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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 2070


Mr GAYLER(8.57) —Madam Deputy Speaker, I say at the outset that as this Thirty-Third parliament draws to a close I appreciate the opportunity of speaking to the House through you. I commend you for your excellent effort in your position over the last few months. (Quorum formed) As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it has been a pleasure to address this place through you Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank you for the way in which you have handled the situation with authority, impartiality and complete finesse. In speaking to this Bill to amend the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act of 1967 it is convenient to refer to the reason for the introduction of the legislation in 1967. The original Bills introduced in that year provided a legislative framework governing exploration for petroleum resources. The Commonwealth Government and the several State governments joined together in a co-operative effort to ensure the legal effectiveness of titles authorising the search for or production of petroleum in and from our off-shore areas.

In introducing that legislation, the States and the Commonwealth co-operated by pooling not only their jurisdictional powers, but also their administrative and technical resources to produce a legislative scheme which was at the time unique in the world and suited to a federal system of government. The basic instrument for allowing the whole of the joint legislative structure is an agreement entered into by the Federal Government and the governments of the several States .

The previous speaker, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), did not advert to this legislation at all but gave a purely political speech suited to the cockies in the outback. I note that a few are now in the House; they have come down from the bush to the perches in this House. The purpose of this amending Bill is to introduce provisions for the exclusion of ships of over 200 tonnes gross tonnage from the area surrounding the Bass Strait oil platform, extending some 50 nautical miles from the coast, and for directions as to the rate of oil production to be given to the Joint Authority rather than to the State or Northern Territory Minister alone.

It is a well recognised fact that there are dangers on oil drilling platforms of collision with large ships. This danger is heightened by the navigational difficulty for the ships in avoiding a single point fixed in mid-ocean. The Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act of 1967 provides for a safety zone of up to 500 metres radius to surround a drilling platform, with excessive penalties for non- observance of $100,000 and 10 years imprisonment. Subsequently, advisory measures published by the International Maritime Organisation in October 1982 have been successful in excluding shipping from the much larger area specified in this Bill. 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 sea. The outer boundary of the area is approximately five nautical miles beyond the platforms. It is intended that the complementary legislation of the Victorian Government will similarly exclude ships of over 200 tonnes gross tonnage within the territorial sea to three nautical miles from the coast. Where a state of emergency is declared in relation to the area to be avoided on grounds of a threat of terrorism, all marine vessels other than government vessels are totally excluded.

I shall not continue at any length, but I note the comments of the honourable member for Gwydir who has agreed to the amending Bill in toto, but as I said previously he gave a political speech addressed to the cockies of this country. The powers of authorised persons to enforce these new provisions are set out in the Bill. They include, among other things, 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 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. Finally, the Bill removes a number of drafting inconsistencies that we inherited and ambiguities, many of which were identified during the preparation of complementary State- Northern Territory legislation. The amendments proposed in the Bill are essential to the continued effective administration of the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act, and I commend the Bill to the House.