Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 2138

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) -The subject matter of the debate before the Senate is the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill 1973 (No. 2). But to listen to what has been said by honourable senators opposite one would think that we were having a panegyric or a homily on local government and swimming and boating facilities in the inland waters of this nation. When Senator Durack rose to speak he said that we had to make up our minds and decide whether we should support or oppose this measure. Having heard Senator Durack 's speech I would say that his mind was made up before he ever stood on his feet. His mind was closed on the subject when he came into the Senate today. The honourable senator is representing in this Parliament, or claiming to, people whose minds are also closed to the facts of life that exist today. The honourable senator quoted that the policy of the Liberal Party was to support a vital-

Senator Poyser - It has not got a policy.

Senator O'BYRNE - This is so. Everything is negative as far as the Liberal Party is concerned. Its objective is to frustrate the will of the people which was expressed on 2 December last year. This is the last rearguard action by the remnant and the rump of the regime which is still hanging on here by the skin of its teeth in order to frustrate the will of the people.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- Order! I do not think that this has anything to do with the Bill before the Senate.

Senator O'BYRNE - I am answering what was said by the previous speaker, Senator Durack. I will quote what he said. He said that these matters should be decided either by cooperative arrangements between the State and Federal authorities or by amending the Constitution. What hypocrisy this is, because whatever we put up in regard to amending the Constitution we get the same build-up of fear and small mindedness. The little Australians trot out of their holes in the woodwork and say: 'You cannot do it because the sovereignty of the States might be abrogated '. This negative approach is nauseating.

The honourable senator spoke of the High Court and said that it probably would take some years to fully resolve the ambit of this legislation. Of course, this is the very purpose of the opposition that has been put up by Senator Durack. The Opposition does not want this Government to get on with the job of developing our natural resources and off-shore resources. I might remind the honourable senator also that this legislation is designed to proceed in view of the technique which has been developed over recent years and opens up a new dimension in winning resources from the seabed. This involves the use of drilling and dredging facilities that have never been incorporated into State mining codes. We have to get on with the job of finding out how we can best develop these resources. But we are being faced with all of these side issues. We have to contend with all of these red herrings that have been raised about people not being able to fish or to sunbathe or about someone who wants to build a jetty. One would think that members of the Opposition were at a Sunday school picnic instead of being responsible to members of the national Parliament talking about matters which the best brains in the world are trying to solve. At the present time some of the greatest international jurists are working out the details of the law of the sea. Does Senator Durack mean to tell me that they are going to consult people such as him or some of the people in the State governments who could not run a fowl house, let alone administer the law of the sea from their little State enclaves?

This is a national and international problem that should be dealt with by men of vision who have the interests of the nation and our international agreements at heart. The honourable senator said that we would be seeking to solve by litigation matters that could not be solved by the process of arrangements with the States. This is the amazing part about it. In April 1970 representatives of Senator Durack 's Government of the time, with a lot of support, introduced legislation similar to the Bill now before us. Representatives of that Government expressed the view that Australia's national and international interests would be best served if the legal position of the Australian continental shelf was resolved. We saw the frustration of this objective and a running away from the issues. Pressures were applied by the State governments and eventually the Commonwealth Government of the day dropped the whole subject. But at one time the Government which Senator Durack supported was in favour of this legislation. That Government saw the wider issues that are involved. But it is quite easy to understand the pressures that would have been placed on the then Government by people who were involved in selling us the other, what one could nearly call, scandalous arrangement.

I refer to the off-shore petroleum resources legislation. The Bureau of Mineral Resources and other Commonwealth instrumentalities had done the groundwork and had invited the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd to come in. But at that time Mr Weeks, who is at present in Australia and who is a noted authority on oil exploration, said: 'Of course you have all the indications there. I have international knowledge of where oil is likely to be obtained'. He said virtually: Dig here'.

