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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2340

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) - I support the Bill. Edmund Barton spoke of Australia as one land, one race, one flag and one destiny. Tonight we should be considering Australia in the terms in which Edmund Barton spoke - one nation, one flag and one destiny - and we should be considering the nation not as separate entities but forming one part of a very small and diminishing world. When it comes to the question of international conferences dealing with the subject that we are debating this evening, it is the Commonwealth which is represented at those meetings to determine problems in respect to this question. It is not a matter for individual States. Just because we reside within a State our standing as Australians does not diminish. When this nation is involved in any conflict, men leave its shores and serve in its defence not in the spirit of being New South Welshmen, Victorians or Western Australians, but as Australians - one people, one nation, one destiny. We belong to the one nation. We belong to Australia. In the consideration of the resources of this nation, the minerals and all the other wealth beneath the sea on the continental shelf, again we should not be dividing ourselves on a States basis. We should look at the overall problem of how these resources can best be used in the interests of the people of this nation.

I commend the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) on his action in regard to this matter. He has exhibited a brand of Australianism which has been lacking in the past when the resources of this country have been lost to it - and when the wealth of our country has been fed out to people living overseas by multi-national corporations which have had the opportunity of exploiting the great wealth of our nation. Regrettably, it is true that some of the States have engaged in what they thought was a form of speculation which would bring in some immediate return and have bartered away much of the wealth of our country. We cannot afford to continue this practice. When we are dealing with any other nation in trade and commerce we must deal as a nation and not as parts of a nation. If some nation comes to us to buy our coal or some other mineral won from the submerged lands or elsewhere, it comes as an organised economic unit to purchase what we have to sell but we are divided in our dealings with other nations. For that reason it is imperative that this matter be decided, and decided promptly.

I was particularly impressed this afternoon with the remarks of the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), who made national speeches or Australian speeches on an Australian subject. On questions such as this the Parliament should forget for once the narrow divisions that sometimes separate honourable members on questions of political attitude and party considerations on other matters. We should submerge those considerations, adopt a national attitude and put forward a point of view which will be intelligible not only within Australia but also outside this nation.

What has been the situation in the past on the question of the wealth won from beneath the ocean? This activity has been promoted by the national government, the Australian Government - past non-Labor governments - by way of assistance to companies searching for petroleum beneath the ocean in Bas Strait and elsewhere, by way of assistance provided by the Bureau of Mineral Resources and by way of subisides and taxation remissions. In all these fields it has been a national attitude which has helped to bring the development about. Then, having won certain rewards in this regard, the Commonwealth had vacated the field and left it to independent and individual States.

Let us look at some of the practices which have occurred. Take the case of Esso-BHP in Bass Strait. This was an example of the type of consultation that we have been asked to accept this evening. It is an experience that should have taught honourable members that this is not the most desirable practice. In the mid-1960s Esso-BHP was able to locate considerable reserves of petroleum products - oil and natural gas - in Bass Strait on the continental shelf. Despite the fact that they were found as a result of money made available by our national Government, the Australian Government, these resources have not been readily made available to the people of Australia. They have not been made available to the people all around the countryside. The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), who spoke in this debate, is a former Minister for National Development and he represents an electorate which includes the city of Albury. That city, which is in close proximity to where the oil and natural gas have been found, has been unable to get natural gas up to this stage because of the man ner in which that resource has been handled. Surely if there was one honourable member in the House who should have cried out for a change of attitude on this matter it was the honourable member for Farrer.

Let us look a little further at the use of these resources. Sir William Pettingell, the energetic and capable administrator and executive of the Australian Gas Light Co., tried to negotiate a deal to get natural gas from Bass Strait for New South Wales. Despite all his efforts, he was unable to get it at the right price. Consequently, he had to become involved in oil and gas searches in the distant parts of New South Wales and eventually he had to make an arrangement to buy natural gas from Gidgealpa in South Australia. This is an experience that should be remembered.

