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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2170

Senator COULTER —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. It follows a question I asked last week in relation to the agreements between the Commonwealth and the States on dumping at sea within the three-mile limit, from either ships ashore or shore based pipelines. Did the former Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, propose to Mr Tonkin, the former Premier of South Australia, that State legislation should be passed to control both (a) marine pollution through dumping and (b) land based marine pollution? Did the Premier of South Australia agree to that proposal, including giving the undertaking that `if the States did not legislate, Commonwealth legislation would apply in the three-mile zone'? Is the Minister aware of the severe marine pollution at Port Pirie where Broken Hill Associated Smelters is discharging large amounts of zinc, lead and cadmium into the sea? Has South Australia passed the legislation according to the agreement of 1979? If not, will the Commonwealth now exercise its power to control marine pollution in South Australia?

Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Coulter gave me some notice of this question, although it was fairly late. I have done my best to obtain some information in the short time available to me. In relation to the first and second parts of the question, I do not have full details of all of the relevant exchanges between the then Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, and the former Premier of South Australia, Mr Tonkin. Senator Coulter did provide copies of some correspondence. I am having some checks made to find out whether that is all the correspondence that is involved.

In relation to the third part of the question, certainly I am aware of a pollution problem at Port Pirie. In so far as legislation is concerned, legislation was passed by South Australia and received assent as far back as May of 1984. As far as I can ascertain, that legislation has never been proclaimed. Port Pirie lies on Spencer Gulf and I am told that South Australia regards that as an internal matter.

Senator Puplick —Points for geography.

Senator RICHARDSON —I am glad to get points for something! I am told that since 1986 South Australia has regarded the waters of Spencer Gulf as an internal matter. Clearly, the Commonwealth does not have power to control marine pollution within South Australian internal waters.

Senator Chaney —And history too?

Senator RICHARDSON —That matter dates back to letters patent of 1836, as I am reliably informed. If the Commonwealth has no power, obviously it will not act. But I will undertake to get some more details of the exchanges between the Fraser Government and the South Australian Government. If, as a result of that search for information, there is anything more to tell the honourable senator, I shall certainly do so.

Senator COULTER —I wish to ask a supplementary question. I am rather surprised at the Minister saying what he did in view of the High Court of Australia decision in relation to jurisdiction over the seas, the granting back to the States of that three-mile zone under section 51 (xxxviii) of the Constitution, and the question of Commonwealth powers. I ask whether the Minister is aware of article 1 of the London Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, to which Australia is a signatory, which says:

Contracting parties shall individually and collectively promote the effective control of all sources of pollution of the marine environment and pledge themselves especially-

and that is the significant word-

to take all practicable steps to prevent pollution of the sea by the dumping of waste.

That refers to ship dumping. In view of that article 1 of the Convention to which the Australian Government is a signatory, does the Commonwealth not have powers to legislate? In view of the earlier agreement between Mr Fraser and Mr Tonkin, does the Convention not also place a responsibility on the Commonwealth to so legislate?

Senator RICHARDSON —I gave an answer to some of those questions last week. Certainly the Commonwealth's view of the London dumping Convention has been that the Commonwealth has power to control sea based marine pollution but not land based pollution. I think we have to take a reading of that Convention as a whole rather than using any one part. That has always been the Commonwealth's understanding. I have not had any evidence placed before me to change that. In so far as the second part of the supplementary question is concerned, I have already given an undertaking to try to find out more about the arrangements made between the Fraser Government and the Tonkin Government in years past. As soon as I have that information I will make it available to the honourable member.