The great resources of Bass Strait were then opened up partly to an Australian company, but the international oil companies also had a foot in the door. This started off the pattern by which States such as Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland were all conned into this agreement which was one-sided and directed into the hands of the international oil monopolists. If honourable senators look at the licences of the vast offshore areas of Australia they will find that only a handful of multi-national oil companies hold all these licences. The States Mines Departments knew nothing about these resources; this was never written into their mining codes. Thank goodness there was provision for relinquishment, but until the present Minister came to office and the Bureau of Mineral Resources and other people put their advice clearly before the Government, the ground work had been laid for the working of all sorts of rackets in lease extensions, farm-outs and the like. Thank goodness the new Government has had a good look at this and we may see a much more rapid development of our off-shore oil resources. This legislation deals with the resources of the sea bed and to my mind there should be no doubt at all about the exclusive right of the Australian Government to control these resources off the coastline of Australia from low water mark to the outer limits of the continental shelf. There should be no doubt whatever about it. It is ridiculous for the States to claim sovereignty over these areas on the slim pretext that Commonwealth control would cut across their sovereign rights and they would not be able to build a jetty or to fish offshore. These protests are put up by the Opposition merely to confuse the issue. As I mentioned before, the individual States would be completely at a loss; they would be unable to send delegates to the international conference on the law of the sea. This has to be done on a national level. The same thing applies to. the determining of the width of the territorial sea. Looking back and checking up on the origin of the mythical 3-mile limit, I understand that a cannon ball could travel about 3 miles.

Senator Cant - Three leagues.

Senator O'BYRNE - Yes; and that is not the VFL, is it? There are other leagues besides that. This was a distance of 3 leagues from the coastline. That meant that any enemy or intruder could be held at bay by cannon balls that could be fired that far. Therefore that established our territorial right of the 3-mile limit. This indicates the mentality of the people who are opposing a new look in this day and age when we can send objects into the outer atmosphere and into outer space, and electronic devices and the like can make discoveries far down in the depths of the earth. Man is starting to come to grips with his environment, yet people still want to think as their forebears did that the earth is flat. Some of them have ideas about as flat as that theory. What authority has a State for negotiating boundaries with adjoining countries? We face a very important national problem to the north of Australia in the new proposed independent Papua New Guinea. What are they going to call the new independent State- Pangini, or something like that? We are going to nave to make agreements with that new country. I do not know whether Mr Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland -

Senator Poyser - He will declare war on them.

Senator O'BYRNE - I do not know whether Mr Bjelke-Petersen will want to declare war, though he has virtually declared war according to a message that he is sending the President at the present time.

Senator Poyser - He wants to drill for oil on the Barrier Reef.

Senator O'BYRNE -He wants to declare war, but on the other hand I notice that he called for Commonwealth assistance when the 'Oceanic Grandeur' spilled oil, polluting the waters off the Queensland coast and destroying the marine life of this mangificent phenomenon, the Barrier Reef. It was the Commonwealth to which the Queensland Premier and his colleagues ran for assistance. I am certain that the Queenslanders were very glad of the protection of the Australian Military Forces when in the 1939-1945 period the Japanese were a little distance across the sea in Papua New Guinea. This shows that the days of State sovereignty in many matters has gone by the board and that there is now a need for nationally organised efforts.

In these areas I have outlined the States have not challenged the rights of the Australian Government about the law of the sea and arrangements for territorial boundaries. What has to happen now is that the Commonwealth would have to seek the permission of the States to ratify these agreements. This, to me, is completely ridiculous and ludicrous. The natural resources of the sea bed are becoming more and more important to our economy. Many technological advances have been made overseas. As I mentioned before, the new techniques are developing to such an extent that provision must be made for our resources to be developed in an orderly way by the Australian Government at a national level. Some 10 to 15 years ago the Americans were drilling off the coast of the United States only to a shallow depth, in some 100, 200 or 300 feet of water, but techniques have improved so much in recent years that even off the Australian coast some of our drilling ships are capable of drilling in a depth of 1 500 feet of water. In other experiments drilling has gone down 2, 3 or 4 miles into the bowels of the earth. The more sophisticated techniques for off-shore drilling and dredging become, the more it will be necessary for us to have a proper and unchallengeable authority to explore and exploit these resources for the benefit of the nation.