The arrangements made in respect of the Bass Strait resources by Sir Henry Bolte, when Premier of Victoria, arid the nonLabor Federal Government of the time so tied up those resources that they were not available to the people of the rest of Australia. The price was prohibitive. Only now is EssoBHP coming to adopt a realistic attitude to the sale of these resources. I remind honourable members that some time ago I raised in this House a question about the sale of liquefied petroleum gas in New. South Wales by Esso-BHP. It was being sold, to the Lith- gow City Council at $52 a ton. However, the same resource, the availability of which was made possible by the provision of a subsidy, was going from Australia to Japan at $16 a ton. This is the sort of thing that we can and perhaps will correct in the foreseeable future. But before these matters can be dealt with effectively it is imperative that the law be known. We should establish beyond any doubt just where the Commonwealth stands in regard to the control of submerged lands and the resources won therefrom.

It has been said that the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick - I have read the remarks he made in the court case concerned- has declared that the State responsibility and authority ends at the low water mark. Be that as it may, accept that if we wish, whether it is true or false, the fact is that the question should be determined by the Court. It should be put beyond any shadow of doubt at all. And the only way that this can be accomplished is by a determination, firstly, of this national Parliament of Australia to legislate in the form of the Bills which have been presented by the Minister for Minerals and Energy.

It has been a sore point in Australian politics that much of our resources is being acquired and taken over by foreign companies. On whatever side of the House honourable members sit, they know that there is a great body of public opinion that is absolutely disgusted and fed up that this trend has been allowed to develop to the stage where the resources of our country have been acquired stealthily, skilfully and in a scheming way and placed in the ownership of people living outside our country. I have referred to the operations of Esso-BHP in Bass Strait, but look at the situation of Woodside-Burmah in the other lucrative field on the north-west shelf of Western Australia. There, too, is a case where foreign ownership has acquired great graticular blocks, tremendous areas of land such as would not be made available by the Arab States of the Middle East, yet we, the so-called enlightened Australians, have been prepared to allow this situation to develop.

The submerged lands in this area overlie tremendous wealth. They have been passed into the hands of foreign speculators and multi-national corporations. These resources should be in the hands of Australia. There should be an Australian policy determining these matters. United we stand in any matter; divided we fall. If we are united as Australians, speaking with an Australian voice, it will not be a voice which will be petulant; it will not be -harmful to one State as against another; it will have clear national objectives for the good of the Australian people. If we are incompetent and incapable of doing that we at least ought to surrender our rights to govern this country. Surely it is fundamental that the resources of our country should be in the charge and control of the nation and the Government of the nation. Whether the Government be Labor, Liberal or Country Party is beside the point. These areas should be in the charge of the nation and controlled by the government of this land.

So I make a plea tonight that this matter should be determined by the Parliament and a decision made once and for all time. We should determine the matter. If the validity of this legislation is to be tested in the courts of the land let the process come into operation. Let it be determined. Let us know where we stand. This situation of uncertainty and doubt while our country is being plundered is certainly not good enough for us. We must think too of our relationship with foreign countries, with Indonesia and other countries with which we have a continental shelf boundary and link. The time will come, as the honourable member for Moreton said this afternoon, when Papua New Guinea will be independent. What will be the situation there? After independence who knows what group of people from America, Japan, Canada, Russia, China or anywhere else will have a dominating say in the affairs of Papua New Guinea. Are we going to let this matter be handled by the Premier of Queensland and follow the line that he has followed? I hope not.

It is not for us to judge the attitudes of people who have been elected to lead their various States, but I want to make a plea for national unity in this matter. I plead for national understanding and national purpose so that the resources of Australia will be protected firstly for the people of this country. We all know that there is a great dearth of fuel and energy. Energy is a diminishing asset If the Government of the nation does not act to protect the rights of all the people of Australia through legislation of this kind it will have betrayed the people it was elected to represent and to serve.

Tonight I merely enter this debate at the eleventh hour with no previous intention to speak. But I was somewhat astonished to hear the attitude of 'little Australians'. I was heartened by the words of the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins. I was encouraged very much by the remarks of the honourable member for Moreton and I have been stimulated by the remarks made by honourable members on the Government side who, with clarity and force, have declared Australia's position and have also made a plea for a clear understanding of the legal situation in this important matter. I support the Bill.

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