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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2314

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - I support the Bill introduced by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) on behalf of the Government and congratulate him on the energy and enterprise which he has shown since he took up his ministerial portfolio in proceeding with the legislation now before the

House and in other areas. The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) made a number of comments on the legislation, putting the point of view of the Australian Country Party. He, of course, agreed that for far too long there had been uncertainty and delay in this area, and he also agreed that the Government in which he was a senior Minister had carried out over a very long period of time a series of negotiations with the States on the principles enshrined in the present legislation when the former Government presented its Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill.

I do not think there can be any argument that this is not a matter which has not been before this Parliament for a considerable period of time. The honourable member also referred to the fact that there were new principles, the principles of exploiting the resources of the seabed, which are a consequence of the determination of the sovereignty that this Bill seeks to determine. I do not think there are any valid arguments in favour of going back to negotiate with the States on a matter over which unsuccessful negotiations took place over a long period of time. When the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), was in office he brought down this legislation. Arguments were put forward before us then from every State in the Commonwealth, from both sides of politics, that instead of the Commonwealth introducing legislation of this nature so that it could be challenged by the States it would be better if the States introduced their legislation and the Commonwealth, in reverse, challenged it. What a ridiculous situation that would be, in the sense that we are trying to determine a question of great importance to this nation.

The States, of course, are obsessed with the royalties which they consider will accrue from the resources of the seabed and with other matters of financial significance to their own budgets. I can well understand their concern, and probably if I were a member of a State government I would be seriously concerned about these things as well, because we have all lived through a period in which the financial significance of the States has deteriorated while their constitutional responsibilities have remained very largely the same. But no one can reverse that trend. We are now in a position that this legislation will determine the position of sovereignty, although perhaps not immediately because I do not think there is any doubt that challenges will be made in the courts, but the result of those challenges will be that the problem of sovereignty will be determined. I suggest to the House that it is only at that point in time that meaningful discussions can take place with the States, because any discussions with the States, the ones that have taken place in the past or the ones that might take place now if this legislation were taken to a conference, would still revolve around this question of sovereignty, which can only be determined by an Act of this Parliament and with such legal challenges as may take place in the future.

The Commonwealth has responsibilities in this matter. The States lost their international personality at the time of Federation. If Australia is to enjoy the jurisdiction over the tertorial sea and seabed and the continental shelf that almost all, if not all, other maritime nations in the world enjoy, that jurisdiction can be extended only by Commonwealth law. It cannot be extended by any law passed by a parliament of the States, which, as I said, have lost their international personality and none of them is able to accede to the conventions on the law of the sea. Of course, it is not only a question of what happens to the royalties from the resources of the seabed. There are also very important questions affecting international relations; questions affecting the maritime boundary in the Torres Strait, for example, which is a matter of some concern; questions of defence such as the provision of early warning devices on the seabed - the United States Government has sought to deal with some problems in this area - matters over which the Commonwealth has undivided responsibility and matters which are of great concern to every member of this House.

It has been argued that we should have conferred with the States. I have tried to establish that the only meaningful consultation that can take place with the States will take place only after this matter of sovereignty is determined. At such point of time, living as we do in a federal system, I believe there is certainly an obligation on the Commonwealth to evolve patterns of meaningful cooperation with the States, because this Bill will not only introduce changes into areas at present covered by State law but it will also create some problems in areas covered by local authority by-laws which operate under the jurisdiction of the States. I am sure that those meaningful discussions will take place when this matter of sovereignty is determined.

What exactly are the States losing from this legislation? In actual fact, if the judgments of the High Court of Australia and the opinions of eminent people in the field like Professor O'Connell are taken into account, the States have no jurisdiction beyond the low water mark. The Commonwealth is asserting its rights in this area. Previous arrangements made by the States under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act, the legislation introduced by the previous Government, still remain and are protected by this legislation. The mining code which is set out in this Bill is an inevitable consequence of the determination of sovereignty. Naturally, in the very unlikely event that sovereignty were not determined in favour of the Commonwealth, the mining code would be meaningless. But if this legislation did not introduce such a mining code, then at such time in the future as this matter of sovereignty were determined the Commonwealth would have to introduce legislation to introduce such a mining code.

The purpose of this legislation is to bring this whole question to a conclusion in the interests not just of this Commonwealth Government as against the interests of the States but in the interests of the people of Australia, because it is only by this Commonwealth Parliament that this matter can be determined. I pay a tribute to the right honourable member for Higgins, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and other members of the Liberal Party who have fought in their own Party for the principles enshrined in their previous legislation and the principles enshrined in this Bill. I know that some of them may disagree with some aspects of the legislation. Some of their views have already been expressed in the debate. But the principle still remains that the Commonwealth is taking action in an area in which the previous Government sought to take action and in which it was unsuccessful, in part, because of opposition from the States and I think in part because of division in its own ranks. The Austraiian Labor Party is united on this matter in this Parliament. Of course, some of our State colleagues do not agree with us on this matter. We consider that this Bill correctly interprets the law as it now stands, given the developments in the law of the sea. When the determinations of the High Court of Australia are made, I would think that the States will realise that, instead of there being an attack on State rights, under the developments which then take place this legislation will actually confer a benefit on the States, because it confers a benefit on all the people of Australia. For that reason I support the Bill.

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