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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 2147

Senator WOOD (Queensland) - I oppose this Bill because I feel that it has been introduced probably as a result of some small argument in previous times in relation to some part of the coastline of Australia, and more particularly, I think, in relation to oil. I think that this legislation is an indication of the Federal Government trying to reduce the power and the rights of the States and it is an attempt to build the Federal Parliament into a much greater structure at the expense of the States. I feel that this chamber owes its existence to the fact that the States would not accept the setting up of a Commonwealth Parliament until such time as it included a chamber in which they had equal voting rights, as is the situation in the Senate. It seems to me that there is a view taken that we in Canberra have a wonderful way of handling things and that we are much superior in the way in which we handle things compared with the States. We seem to exhibit a superior knowledge and we are much more capable of doing these things. Of course, this is a very big country. I feel that it is much better to have a Federal system in which the States look at the smaller matters and the Commonwealth has the role of oversight.

So far as this legislation is concerned, the point brought out this afternoon in the debate which attracted my mind- I think Senator Durack was speaking at the time- related to legislation that had been passed in countries such as the United States. Apparently the United States has not solved the legal problems because I understand that more legal actions are being taken in that country than was the case before the legislation was passed. Let us look at the situation in Australia. I think we have been pretty free of legal argument in this country under our present set-up. If we have managed to get through in that way over the years, what is wrong with our trying to carry on in that way? I think the solution to this problem is people getting together and having discussions. There is no reason why the Commonwealth and the States cannot work together in this respect. Even if this legislation does go through there will be difficulties. There is no question about that. There is no doubt also that legal argument will take place over a long period.

It has been said in this place that if we had a closer knowledge of these things we would not say many of the things we do say. As has been mentioned, my State of Queensland has a particular interest in this legislation because of the unusual formation of our coastline. I refer to the Great Barrier Reef which is the world's greatest wonder, stretching for well over 1 ,000 miles and encompassing a very extensive area because a large section of it is very wide. Many people have spoken about this reef but they would not know very much about it. There was a very striking illustration of this in the Parliament a couple of years or so ago when a debate took place on the Great Barrier Reef. I discovered that most of the people who spoke about it were people from States other than Queensland. I was not able to take part in that debate, although I have probably been associated with the reef longer than anyone else in this Parliament. It would be more than 40 years ago that I began to help to develop the Great Barrier Reef tourist industry. It is something in which I have taken a very keen interest. I have been over the reef and looked at it and I have helped behind the scenes in getting some of the areas proclaimed national parks.

We hear talk in this Parliament and outside the Parliament, as well as from federal authorities, about the oil leases on the reef. We heard of what a terrible thing Queensland did when it gave leases for the finding of oil and we heard about the damage which could be done and so on. Santa Barbara, or whatever place it is in the United States, was always quoted as a case. These things are built up as being of terrific importance and develop a great fear. Why? Every day in the year there is a much greater risk for the Great Barrier Reef than that. What would the people of Canberra know about it. They would know nothing at all. That risk is the shipping which goes up and down the coastline every day of the year. I refer to the oil tankers. If an oil tanker were caught in one of the islands of the Reef, or the Reef itself, it would cause a damage far transcending what any oil well would do. Honourable senators should not say that this is idle representation.

A few years ago I discussed this matter with a man associated with the shipping of oil. He said, in effect: 'Yes, there is no question, that is the greatest risk as far as the Great Barrier Reef is concerned'. Only a little over a week ago I attended a Comalco function in Brisbane and a gentleman associated with the transport of oil in shipping said to me exactly the same thing. He said: 'Of course that is the great worry, that is the big risk'. We get certain things magnified out of all proportion and yet things of a much greater risk nobody even talks about. Therefore I think that these situations require people who are on the spot, people who have some knowledge of the factors involved and people who are associated closely with the problems. I consider that the control of the whole of this situation from Canberra would be a very bad move indeed. I think that the allocation of the power of the States at the moment in regard to this issue is much better than the way which is now suggested. As I said before, the people of Canberra, the parliamentary people and the public servants, no doubt think that they can do things better than we can in the individual States. The people in Canberra should remember that we all come from those States and the people who run those States are people like ourselves in the main. I am not one of those who are prepared to see Canberra get every power.

I believe that the safest system we can have is a true federal system. Although democracy is not the perfect way of running a country, it is the safest way. It is possibly not the most effective way of running a country but it is the safest way. It has a lumbering process about it but is the safest way. Therefore I look upon the preservation of the State rights in this matter as having a safety factor to it and presenting a better aspect than passing over the whole of these powers to the Commonwealth. I am here in this States House as a States man and I will stand for the rights of the States in this matter and vote against this legislation.

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