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Tuesday, 31 October 1967


Mr BENSON (Batman) - I am very pleased to be able to take part in this debate. I regret that I was not able to speak in the debate on VIP aircraft. 1 thought that I would be speaking at 8 o'clock and I told my friend, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan), that I would be doing so. He took that as gospel and that is how he missed the division at 6.30 p.m. I missed it, too. I understood from the Party Whip that I would be speaking. I want to take this opportunity to point out to the House that that is how the two of us missed the division at 6.30 p.m.

I listened with interest to the remarks of the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan). He said that some $400m had been spent on the search for oil in the offshore area. I think he has his figures a little mixed. I think the $400 is for drilling in the whole of Australia, including the offshore areas, and for drilling in Papua and New Guinea. That is the way I understand it. I have nothing before me, but from memory I think that is the amount that has -been spent. The Minister for National Development (Mi Fairbairn) is to be congratulated on introducing such a big Bill as this and continuing to supervise it. It is a Bill of considerable magnitude, but there are parts of it that I do not understand and, T think, that many people do not understand. It will be up to the Minister to make the position clear to the House. I will mention some parts that are not clear to me as I go through my speech.

Some honourable members have referred to a wealthy company such as Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd being interested in offshore drilling and having such a big hold over natural gas, especially in association with the Esso organisation. I am very glad that BHP is in this venture, because it is purely an Australian company. I wish there were more such companies in Australia. Its management is entirely Australian. The company refuses to engage anyone except Australians. It sends its young executives overseas for experience and when they return to Australia they are placed in high positions. The company has done a lot of research in many parts of Australia. We find it at Groote Eylandt, Cooktown, Broken Hill and in Western Australia, as well as in many other parts of Australia. The most creditable feature is that this is an Australian company. I am not anti anyone in this world, but we should be realistic when we look at these ventures and we should not forget what has happened in other parts of the world. Surges of nationalism occur in all countries and I think that nationalism is very strong in Australia. Britain poured vast sums of money into the Middle East, especially into the Persian Gulf and into Iran, as it is called now. There was a time when Churchill found it necessary to encourage the search for oil in those areas. He needed oil for the British fleet. But when oil was found and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. was formed, the Government had 51% of the capital and private enterprise had 49%.

I am afraid that, if oil is found in Australia as a result of the grants made by the Government, control of the discoveries will not be in the hands of companies such as BHP but would be in the hands of companies that are not incorporated in Australia. In the book 'The Law of the Sea' by D. W. Bowett - and I would advise as many people as possible to read it - it is pointed out that the British Government, when it granted leases in the North Sea made it a condition that the person applying for the lease, had to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and that the company had to be incorporated in the United Kingdom. I do not know whether the people who are to be granted permits, or who will be granted permits, will be obliged to be incorporated in Australia. I hope that is a requirement. Earlier I referred to nationalisation. In most countries of the Middle East private ownership of the oil wells lasted about 40 years. It lasted about the same time in Indonesia and Mexico. Then the people rose up and said: 'These wells belong to us and we want them.' What is more, they got them. I do not want to see anything like that happen in Australia in the next 40 years or even, in these modern times, in the next 20 years. However, when companies get a sole right this is always a possibility. We should examine these points and emphasise them from the outset. We could get into this Parliament men who will say: 'We do not believe in this sort of thing.' I am not going to debate this possibility now, but overnight people who have sunk millions into these projects could lose everything. This is an aspect that needs a lot of thought.

In one. respect the Bill seems to be throwing away federal rights. From my reading of "The. Law of the Sea' it seems that territorial seas at present are those seas which lie 3 miles off the coast. This week we will debate a Bill which tries - and I hope it succeeds - to increase, for fishing rights, the territorial seas to 12 miles off the coast. It is not certain that we will be able to do this. I feel that some countries will challenge this proposal in the International Court. However, it is generally understood that the territorial sea is that area which lies 3 miles off the coast. Therefore around Australia we can say that for 3 miles off the Victorian coast they are Victorian waters; for 3 miles off the New South Wales coast they are New South Wales waters; for 3 miles off the Queensland coast they are Queensland waters; for 3 miles off the Western Australian coast they are Western Australian waters, and so on. Beyond the 3 mile limit at present is the high seas. As far as I know, no State controls the high seas. We have the right under international law to exercise control over the continental shelf.

The Bills we are now considering are in accord with international law, because in the Agreement associated with this Bill we read:

Whereas in accordance wilh international law Australia as a coastal state has sovereign rights over the continental shelf beyond the limits of Australian territorial waters for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources;

It is clear from this wording that we are concerned with areas beyond the territorial waters. Members of this Parliament are federally minded. It has been decided that there shall be one navy to look after the whole of Australia. We have decided, with the States, that up to 3 miles offshore are State waters and beyond that are the high seas and that the Federal Government will look after the high seas. However, this Bill does not accord with that understanding because it gives the States the right to allocate leases beyond the present 3 mile limit. I think that is the right of the Commonwealth Government. I am not an international lawyer or a constitutional lawyer. But I can see these things and I try to puzzle them out from my reading.

