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Thursday, 2 November 1967


Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) (12:14 PM) - At some time or other in this Committee consideration it is necessary for the National Parliament clearly to define national responsibility and to declare unequivo cally where the Commonwealth stands in relation to this legislation. It is true that the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) on other occasions went on record as saying that the Commonwealth was supreme. He expressed himself in these terms:

I think I should correct an impression that appears to have arisen in some quarters that the Commonwealth has somehow abandoned its constitutional authority and responsibility in connection with offshore petroleum. Any such impression is quite erroneous. When the question of constitutional authority over offshore petroleum first came up as a result of moves to explore Australia's offshore areas, the States asserted that jurisdiction over these offshore resources rested with them. The Commonwealth on the other hand held firmly to the view that jurisdiction rested with it. Moreover, some oil companies indicated that they would not be happy about the legal effectiveness of titles granted to them unless these had Commonwealth legislative support.

That is precisely what is asked for in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor). The honourable member has asked that a reasonable percentage of petroleum won from the continental shelf should be offered for sale in any State other than an adjoining State. It is an expression of the integrity of the Commonwealth of Australia that one State shall not dominate other States and that the products won from the continental shelf, whether they be petroleum products or fish products, should be made available to the people of other States of the Commonwealth. This has caused considerable concern throughout Australia and it is little wonder that in New South Wales there is an outcry against the conduct of the Commonwealth Government, which the people of Sydney declare to be a Melbourne dominated Government. Jumbo jets and like matters were referred to earlier this evening. I shall not proceed along those lines. There is a feeling in responsible quarters in the metropolitan area of Sydney and elsewhere that the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), the Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton) and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen), allied with the Premier of Victoria, are dictating a pattern of economic affairs and financial matters to the detriment of other States.

A recent report in the 'Australian' states:

Victoria may stop natural gas for New South Wales.

Unless more natural gas is discovered in the Bass Strait the Victorian Government may prevent offshore natural gas being piped to New South Wales.

What is the position? Surely section 92 of the Constitution should prevail in a matter of this kind. Nowhere in the legislation is there to be found a purposeful and strong assertion as to the Commonwealth's position. Certain letters were exchanged between the Premier of Victoria and the Prime Minister. In the course of one letter the Premier had this to say: 1 want to assure you that I regard it as implicit in the agreement we reached on the subject that your Government will be fully informed Of any negotiations which are entered into with the producers for sales to another State and that you will be acquainted of the details of any agreement arising therefrom before it is finalised.

The Commonwealth will be advised. It is not stated that there will be a direction from the Commonwealth or that this matter will be discussed and worked out. The Premier of Victoria will tell the Commonwealth of Australia what Victoria intends to do. Consequently the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Cunningham becomes all the more imperative. The Prime Minister's letter to Sir Henry Bolte makes the position quite clear: The Premier of Victoria and the State Government are supreme in this matter. Among other things the Prime Minister's letter stated:

It is, of course, understood that the Commonwealth, when informed and acquainted with the matters you mention, will have full opportunity to discuss with you the terms of any proposed transaction.

Discussion is not good enough. Positive decision has to be made on the matter. It is little wonder that the 'Australian' of 19th May last reported that Mr W. W. Pettingell, general manager of the Australian Gas Light Co, had told Esso Standard Oil the previous night that his company would not be pressured into an agreement to buy natural gas. Here is an expression of monopoly control, because the legislation now being passed through the Parliament is without teeth. As I said when speaking on another matter tonight, this legislation seems to me to be no more than a facade. It is a paper tiger. It does not reflect any realism. It does not protect the interests of the States or the Commonwealth. Consequently, the amendment is necessary.

If anyone needs . further proof of the weakness of the legislation or requires the need for the amendment to be emphasised, reference to clause 26 of the Agreement will establish the position. It states:

The Government acknowledges that this Agreement is not intended to create legal relationships justiciable in a Court of Law. but declare that the Agreement shall be construed and given effect to by the parties in all respects according to the true meaning and spirit thereof.

This is a brotherly love arrangement. Already there are areas of discontent and feelings of extreme dissatisfaction. Yet the Commonwealth Government has failed dismally to meet the situation. All sorts of estimates of the reserves of natural gas have been given. The Melbourne 'Age' of 16th March last estimated that the supply would last for 300 years. But this valuable source of energy, which can stimulate development, has been withheld by one State from another. The Minister must be aware of the extensive dissatisfaction in civic circles in his own electorate in the city of Wagga Wagga, in Albury and in other communities which are not being assured of a supply of natural gas. Those people who believe in decentralised industry are of the opinion that here is an opportunity to stimulate production by bringing a cheap fuel to country centres. But the legislation does not ensure even that natural gas will go to a market of tremendous significance in another State.

This attitude cannot be too strongly condemned. It is condemned in an article in the Bank of New South Wales 'Review', which drew attention to section 92 of the Constitution and emphasised the importance of natural gas. No doubt the Minister would have seen a letter from the Town Clerk of Wagga Wagga which was published in the Press under the heading 'Gas protest meeting'. The article in the Bank of New South Wales 'Review' certainly expressed the business point of view. We have a responsibility to try to reconcile all these conflicting and contending points of view and to pass legislation which will be valid, which will stand a test in the courts and which will bring economic justice to all sections of the community.







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