There are other important matters on which I have touched with regard to conservation of our resources. We have had illustrated only in the last few weeks the efficacy and great substance in the policy of this Government with regard to the conservation of our oil and gas resources. It was announced in this morning's paper that we have about 8 years reserves of these hydrocarbons. This means that at least to a great extent we can withstand the political pressures that can be exercised here because of the fact that we have not allowed our resources to be exported to other countries. The long range plan of conservation of our resources for domestic requirements and, most importantly, defence requirements is essential. It is vital that we have an overall national policy on the conservation of our oil and gas resources. The same thing will inevitably apply to our natural seabed mineral resources.

Senator Young - Can you not do that with export controls instead of the way you propose?

Senator O'BYRNE - Of course we could do it with export controls but the position is that the whole matter has never been settled. Why should we perpetuate this area of grey where the old traditional sovereign rights of the States come into confrontation with the expanding responsibilities of a nation? We cannot afford the luxury of allowing this indecision to continue. We should come to grips with it and if the States are not prepared to cede this power to the Commonwealth we should allow the matter to go to the courts to be settled there. After all, that is the last resort. But we come up against the type of mentality shown by people who say they will not allow the Commonwealth to go into their States. This is similar to the message we had delivered in the Senate today. It is an illustration of the fascist mentality of people who are so upset that the people would decide to put into power a Government that was not the one that had been in power for so long and which had allowed so much of the potential of this country to remain undeveloped and stagnant.

In the last 70 years the only times when governments of a non-Liberal or nonconservative nature have been in power have been in periods of crisis- in the first World War, in the depression years of the 1930s and during the 1939-45 war period up till the rehabilitation era was over- and during the other periods there had been conservative governments in power here. Honourable senators opposite cannot understand why they are not in power when there is not a crisis. Of course, they are trying to generate a crisis. They are crying out: 'There is going to be a depression, there will be shortages'. We tried to introduce tariff reductions and they said it would not work. We revalued the dollar and they said that would not work. We said we would ask the States to co-operate in giving us the power to control prices and they said it would not work; they could not allow that to happen. We said that we would go to the people by way of a referendum on prices and they said that would not work; they would not have it. I wish the public knew of the carping hypocrisy of these people whose attitude is so negative. If there is anything progressive to be done they try to spread fear and that is why Senator Durack said: If you give the Commonwealth power it will stop you swimming and will not allow your boat to come into the jetty'. How puerile that is. Our case is a clear one. We believe this matter has to be grappled with and it is one which we have put up to the Parliament before. It was refused then and the proposals were frustrated by the Senate. It has been taken back to the House of Representatives and we are now putting the Bill up again here. We will now be able to go to the people of Australia and give them an account of our stewardship. Time is on our side; history is on our side. The development and conservation of our oil resources have proved conclusively that Mr Connor, rather than being the coal miner from Wollongong, will go down in history as a greater statesman than any of the honourable senators opposite who have criticised him.

Senator Mulvihill - They are frightened of the future.

Senator O'BYRNE - Of course. They are suffering from future shock. They are unable to adapt themselves to the rapidity of change. In the days that they are attuned to, things moved generation by generation, if that. Now, of course, we see movement in every field of human activity. Everywhere there are changes. These are occurring even at monthly intervals let alone 6 monthly or yearly intervals. These changes are occurring in every sphere but still the conservatives say: ' We will put our blinkers on. We do not want to admit to these changes. We want to hold on to whatever we had and if we are negative enough the people who are suffering from this same shock will listen'. After all, a lot of people are suffering from this same shock. Old people find it hard to adapt to the changing times. Senator Hannan said the other day: 'Why can't we stop the metric system'. We had people who wanted to stop -

Senator Mulvihill - The world is getting smaller.

Senator O'BYRNE - Of course it is. They wanted to stop the orbiting in space and the transmission of television signals from satellites and things like that because they feared them. Some people say that they will upset the balance of nature and we will have earthquakes. People come to my place, put their foot in the door and say that Armageddon is going to come. They are hoping it will because the world is changing fast. They think they can pull the cord, stop the world and get off, but they cannot. There are a lot of people who want to get on- on with the job. I am illustrating our point of view. We want to get on with the job and show members of the Opposition that ours is a progressive and far-sighted policy which has the interests of the nation at hean. That is why we have this legislation here and if it is defeated we will put the matter before the electors of this country and they will make the final decision. I hope their decision will be a good lesson to those who are trying to put brakes on the progress and development of our country.

Suggest corrections