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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2331

Mr KERIN (Macarthur) - With a name like 'Kerin', I too must confess to not being a Dutchman. I seem to recall studying political geography for a post-graduate degree at a university during which I studied at one stage the whole problem of boundaries and frontiers and all the sorts of problems which go with definition and which the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) has just outlined. I still do not think that those problems are beyond resolution or negotiation with the States. As I understand it, the Bill does not preclude such negotiation and cooperation. What this Bill is about is the concept of sovereignty, and little else. I think that co-operation and all the small legalisms and definitions can be resolved quite easily once we resolve the big point of sovereignty.

It would appear that, after 3 years of sustained intelligent policy protection, the day of the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) finally has come. The Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) has been only too happy to be able to give substance to the policy, as it always has been the policy of the Australian Labor Party. The present Bill incorporates the 2 Gorton Bills of 1970 and adds some provisions with respect to royalties. Examination of the record of the debates on the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill and the Press reports of the time reveals that nearly everything that could be said on this vital matter has been said. The attitude of the Opposition to the Bill is now largely a national one. It is a pity that the nettle was not grasped sooner.

It is important that doubts as to sovereign control with respect to the seabed, resources, the territorial sea and fisheries be resolved. All fishermen in my electorate and on the coast of New South Wales generally are vitally interested in this Bill. Put succinctly, in an age when the law of the sea is undergoing challenge and development, when there is a pressing need to speak with one voice at international conference tables, when nations are expanding their commercial interests and spheres of territorial control and hegemony, when archipelago nations are making even more complicated claims and when technology is opening up potentials in resource discovery and extraction which hitherto have been impossible, it is simply intolerable that doubt as to sovereignty between the Commonwealth and the States should persist. The Minister has stated that all existing arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States will persist but that the Government is of the firm belief that ultimate control should reside in the national Government for the benefit of all Australians.

Despite the engulfing legality which surrounds the point of contention, I believe that the State governments are not at all concerned for the legal rights of their States but simply for the revenue that may accrue from the royalties consequent on any discoveries off their coast. With respect to coal in particular, the States have not acted as national commercial maximisers of the royalties that would and should be available, and often have neglected their duty in the quest for funds. The question of adequate royalties is of staggering complexity. Only recently has it been apparent that the United' Kingdom has made far from optimum arrangements with respect to royalties for natural gas. This is not always simply a function of ineptitude; often it is more a reflection of the problem of Commonwealth-State financial arrangements. Our States have boundaries chosen largely by the accidents of history. Although I believe that industry and population should locate at points of the most optimal economy, I do not believe that States should be allowed to be at too great a disadvantage due to the fact of having no off-shore resources.

The national Parliament has the charter to govern for all Australians, not merely to adjust regional inequalities due to the particular consequences of varying rates of economic growth or economic endowment. The Queensland Government has shown that it is not prepared to act nationally or responsibly with respect to the border with New Guinea and although I do not challenge its right to contest what we see as the national position on this question, what we are saying is that the legality needs to be cleared up and we believe that the High Court is really the place to clear it up. My opinion, of course, is that Australia should negotiate with New Guinea over this boundary.

All that this Bill is about is sovereignty. Commonwealth and State laws are in conflict. But even with respect to revenue, this Bill does not seek to oust the States as far as revenue is concerned. What it does is assert the exclusive right of the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to these resources and to police, protect and exploit them - in terms of royalties - in the interests of the nation. Compromise, negotiation and agreement are not excluded and in most instances 1 believe that the States will accrue greater revenue. The agreement between Australia and Indonesia on the Timor border was reached after negotiation which involved the Western Australian Government. But at all stages of that negotiation doubts persisted and the previous Government was limited in its ability to negotiate. Other nations with which we compare ourselves have had their law clarified, for example, Canada, and in its case this has been of particular importance as far as fisheries have been concerned. In Australia no one is sure which laws Australian or foreign fishermen may be breaking. The Gulf of Carpentaria is still a. major area of concern with, respect to fisheries and the Great Barrier Reef is of particular concern with respect to fisheries and territorial Some LI, 000 ships visit our shores every year and with increasingly large oil tankers the risk of massive pollution, increases, yet we are. still uncertain as to which authority is responsible .for thepolicing or interpretation of Australian law and international law.

My speech can only be a summary at this stage. I am alarmed that some divisions exist among honourable members opposite, particularly with respect to State rights. It is only these that we wish to clarify. Although I can profess no great understanding of some of the legal points being made, I cannot help but feel that if all problems are not solved by this Bill it will at least be a massive leap forward. I cannot really see what the problems of the courts of other countries with different constitutions have to do with us. We do not think the problems are unsolvable. I support the Bill.

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