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Wednesday, 17 May 1972
Page: 2707

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) - I support the motion before the House. It seems to me an incredible situation when the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) can come into the House and say that there is no need for urgency because after more than 2 years his Government has not seen fit to bring this legislation into the House and to proceed with it to the stage to which it should be taken.

That is an incredible statement. We all know why it has not been brought in. The Government has been prodded by honourable members who sit on the Government benches. The last speaker, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), the honourable member for Moreton(Mr Killen), the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes) and others at various times have pushed, prodded and complained, with good cause, asking that this legislation be proceeded with. The reason it has not been proceeded with to date is perhaps not specific but surely is reasonably well known. There are conservative elements - perhaps I can put it this way - in the Australian community, reflected at certain State levels. They do not want this legislation proceeded with, notwithstanding that it would be the overwhelming wish, I believe, of Australian people, and of all the members of this House, that this legislation should become law. I doubt if there would be any person in this House who would not want the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill to become law, yet it is being stalled.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I appreciate what the honourable member is saying, but this is the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill, not a Bill dealing with off-shore areas.

Mr ENDERBY - I appreciate that but there is an obvious connection between the 2 Bills. The connection has been spelled out at great length by the Leader of the Opposition and by other speakers. It is not for me to be repetitious here, but-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! What I want to remind the honourable member about is what I have reminded him about on 2 or 3 other occasions. We are now dealing with the suspension of Standing Orders and a debate on the Bill referred to by the honourable member would be completely irrelevant. The question now is in relation to the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill and the suspension of Standing Orders.

Mr ENDERBY - Quite so, and 1 am not canvassing your expression of opinion but surely it is relevant for me to put reasons why the motion should succeed at this stage?

Mr SPEAKER -I agree with the honourable member but I do not want him to make that the whole tenor of the debate.

Mr ENDERBY - The reason I am puling it this way is that we have already seen 2 years go by. Other speakers have referred to the need to clarify the continental shelf issue with Indonesia and with Papua New Guinea. There is the pressing problem of the uncertainty that surrounds the validity of some oil leases off the Australian coast. Who does give title to leases of that nature? Does the sovereignty in these matters rest with the States or with the Commonwealth? Surely this uncertainty makes the matter one of urgency and justifies it being brought on now? Uncertainty flows from the fact that the States do not or may not have legal sovereignty and, as previous speakers have said, this is a matter for the High Court. While the Government persists in stalling with this legislation and not bringing it forward to its resolution there will be no finality and the uncertainty will go on. There is no doubt that uncertainty is not a good thing. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), almost as an act of grace, has said he will allow some debate on the continental shelf legislation. What good will that do? Is that some kind of quid pro quo for some members, perhaps on his own side of the House? Is there to be some little concession allowed with a few members able to speak, after which the matter will be adjourned again? How at some future time does anyone bring it back into the House? When is there to be finality? When will the uncertainty be brought to an end?

As the Speaker has reminded me, a motion to suspend Standing Orders has strict limitations and one cannot go beyond those limitations and into the realms of the merits of the Bill itself. One is continually prevented from doing so, and rightly so, under the Standing Orders. If a motion to suspend the Standing Orders has such limited use how does the substantive matter come back on? I look at the honourable member for Berowra. Who brings the legislation back to the House? Where does the initiative come from? Is it to be sailed forever notwithstanding that there are important international conventions and agreements pending, the ones we have been told about? Is this uncertainty to go on forever? Is Australia, with such an enormous coastline, to be the only nation in the world that cannot make up iti mind about this matter? Do we not kne w, 72 years after the Commonwealth has seen formed, who owns the off-shore are: s along our coastline? Australia will be the laughing stock of the world. I should like to know who will bring the matter back here? The Government has control of the legislation and graciously it says that it will allow a few people to have a few words on the subject tonight and then it will again adjourn the matter. That is making a mockery of the whole process. I press this matter with all the points of emphasis and urgency that this legislation calls to mind. I recall the points made over and over again by the honourable member for Moreton in articles he has written for newspapers and speeches he has made in this House, but it appears at this stage that for some quid pro quo, some pressure, some little inducement perhaps, I do not know what, somewhere along the line this evening the Gre seems to have gone out of members on the Government benches.

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