked, in truth the Government is asking it to act as a legal arbitrator upon a political question. When that idea is grasped I think the people of Australia will appreciate that this measure involves political policy. Various speakers have referred to what the High Court might do but they have sought to prejudge the decision of the High Court in justification of their own arguments. That then is the most empty argument of all.

I suggest that Australians should get the record straight on what the Government is seeking to do by this Bill. It is an act pf political policy. To me the States are not geographical areas defined by lines on a map. The States are people and an act of political policy affects people. Have not the people of Western Australia a vital interest in the future of this Bill and in the waters that lap their shores? Have they not a vital interest in the minerals that lie on the sea bed or the petroleum that is being discovered off their coast? I put the simple proposition to the people of Australia that the sedimentary basins of Australia containing petroleum start on-shore. They simply move away from the coast and under the sea.

The States have complete control over exploration for petroleum and minerals onshore. Is there any reason why they should not participate in control and regulation of the sedimentary basins that merely move under the sea from the land? It is a simple proposition and I suggest that if it is put to the people of Australia they will give a very quick and simple answer. They will claim a say in what happens beyond the low water mark under the sea just off their shores. It is a simple proposition to grasp and it affects every State. Would not the Victorians want to have a say in the development of the Bass Strait oil and gas fields? Would not the people of New South Wales want a say in the continental shelf off Sydney? Would not the Queenslanders want a say in the continental shelf that lies off their shore? Similarly with South Australians. I do not see any reason why the people, wherever they live, should not have a say. That is what the amendment seeks to tell the people of Australia - that this Bill in truth is cutting them off from any participation in that development. Of course, the Government invokes the national interest in this. But when it is seen that this Bill is nothing more than an act of political policy, one must look at the Bill in the context of the whole platform and policies of the Government. I am indebted to the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) for acknowledging this by saying that this Bill is a part of the resource policy of the Government. Of course it is. One has only to look at the platform of the Australian Labor Party and the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam) to see that this is what it is. It is one of those actions taken by this Government to implement the resource policy of the Government. I could relate them very quickly. They include such actions as the use of exchange controls to restrict overseas borrowing to support exploration in Australia; the use of the export control power to control the export of minerals, including petroleum; the removal of tax incentives for the raising of risk capital; the removal of petroleum subsidies to explorers; the instigation of a national fuel and energy authority; the implementation of a national pipeline authority; and, now, the last piece in the jigsaw, the last act to put the lid, as it were, on the resource policy of this Government has been to introduce this Bill.

One can see the matter traced quite easily. I refer firstly to the speech by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) when this Bill was being discussed in May last year. He put as the primary reason for the Opposition's support of the BUI then that it gave effect to the resource policy of the Opposition, as it was. I refer to an article in the 'Australian' of 16th May by the Minister for Minerals and Energy. It is headed 'How Labor moved into minerals'. The Minister stated:

The 1971 Launceston Conference of the Australian Labor Party laid down the basic platform for Australian resource development for a Labor Government.

These broad policies are now being implemented by the new Labor Government

He then goes on to relate some of the actions to which I have already referred. Right in the heart of these actions, which the Minister says are aimed at implementing this resource policy, is this:

Cabinet has . . . Directed the Attorney-General's Department to draft legislation to assert sovereignty over minerals in the Australian continental shelf from the low water mark out.

I refer honourable members to the next statement by the Minister for Minerals and Energy. This is the statement that he made in the House on Federal petroleum search policy. The Minister stated:

In off-shore petroleum exploration, there is undoubted Commonwealth sovereignty, and I will be asking Government approval for appropriate legislation for the establishment of a national petroleum and minerals authority at an early date. Such an authority would explore, produce, transport and refine petroleum.

Then we have in this Bill the declaration in Part II of sovereignty in the Commonwealth over minerals that lie on the sea bed off-shore of Australia. In the second reading speech of the Minister, he rnakes quite ' clear that the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act and the agreement between the States giving effect to that legislation is part and parcel of his concept of a resource policy.

The Minister says, as has been pointed out by another honourable member in this debate, that that legislation and that' agreement will continue to operate for the present and he repeats that again in a later part of his second reading speech. So, what are we to gather from this? Are we to assume that the Government will at some later time seek to amend or perhaps repeal this Bill by which it unilaterally declares its sovereignty over off-shore areas. WU1 the BUI be amended so that the Commonwealth Will have complete control over off-shore petroleum resources? It must be realised that, at present, control of those resources is given to the States of Australia by way of the designated authority, being in each case, the Minister for Mines of the State. So, the Minister for Mines can say who gets an exploration permit and who may, if he discovers oil or gas, produce from that permit.

Of course this is of vital interest to the people in each of the States. It is of vital interest to the people who live on the shore because, by that legislation, they can have a say in who explores, who develops and where the development will take place.. When one realises the wealth that can be produced from oil and gas, one can understand why it is a matter of concern that people should want to have a say in the destiny of their own State. This is what I want to see for the people of Western Australia and that is why it seems fundamental to me that, when we live in a federation which is a federation of people as much as of States, those people should have a say in the wealth that is produced from the sea bed that lies off their shore. But this Government is denying that participation to the people by the Bill that it is seeking to have implemented.

What can be wrong with seeking agreement in an area of this kind in the same way as our founding fathers sought agreement to create a new nation? There is nothing different in concept in this. I would have thought that with all the aspirations of the present Government, it would seek to instil a national unity of that kind in the people rather than create the divisions of the kind which this Bill has so drastically done. But no, the Minister for Minerals and Energy and the Government have no thought of that. The Government simply seeks to maintain in a unilateral declaration its sovereignty and it says: 'Well, if you want to argue this, you go away and fight'.

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