The chart on page 17 of the Agreement shows the area in respect of which Victoria will issue leases. It is beyond my comprehension. I do not know who drew up the chart or why it was drawn in the manner it is drawn, but it shows the area to be the responsibility of the Victoria Government as protruding for about 400 miles off Cape Howe - to latitude 41 degrees 30 minutes South and 158 degrees 13 minutes east longitude - as extending in a westerly direction for about 180 miles into South Australia and as having its southernmost point some 40 miles south of the southern extremity of Tasmania. I cannot understand how it can be decided that the issuing of permits in respect of this area should be the responsibility of the Victorian Government. I should have thought that the proper thing would be to say: 'We are going to increase our territorial sea from 3 miles to 12 miles. All wells or all exploration within the 12 mile limit will be the responsibility of the State and as far as the Commonwealth Parliament is concerned the State may have the sole rights to royalties in respect of wells that are discovered in that area, but beyond that area on the continental shelf and upon the high seas it will be the responsibility of the Commonwealth.' We do not say to the States: You can go and explore in the Northern Territory'. We say, when it comes to dry land exploration: 'You stick to your own State'. As I see it, from where the territorial sea ends, whether it is 3 miles or 12 miles to the end of the continental shelf it is Australian open high seas which come under Commonwealth control.

So that the House may understand what is meant by the continental shelf I might explain, without going into the full definition, that it is that area that extends to where the 100 fathom mark begins. With other countries we signed an international agreement in Geneva . in 1958 in which the countries concerned acknowledged each others rights in the super-adjacent areas. I think that 'super-adjacent' means areas lying under' where there is no great depth and which become the property and right of the country concerned. 1 find that some States are far better off than other States in regard to the continental shelf. I want to look at this not. as a Victorian but as a Federal member of this House. I believe that the State of New South Wales is badly treated as far as the continental shelf is concerned.

The other weekend I took the' trouble to measure the distance from the principal points in Australia to the points where the continental shelf ends. I am indebted to the Minister for supplying me with a splendid chart which his department has just completed. It is chart NMP/65/139. I think it is one of the finest charts I have seen because it not only shows all the main points in Australia but also what the seas around Australia look like. In addition, it shows very clearly the continental shelf and the 200 metre mark or the 100 fathom mark. I would like to mention a few of the points I noted so that they can be incorporated in Hansard. If I read the measurements honourable members can see how the States are treated. The continental shelf off Cape York lies 100 miles to the east, off Cairns 60 miles east, off Townsville 150 miles, off Bowen 180, off Mackay 290, off Kepple Bay 310 to 270 miles, off Gladstone 210, off Bundaberg 110 and off Brisbane 60. Stradbroke Island is 30 miles off the coast. This is important. Whereas the continental shelf started at 100 miles off Cape York, and was 290 miles off Mackay, at Stradbroke Island, near the border of Queensland and New South Wales, it is 30 miles. The continental shelf is 25 miles off Byron Bay, 30 miles off Coffs Harbour, 25 miles off Port Macquarie, 45 miles off Forster and 45 miles off Port Stephens. It then continues down to Jervis Bay where it is 15 miles off the coast. At Ulladulla it is 18 miles. It is 30 miles off Bateman's Bay and 15 mites off Narooma.

Al the border of Victoria and New South Wales the continental shelf is 20 miles off Cape Howe. The distance increases off Victoria because there is a great distance between Victoria and Tasmania. This distance is about 190 miles. The area on the chart showing the continental goes out into irregular distances so that the area of the continental shelf off Victoria is greater than it. is off New South Wales. The same thing applies in South Australia where the continental shelf extends out from the Bight. At the border between Western Australia and South Australia at a place called Wilsons Bluff the continental shelf extends for 120 miles. At Esperance Bay it is 60 miles. It is 38 miles at Albany, 35 miles at Cape Leeuwin and so on around the coast. At Port Hedland the continental shelf extends 150 miles north west of the coast and it is 190 miles off Yampi Island. Further out, where the Burmah Oil Co. is drilling at Cartier Reef, the continental shelf is 240 miles off the Western Australian coast.

