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Thursday, 2 November 1967

Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) - The Minister and the Government have only themselves to blame for the situation that has arisen which is due, in particular, to the rejection of the amendment which was proposed by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) to the motion for the second reading of this measure. One of the matters that we on this side particularly wanted to refer to a select committee of the House was the extent to which unreasonably large areas of the continental shelf have been granted, resulting in the delaying or impeding of expeditious action to meet the petroleum consumption needs of Australia. There is the whole matter in a nutshell. If one examines the tectonic map of Australia and the surrounding continental shelf, one is amazed at the extent to which the continental shelf is distributed. I have here a list of offshore petroleum titles that was supplied to me by courtesy of the Minister. It shows that there is only one title holder in New South Wales - Shell Development Australia Pty Ltd, which holds title to 4,910 square miles. The total area of the continental shelf is 1 million square miles. Looking at the areas as a whole, we find that already 739,000 square miles have been alienated in one form or another. The onus is on the Minister to prove that the areas are reasonably large. We have heard absolutely nothing from him on this point. The working conditions that may be imposed will be wholly within the discretion of the designated authority. No pattern, standard or code has to be observed in relation to any exploration permit that may be granted.

One of the main problems that I see - I shall deal with it again in more detail - is the absence of any court of appeal. In the respective States, there are mining Acts, which make definite provision for mining wardens courts in which it is possible for these matters to be properly examined. As this legislation now stands, the whole thing is at the caprice of the designated authority or his delegate. We on this side of the Parliament object most strongly to that. Our attitude is precisely the opposite of that of the Minister. It is only by the granting of lesser areas so that there will be some concentration of effort and then, those areas having been proved, making adjoining areas available by tender or otherwise, that further exploitation and development can take place. The whole system that has been adopted by the Government works in the opposite way. Indeed, one of its worst features is that in this legislation the Government is seeking to validate alienations of areas that have been made illegally by the six States.

Mr Buchanan - Why does not the honourable member read the Agreement?

Mr CONNOR - I repeat that these alienations have been made illegally, despite what the honourable member may say.

Mr Fairbairn - Does the honourable member suggest that the areas in question should be confiscated?

Mr CONNOR - In many instances, they ought to be reviewed and the Commonwealth ought to be examining what work has been done on them and considering whether the permits should be continued in whole or in part. The Minister has not at any stage of these proceedings given honourable members any indication of what machinery is available for that purpose. In particular, I want -him to tell me how the Commonwealth, other than by relying on sketchy reports made from time to time, can supervise the activities of these companies which are spread over an area of 739,000 square miles. Has such a large area anywhere throughout the world been alienated so freely? Let the Minister answer that question. We are one people, one nation, in possession of a whole continent. We have a coastline of 12,000 miles. It is the longest coastline held by one nation anywhere in the world. Vast sweeps of the continental shelf adjacent to it have been alienated illegally and unconstitutionally, and this Government proposes to give its imprimatur to this situation.

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