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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 2148

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I support my Government colleagues on this matter. When Senator Byrne, Senator Davidson and I were on the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution we gained information which was so effectively put by Senator O 'Byrne when he was a member of the Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources. It is in that context that I unreservedly support the legislation. Some people say that they are State righters or, as Senator McManus said, federalists. I simply apply this test: Is it effective to divide control if only one area is involved? It does not and would not work effectively on an issue such as oil pollution. Senator O 'Byrne in a very effective interjection to Senator Wood, for whom I have a lot of respect, referred to the danger to the Great Barrier Reef. As Senator O 'Byrne implied, the control of oil pollution is largely under the Navigation Act which is Australian Government legislation. It has nothing to do with the States.

When the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution was taking evidence all over the Commonwealth we found, when we questioned the various State authorities, that there was a lack of liaison with the Commonwealth. That fact was proved in Senator Wood's own State in regard to the lamentable 'Oceanic Grandeur' disaster. It is history that fortunately for certain tide fluctuations a lot more damage was not done. From the results of the inquiry it was quite obvious that each of the States apply their own techniques and there is not sufficient integration. There was a wide wastage of time in combatting this particular oil spillage. There is a much more serious implication. It is regrettable that Senator Webster is not in the chamber. No doubt he is listening in to what I am saying.

Senator Webster - You can say that again.

Senator MULVIHILL - I notice he is in his wrong seat. However, I am pleased that he is here. He went to the United States and spoke to certain people. I wonder whether he had the opportunity of talking to or receiving communications as I did from leading United States Senators such as Senator Muskie, from the seaside State of Maine, or Senator Jackson. They are people who have a high reputation in the United States Senate. Their advice to me was that the Washington Government could not move effectively in regard to oil spillage where there was divided control. I do not know whether it ought to be termed the Washington Government. Senator Wood referred to the 'people in Canberra'. He overlooks that when there is a national disaster and the Department of Shipping comes into play that Department operates from Melbourne which is on the coastline. We should get away from the implications about Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Surely to goodness we are looking at the problem in its Australian content. I have said before and I repeat that oil spillages certainly will be of greater magnitude in the future. The provisions of the Navigation Act will have to be utilised and on top of that there will be major mopping up expeditions spearheaded by the Department of Shipping which is now, of course, a component of the Transport Ministry.

The appeal I am making is this: At the moment there is not enough co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth Government. While serving on the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution we asked various people, oil companies, my own State's Maritime Services Board and the Queensland Harbours and Marine Department: 'How do you keep abreast of the more effective detergents or dispersants? What do you use?' They all had a different story. There was no effective link with the world's experts to determine which was the best and most effective measure. As Senator Byrne knows, we went to Great Britain and met experts. Two different points of view were put forward on the Torrey Canyon' disaster. The French adopted one attitude and the British adopted another.

Senator O'Byrneknows only too well, as do other members who want this legislation, that there is not an effective overseas liaison. A particular company might get on side with a State government. I am not talking about another Watergate. The company may just happen to be on good terms with the State government. The government may consider the company as being nice people and the company might say: 'Use our product'. The particular government might use that product. For all we know they could be using it for 3 years and there could then be another major oil disaster. Senator Wood, spoke of these big tankers coming along the shipping lanes near the Great Barrier Reef. We do not have co-ordination and proper liaison with overseas experts. Queensland, or even my own State, could be using a dispersant that has been outmoded for 3 years.

Honourable senators opposite rise to speak in the debate today and talk about the insidious hand of Canberra. It is a mythical concept. A prime job of honourable senators as Australians is to see that our sea lanes are kept free of oil pollution, together with many of the other matters about which Senator O'Byrne talked. Honourable senators opposite talk about hurting somebody's dignity. I have never worried about human dignity in this sense. If somebody calls me a bastard when I have made a mistake, I do not go crook about it; but I reserve the right to call him the same name when I think he has made a mistake. It burns me up when a person, whether he be a Labor Premier, a Liberal Premier or anybody else, gets concerned about the Prime Minister, who ever he may be. When I entered the Parliament I, along with other members, took an oath. Every 6 years honourable senators take an oath to uphold the Constitution. My idea of the Constitution is that we represent Australia, not the States which, in many ways, are becoming glorified municipal assemblies. This is a fact of fife and it will continue to be so. No matter which party is in government during the next 10 years, we will find that there will be regionalisation instead of the existing State boundaries.

It is against that whole picture that I sum up the position with this attitude: I believe that we are only attempting to do what every other major nation has done. From time to time, Senator Wriedt, who I notice has just entered the chamber, and other honourable senators may attend overseas conferences as members of Australian delegations. As Senator O'Byrne said in his well documented speech, are we going to be humiliated by having to say that Australia is just a collection of colonies? There is nothing more embarrassing than that when we are attending these overseas gatherings. I attended a supplementary conference on environmental matters which was held at Brussels. One of the things that were said to me- it was said in jest, but it rankled with me- was: 'Of course, senator, even when your national Parliament agrees to something do you not have to get the States to agree?' In 1 973, do we have to look over our shoulders at these governments that are primarily responsible for the Totalizator Agency Board and municipal rates? Such governments have their place, but they do not think nationally. We do, and that is why we have introduced this legislation.

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