For Commonwealth purposes, Ashmore and Cartier Reefs, which are adjacent to each other, are classed as belonging to the Northern Territory for oil search purposes. I can understand this because just south of these areas is another reef called Scott Reef. I suppose it is all right to talk about these things now because the war has been over for 20-odd years, but it was thought at one time that that area would help towards the protection of Australia. Scott Reef was to be a secret base where three fleets could safely lie at anchor. Just adjacent to Scott Reef, of course, is an area of Ashmore Reef and Cartier Reef where the Burmah Oil Co. is drilling. I hope that this company finds oil there. I think that this would be a good thing. However, is this company incorporated in Australia? This is the main thing. What' is going to happen if this company finds oil? This area is 60 miles away from the coast of Timor and 240 miles away from the coast of Australia. What are the people going to say if they discover oil there? They may say: Look, we are so far away from Fremantle that we do nol' want to send our oil down to Australia. Although this oil has been found in Australian territory it is cheaper for us to take it to Singapore'. If this happened Australia would get no benefit whatsoever. lt is a remarkable thing that no matter where oil is discovered on Australian territory - whether it be in Bass Strait, off Tasmania, or on the Ashmore Reef - while that oil is lying in the ground it is dinki-die Australian. However, as soon as a pipe is put down and the oil comes to the surface it can change its nationality depending on who is searching for it. That is why I say that there should be greater equity in these ventures so that, as I have pointed out, in the years to come people with a surge of nationalism will not then say: 'This is ours and we want the lot'. This will not happen if we have a controlling interest in these things. That would be a good thing for Australia and a good thing for defence purposes. I think that areas such as Ashmore Reef, Scott Reef and Cartier Reef are looked at for purposes other than oil exploration. We have to be careful when looking for places for aircraft to land should they be travelling from Saigon to Australia that we do not throw these areas away because some company has gone up there with a permit from Australia to search for oil. When this happens it is too late to build something for other purposes. I turn to the discovery of oil in what could be termed as Victorian waters. What is going to happen, for instance, in the case of Halibut Well, which is 42 miles off the coast, concerning the problem of pollution? There is nothing in the Bill to cover this. From what I can see in regard to countries where offshore oil drilling is taking place, pollution presents a continuous worry, especially for local government. Once oil is found you cannot stop oil spills into the sea. Who is going to look after this problem? Who is going to police it? Are the Commonwealth authorities going to look after it? I believe that this should be a Commonwealth matter because the drilling takes place on the high seas. Are we going to give authority back to the States and let them have their own patrol forces. We got away from this when we wound up the colonial navies and started our own for this sort of thing. However, by allowing the States to issue permits on the high seas and on the continental shelf, I believe we are giving away our Federal rights. I think something will have to be done about pollution.

It has been said that the interests of our Territories were to be safeguarded. We said that Nauru was to be covered and we said that the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was also to be covered. But it is very interesting to look at the boundary between Papua and Australia and to notice that the Queensland border in parts runs practically along the Papuan coast. If oil is found in that area there will need to be some understanding with the Papuans.

I would have liked the Minister to bring within the provisions of this Bill the areas off. the coast of Antarctica. I do not know whether there is oil there or not. I do not know whether there is oil off the New South Wales coast. I think there is less likelihood of finding oil off the New South Wales coast than off the coast of other States because the continental shelf along the New South Wales coast is so narrow. But I do think, as a federalist, that in drawing up the boundaries as we have done we have not been exactly fair to New South Wales. It is not our purpose in this Parliament to look after the interests of our own particular States but to look after the interests of Australia as a whole.

I hope the Minister will consider the position of Antarctica and make arrangements for legislation to cover that area before somebody else steps in and starts drilling there. I thought that some drilling was being done down there but evidently I am wrong. I understand that drilling is being carried out off the coast of Alaska. If people can drill in Arctic waters there is nothing to stop them drilling in Antarctica, and it is well to remember that Australia is responsible for some 25% of all the land in Antarctica, so that there would be quite an area of continental shelf coming under Australia's jurisdiction.

I know that the Minister has given a lot of time and thought to this legislation. There is not much we can do at this stage because the main talking has been done already. The Government has conferred with the States and the States have agreed as to what they want. Victoria has agreed to these boundaries. I do not agree with the boundaries that have been established, but evidently New South Wales has agreed to them. The South Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government, which are Labor governments, have also agreed to the boundaries. Why I do not know, but 1 do not want to get mixed up in that matter. That is the business of the governments concerned. But looking at it from a federal point of view I think the whole thing is wrong. I believe this Bill should have been debated first in this House and we should have decided whether we wanted the Minister to approach the States and discuss the matter and then come back here to discuss in this House. The matter has been dealt with in the reverse fashion. It is now cut and dried, the agreements have been drawn up, and no matter how long we debate it in this House we cannot bring about any change. I hope that when the Minister replies he will give some attention to the points I have raised, i hope he will tell us why the States and not the Commonwealth have control over the area between the territorial limit and the edge of the continental shelf. I will be very pleased to hear what he has to say on matters such as that.







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