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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 1277

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science and Technology)(5.43) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill proposes a number of amendments to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act . It establishes around the Bass Strait petroleum production facilities an area to be avoided by unauthorised Australian ships; it transfers from the designated authority to the joint authority the power to exercise control over rates of petroleum production; it authorises reference of proposals relating to licence work exemptions to the joint authority; and it removes a number of drafting inconsistencies.

A Bill to establish the area to be avoided in Bass Strait came before the Parliament in late 1982 but lapsed with the dissolution of the Parliament in early 1983. The amendments contained in the current Bill are similar to those of that earlier Bill, with the addition of provisions to allow the declaration of a state of emergency in times of heightened terrorist threat, that, is, above the normal level.

Under the provisions of the Bill, entry into the area to be avoided in Bass Strait is prohibited to Australian vessels over 200 tonnes and, in times of heightened terrorist threat, to all Australian vessels. In regard to foreign vessels, the area to be avoided was approved by the International Maritime Organisation in 1981 and advisory measures were promulgated by the IMO in October 1982. General compliance with those measures has been acheived. The proposed area to be avoided covers an area extending 50 nautical miles from the Victorian coast and embraces all the off-shore platforms and associated submarine pipelines. Complementary legislation will be introduced in Victoria to cover the area between the coast and the outer limit of the territorial sea. The outer boundary of the area is approximately five nautical miles beyond the platforms.

The Bill provides that, where an unauthorised vessel enters or remains in the area, the owner and the master may be liable to a fine of up to $50,000, or five years' imprisonment, or both. Provision is made for possible defences against prosecution on the grounds of an unforeseen emergency or because of circumstances beyond the control of the person in charge. The powers of authorised persons to enforce these new provisions are set out in the Bill. They include the power to board a vessel, to order the removal of a vessel from the area and to order a disabled vessel to accept assistance. A person refusing to comply with the instructions of authorised persons acting within their powers may be fined up to $5,000. Provision is made for the issue of warrants to authorised persons and for the exercise of their powers without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

The Bill also provides for all unauthorised Australian ships to be excluded from the area when a state of emergency is declared because of a terrorist or extortion threat. The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh), acting on the advice of the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) and in consultation with Victoria's designated authority-the relevant State Minister-will be able to declare a state of emergency for up to 14 days and to extend the declaration by further periods of 14 days if necessary. The introduction of the area to be avoided is necessary to ensure the protection of one of Australia's most important resource development projects. It is also essential in order that the risk to the lives of those working on the production platforms and on ships passing through the area is minimised.

The Bill also provides for the joint authority-the Commonwealth Minister and the relevant State or Northern Territory Minister-to issue directions to licensees as to the rate of recovery of petroleum from licence areas. This will remove an inconsistency in the present legislation whereby the joint authority is responsible for directing commencement of production, but the designated authority is empowered to direct licensees to increase or reduce that production .

In addition, the amendments provide for the joint authority to direct the rates of recovery of petroleum from individual pools in a licence area, as well as the licence area as a whole, as provided for under the present legislation. In view of the importance to Commonwealth revenue of rates of production from off-shore petroleum fields, the amendments also specify Commonwealth revenue considerations as a reason for joint authority direction as to rates or recovery of petroleum.

The Bill also provides that any proposals by the designated authority to vary work conditions in licences be made subject to examination by the joint authority at the direction of the Commonwealth Minister. This removes an inconsistency in the division of responsibilities between the joint authority and the designated authority. It is unacceptable that, while the joint authority must approve the original work conditions of a licence, and can approve or vary permit conditions, it cannot, under the Act as it stands at present, vary work conditions of a licence.

Finally, the Bill removes a number of drafting inconsistencies and ambiguities, many of which were identified during the preparation of complementary State- Northern Territory legislation. A draft of this Bill was circulated to the States and the Northern Territory and to industry earlier this year. A number of comments received have been incorporated into the Bill now before the House. The provisions of the Bill have no direct financial impact. The amendments proposed in this Bill are essential to the continued effective administration of the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Carlton) adjourned.