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Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1301

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) -These 2 Bills which have been taken together relate to the exercise by the self governing legislature of the Territory of Papua New Guinea of certain powers with respect to offshore mining. The Opposition recognises that the Bills clarify a matter of some doubt in one respect and acknowledge the rights of the Territory of Papua New Guinea at this stage, and certainly when it becomes independent, to exercise full and plenary powers over exploration for mining in its off-shore areas. The Opposition believe that the Bills will achieve these purposes, and it offers no objection to them. But I think there are some matters to which the attention of the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) can be drawn and in respect of which we would like some indication of the course which has been taken and some assurances for the future. The request is made not in any sense conditionally that these assurances be given, but simply to draw attention to these matters because in the future they could produce discord unless they are borne in mind at all stages in the course of the negotiations which will have to take place.

The present position in relation to the power to make laws with regard to off-shore mining is that the provisions of the Papua New Guinea Act have been exercised in the manner in which, prior to self government last December, the power to make laws was transferred from the Australian Government to the legislature of the Territory of Papua New Guinea. There is some doubt, as the Minister said in his second reading speech, whether that transfer of power is sufficiently clear to ensure the full plenary power of the Territory legislature. I can imagine areas in which that doubt may exist. Accepting that when the Territory of Papua New Guinea becomes independent it should have all the powers of a sovereign nation with regard to its off-shore areas, it is appropriate that there be no doubt that Papua New Guinea on independence will have that power. I understand that that is the sole purpose of the amendment to the Papua New Guinea Act.

The amendment to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act is designed to carry forward logically and, one might suppose, is a matter of realisation of what was contemplated some 7 years ago, that some day the Territory of Papua New Guinea would exercise for itself powers with regard to petroleum exploration and exploitation in its off-shore waters. The Bill excises from the parent Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act of 1967 all those provisions which vested the powers of a designated authority in the relevant Australian Minister. It will mean that the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act passed by this Parliament hereafter will contain no reference to Papua New Guinea and impliedly will divest all Australian authorities of power to make laws with regard to exploration for and exploitation of petroleum in the off-shore waters.

The scheme of the petroleum submerged lands legislation is unique. I well recall the very interesting activities of a select committee of the Senate which examined the circumstances in which the legislation came into being and which also gave intensive consideration to the implications of the legislation. The legislation, of course, is mirror legislation in the sense that the Commonwealth Act has been reproduced by State legislation in each of the States. Prior to the legislation being devised in that way, an agreement was made between the 6 State Premiers and the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth under which the mirror legislation was to be produced. In the negotiations which took place prior to that agreement and in the terms of the agreement the Australian Government acted on behalf of the Territory of Papua New Guinea. It is my recollection that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been the Designated Authority in regard to the Territory of Papua New Guinea, he having succeeded the Minister for External Territories.

The territorial division of the submerged lands area between Queensland and the Territory of Papua New Guinea was a fundamental part of the arrangement so that the area over which the Commonwealth Government, representing the Territory of Papua New Guinea, would exercise authority could be differentiated from the area over which the Designated Authority for the State of Queensland would exercise authority. That boundary, of course, is described by metes and bounds in the Schedule to the petroleum and submerged lands legislation. Attached to the actual agreement which preceded the legislation are maps which indicate where that boundary lies. I understand, having had some discussions with Mr Peacock who represents the Opposition in this matter in the House of Representatives, that the boundary which was drawn in 1967 has undergone some inevitable changes over the years, so that what is now produced in the legislation which is currently before us is a boundary which includes part of the land mass of the Territory of Papua New Guinea.

I mention this because I hope that it is not something which will be just left to pass in the hope that if unstated and unreferred to no problem will arise about it in the future. I suspect it is matters which are shelved in that way which so often become the real stumbling blocks at some future time. I hope that when there is a genuine desire to reach agreement and willingness to make the necessary compromises- this is not a contentious area- that steps will be taken to clarify it and to clarify it in a way that resolves all possibility of future doubt. I also note with some concern that if the letter of the agreement under which the submerged lands legislation was introduced has been observed at least the spirit of that agreement has not. I fail to see why it was not appropriate for the Commonwealth Government to initiate discussions with Queensland with a view to ensuring that what is contemplated in the legislation meets with the approval of Queensland. The whole tenor of the agreement was that any amendment to the legislation would be the subject of discussions with the State concerned. I know it can be argued that on a strict reading of the agreement no discussion with Queensland was necessary.

Having regard to the boundary problem to which I have already adverted I would have thought that desirable, if not required by the agreement, that discussions with Queensland should take place. It seems strange that we should be debating these Bills and that I should be making this comment so soon after criticism has been made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) of the Queensland Premier in which it was implied that the Queensland Premier was adopting an unreasonable attitude. I think that the Queensland Premier has a very neat rejoinder, if he chooses to use it, that this was one occasion where, quite unnecessarily and quite unreasonably, there has been no consultation with Queensland by the Commonwealth Government. I only suggest that if the nation is to develop in the co-operative federalist way which we in the Opposition parties certainly believe it should, then consultation of this character will have to take place frequently. Where an agreement requires such consultation every effort should be made to observe both the letter and the spirit of that agreement. It is a matter of regret that such consultation has not taken place on this occasion. As I have indicated these 2 Bills are part of the ongoing process, with which the Opposition concurs, for the transference of power to Papua New Guinea so that when it assumes independence it will be a full independence in which the co-operation of the Australian Government at all times has been evident. We recognise that these 2 Bills are part of a general tidying up process in the stages towards independence. The Opposition offers no objection to them.

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