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Thursday, 9 December 1976
Page: 3606

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr SHIPTON -At the outset may I say, as Acting Chairman of the Sub-Committee, that I appreciate the chairing of some of the final meetings of the Joint Committee by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) in the absence on some occasions of the Chairman for personal reasons.

In May of this year the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence decided to investigate the boundary between Australia and Papua New Guinea. A sub-committee was appointed to carry out this investigation which to some degree was restricted as the question was already the subject of negotiations between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The subcommittee received evidence, some of which was heard in camera, from a number of witnesses including departmental officers, academics and a number of private citizens. No clear definitive statement of position was obtained from the Government of Papua New Guinea or the State of Queensland. However the Chairman of the sub-committee, myself, and one sub-committee member the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi), did have an informal discussion with the Premier of Queensland.

As part of its investigations the sub-committee visited the Torres Strait area and held public hearings on a number of islands including Yam, Saibai and Thursday Island. As a result of this visit the sub-committee felt it had gained a valuable insight into the attitude of the average Torres Strait Islander regarding any proposals to change the existing border. The report contains a number of quotations of evidence from representatives of the Islanders made to the subcommittee during its visit.

As part of the investigation the Committee considered material relating to the establishment of the 1879 line under the Queensland Coast Island Act of 1879 which delineated islands around the coast of Queensland, including those in the Torres Strait which should be considered as part of Queensland. Since that date this line has commonly been regarded as marking the boundary between Queensland and Papua New Guinea. The report was accepted by the Committee with reservations by Mr R. Jacobi, M.P., and Dr R. E. Klugman, M.P., who each had certain separate reservations. These are attached to the report as separate statements.

The Committee's recommendations include: The Torres Strait Islands should remain part of Australia; that the Government should, as soon as feasible, make a statement in Parliament setting out its position on the Torres Strait boundary; if a protected zone is established in the area freedom of passage for Australians and Papua New Guineans should be guaranteed, mining and drilling in the seabed should be prohibited until agreement is reached between all interested parties and new commercial ventures should not be permitted in the area unless they are compatible with the environment; and competent counsel should be provided to the Torres Strait Islanders if required by the people of Torres Strait.

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