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Thursday, 16 May 1968

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I wish to raise a matter which is causing considerable concern in the northern half of Australia. 1 refer to the activities of foreign fishermen and foreign boats in the area. On 20th March last the Government introduced into the Parliament the Fisheries Bill .1968. As the increasing and uncontrolled invasion of northern waters by foreign fishermen and foreign boats is causing widespread concern throughout northern areas, the Opposition welcomed this opportunity to hammer home to the Government the need for Australia to assert control over the waters of the Barrier Reef and the Gulf of Carpenteria without delay. But the Government has refused to proceed with this Bill. The Government knows full well that every responsible organisation in the north which has become interested in this problem fully supports the view that the natural resources of the Barrier Reef and the Gulf of Carpentaria should be protected against exploitation by foreign interests, whether they be fishing or mining. The waters must be controlled to preserve them against exploitation.

The Government knows that Liberal Party and Australian Country Party members representing northern electorates could lose considerable electoral support if they refused to back Labor's proposals for the control of the waters of the Barrier Reef and the Gulf of Carpentaria. I mention particularly the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett). He knows that this is a hot issue in his electorate, and he would, I think, be rather foolish if he did not support the views of the many organisations which are pressing for Federal control over these most valuable waters. I know also from the public statements of Senator Sir Kenneth Morris that he is most outspoken against the uncontrolled operations of foreign fishermen in northern Australian waters. Other Queensland senators apart from Labor senators and Queensland members other than Labor members are also conscious of the seriousness of the exploitation of these natural resources. Similarly, if the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) continue to give their full support to this Government's condoning foreign interests exploiting northern waters, and particularly the waters and islands of the Great Barrier Reef, with ruthless greed, they do so at their own electoral risk.

The people of northern areas are fed up with this Government's reluctance to patrol northern waters. As long as foreign interests have complete freedom of the seas they can exploit our waters and our reefs. There is the ever present danger of exotic diseases being introduced by indiscriminate and unlawful landings on remote northern shores or by direct contact with Australian fishing vessels. It is comically tragic to see the feverish haste which gripped the Government in its implementation of action when foot and mouth disease was suspected to have broken out in New Zealand recently. But this southern dominated Cabinet sits back with utter complacency, blind to the present dangers and the havoc which would be wreaked in the northern cattle areas if one of the illegal landings by foreigners accidentally introduced a dreaded exotic disease such as foot and mouth disease.

The Federal Government even argues with the Queensland Government as to which Government shall pay for the operation and maintenance of incinerators at the main ports, where ships' refuse, which could be a potential carrier of exotic diseases, is burned. The cost is chicken feed when compared with the tremendous national loss which would result if an exotic disease such as foot and mouth disease entered our northern areas. The Government is currently acting in a secretive and furtive manner which must be condemned. Despite the tremendous body of criticism which has been generated, and is mounting daily, against the intrusion of foreign fishing interests in northern waters, the Government, unbeknown to this Parliament, has now given permission for some foreign interests to operate within the 12-mile limit. Because there is no semblance of activity by naval patrols, foreign fishing interests will have a free go within the 3-mile limit also. They may freely roam around the many islands, the remote northern coastline and the numerous reefs contiguous to that coastline. Whereas it had been illegal for foreign fishermen to operate in these areas, they are now being given full protection by the Federal Government.

This is a scandalous state of affairs, and it is more scandalous because it has been brought about behind the back of this Parliament. No notice whatsoever was given to the Parliament of this agreement with foreign interests. Here we see just one more example of the Government's attitude to the resources in the northern parts of Australia and to the foreign interests which covet those resources. Previously these fishing interests had no legal right whatsoever to land on Australian shores, but now they have full legal rights not only to land but also to construct processing works. This is a tremendous gain for foreign interests because it has solved many problems with which they were previously beset, such as refuelling and obtaining fresh water. These problems had seriously reduced the intensity of their operations in northern waters.

It is also a fact, although it is not well known, that foreign fishermen have been landing for many years, and are still landing, on both Cartier and Ashmore Islands, the two islands that were concerned in the amendment that was to come before the House but which for some reason has been shelved. What is the Government doing to check these illegal landings? Why will it not debate this issue in the Parliament? Why introduce a Bill and then chicken out before the Opposition can state its case? Why make private arrangements with foreign interests to exploit our fishing areas and keep those arrangements secret from the Parliament? The Government knows full well that in a debate in this House it would be exposed for its neglect, for its inability to have our northern waters patrolled, for its failure to provide suitable naval vessels capable of patrolling these areas and catching foreign fishing vessels and their mother ships, and for its having given the green light to foreign interests to exploit any areas in the north that they wish to exploit.

Now we see the Country Party at the conference being currently held at Townsville proposing motions in line with Labor Party policy, for the control of the Great Barrier Reef waters and the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Why does not the Country Party do something about the matter in this Parliament, in which it has the opportunity and the numbers to do something? It is obvious that the Government must take positive action to assert control over the resources of our northern waters. Extraneous and learned arguments by the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) purporting to make excuses for Australia's failure to take the necessary unilateral action will fall on deaf ears in the north. These stalling tactics are to be condemned. If Canada can validly claim exclusive control of Hudson Bay, which has a far greater area of water than the Gulf of Carpentaria, then surely Australia can assert its claim to the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Barrier Reef waters. Other precedents for such a claim can be found in other parts of the world.

We do not ask for legislation to exclude foreign interests for all time, without qualification, from Australian waters. The Labor Party welcomes technical know-how. It agrees that the judicious introduction of foreign capital can have many benefits. All we ask is that Australia should have complete control over these waters, in the interests not only of its present population but also of posterity. Preservation of these resources, through control of them, is, I believe of the utmost importance.

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