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Wednesday, 24 November 1971
Page: 3544

Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Was Australia consulted by Malaysia and Indonesia before they made their declaration last week that the Straits of Malacca and Singapore were national waters? Has Australia decided to take corresponding steps" to assert sovereignty over the waters in the gulfs and between the reefs and on the continental shelf along and off her own coasts in sufficient time before the International Law of the Sea Conference assembles in Stockholm in 1973? In particular I ask: When will the Government proceed with the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill which was introduced in April last year on his behalf, when he was Minister for External Affairs, which was included in the Government's programme at the election in October 1969 and in the GovernorGeneral's Speech opening the Parliament in March last year, but which is at present item 70 on the notice paper? In other words, is it the policy of his Government to proceed with its predecessors' undertaking and his own predecessor's undertaking of 2 years ago?

Mr McMAHON - The third part of the question obviously is intended to be provocative and is mischievous. 1 will have discussions with my colleague, the Leader of the House, and it will be in his hands as to when the matter is brought before the House for discussion. As to the first 2 parts of the question asked by the honourable gentleman, they are matters within the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and f will ask him to answer them.

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have been familiar with the general progress of events leading up to the declaration about the Strait of Malacca, but it would not be correct to say that we were specifically notified of the actual declaration in advance of it being made. The strait is 8 miles wide at its narrowest point and 35 miles wide at its broadest point. In particular, oil tankers going to Japan from the Persian Gulf have been passing through the strait. There has been an attempt to have an international regime operating. Japan has been particularly interested in the question of dredging to improve the facilities so. that the strait can take 200,000-tonners. or similar vessels, and in improving navigational aids and so on.

There had been some suggestion for a body on which. nations other than those with their coasts alongside this strait would be represented. In view of these developments, of those nations which border on the strait - Malaysia and Indonesia which claim a 12 mile territorial sea and Singapore, which has noted the declaration, and claims a 3 mile territorial sea - Malaysia and Indonesia decided to claim that the strait was within their territorial limits, certainly at the 8 miles point. It is not quite clear in the declaration how far it extends. But they recognise that there is the right of innocent passage which would normally apply in territorial waters. This is a matter which would normally come up for consideration during the discussions in the Conference on the International Law of the Sea and I think it still may do so. Our own people are studying the matter both in my own Department and in the Attorney-General's Department. We have not ourselves given any public reaction to this declaration.

Mr Whitlam - The Prime Minister said he would ask the Foreign Minister to answer the first 2 questions. The second question was: Has Australia decided to take corresponding steps to assert sovereignty?

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Could the honourable member indicate the areas?

Mr Whitlam - The second question I asked the Prime Minister was: Has Australia decided to take corresponding steps to assert, sovereignty over the waters in the gulfs and between the reefs and on the continental shelf along and off her own coasts in sufficient time before the International Law of the Sea Conference assembles in Stockholm in 1973?

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As far as the gulfs are concerned, if we take the Gulf of Carpentaria, at its narrowest point it is 370 miles across. It presents a different question entirely. As far as the reef is concerned, it runs for 1,200 miles and goes out, as honourable members will know, over 100 miles going down towards Swain Reefs. Different questions entirely arise in this regard. The same applies to the continental shelf. We have been very active participants in the preparatory committee which has completed its deliberations. This is the first set of deliberations and there will be further committees. Wc have received a report from our own participants in this committee dealing with the questions which would bear on our claims and which would include the kind of matters which the Leader of the Opposition has raised. We have not ourselves taken any unilateral action and I do not see any prospect of our doing that in relation to the particular matters that he has raised but they will be taken into account in considering our position in the International Conference.

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