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Thursday, 2 November 1967


Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) (2:48 AM) - I apologise for trespassing on the indulgence of the House at this stage, but I believe that certain things should be said. Firstly, this legislation is based on section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution which gives the Commonwealth Parliament the power to legislate in respect of fisheries in Australian waters outside territorial waters. In other words, there is a very broad and general power. The real question at issue is how far that power extends. In this particular case the Government chooses to extend it beyond the 3-mile territorial limit in respect of which the States have both control of the waters and the title to the land underneath those waters. The Commonwealth now proposes to go another 12 miles beyond that. Let us look at the background and the real motive in doing that.


Mr Nixon - The Commonwealth now proposes to go another 9 miles.


Mr CONNOR - That is so. The background is that today there are fishing poachers right around the main fishing spots of Australia and on the main fishing grounds. The Government has had many and bitter protests from professional fishermen and patriotic Australians who do not like to see poaching craft coming so near to the Australian littoral, but in point of fact what is being done by the Government is in the main a rather limited gesture. The people who are poaching and are doing so in a big way are the Japanese. Today, with modern fishing craft, it is not just a matter of a set line or a seine net; it is a matter of using depth sounding devices, radar and several other forms of electronic equipment. When the Japanese come in to fish they take out everything.

Internationa] law depends upon conventions. It depends upon the accession by instrument of a particular nation. The matter that we should be considering is to what extent we should accept the 12-mile limit. As I see the situation, when Captain Cook first came to take possession of the eastern coast of Australia in the name of King George III, his commission provided for him to draw a boundary out beyond Norfolk Island. The boundaries that were declared in respect of the subsequent States go hundreds of miles out to sea. That being so, we should be claiming a prescriptive right to lands far beyond those that are contemplated in the terms of the Bill. There is a saying: 'Let he take who hath the power and he shall keep who can.' In the final analysis all laws and all government depend upon force, and in the par- ticular case of Australian fisheries and poaching there is one final way that we can deal with the situation and that is with patrol craft. It was pathetic to hear the comment of the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney), who is a former Minister for the Navy. Apparently our patrol craft are in a rather pathetic condition. It is quite ludricrous that earlier in this sitting we should have been discussing rights in respect of the exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf to a distance of hundreds of miles out to sea in terms of an international convention, yet in respect of fishing rights we are not prepared to act. This is for fear of treading on Japanese corns. The Japanese are at present our trading partners and that is the reason why nothing is done. I know precisely what the Government is up to.

In the case of the continental shelf there has even been a corridor drawn to the south of Tasmania. It extends for a distance of about 700 miles to the south east down to Macquarie Island. There are two standards of performance and these two standards should be brought a little closer together. I wish to refer particularly to the Gulf of Carpentaria. I happened to be at Darwin last June and I was talking to some very responsible Government servants there. Their sober assessment was that £30m worth of prawns and fish could be taken out of the Gulf of Carpentaria every year. The Gulf of Carpentaria historically is Australian waters. We should proclaim it as such and police it accordingly. We should legislate on that basis and if anyone comes in past the prescribed zone we should have patrol vessels ready to do the work.







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