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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4053

Mr PEACOCK (Kooyong) - Whilst welcoming the move by the Government I must, after all this time and the arguments which occurred in this place, and of course because of the plausible case that was put by my Party in the Senate which induced others to support the amendment that was moved, say that whilst being pleased that the Government has done this, there are some points that bear noting at this moment. I refer to the statement made by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) on 10 May in his second reading speech on the Bill. He said:

The Bill now before the House differs in one important aspect from the Bill introduced during the previous session of Parliament. This is the inclusion in Part III of the Bill of provisions relating to offshore mining, which together with the associated Royalty Bill will enable the Commonwealth to exercise control over exploration and mining activities for all minerals other than petroleum on the seabed and in the subsoil of the whole area to which the authority of the Commonwealth extends.

He described in his speech Part III of the Bill as being an important provision. The Opposition took a contrary view. The Opposition sought to explain to this place and then successfully in the Senate that, given the claim by the Commonwealth to assert its right over off-shore oil and the provisions in the earlier Parts of the Bill, it recognised that the States had a different viewpoint and as the Opposition has maintained during this year, resolution of that dispute was desirable. It seemed not only offensive but also quite improper to impose on States at the same time a part of a Bill which was to claim jurisdiction unilaterally on the basis of laws applying in the Australian Capital Territory and with provisions which my colleague, Senator Greenwood, so persuasively put in the Senate seemed to be drawn from the scheme of the Mining Code which was contained in the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act and which was yet included in this category here. This was done despite the trenchant criticism of the Senate Select Committee which drew attention to the enormous powers which would be vested in a Minister in circumstances such as this and which were the antithesis of the way in which both the Senate Committee and the Opposition felt legislation should be put, implemented and carried out later by regulation.

In the Senate Senator Greenwood referred to extensive chapters in the report of the Senate Select Committee. He put it as succinctly as possible but, as I say, persuasively. I would have to say now, whilst we accept and we are pleased with the Government's decision to accept the Senate recom mendation, it is a contrast to the viewpoints which were expressed, not so much in the Minister's second reading speech which I do not challenge other than the points relating to Part III, but which expressed elsewhere publicly and otherwise as a great challenge to the Liberal and Country Parties with their opposition in this Parliament, yet have now succumbed to the persuasive arguments which were put in another place. What it demonstrates is that there were fallacies in this Bill to which the Opposition rightfully drew attention when it was introduced earlier this year. What it demonstrates for those who sit in another place is that the most persuasive argument can carry the day and that those who would seek to destroy the bicameral system may take some heed from the fact that the Government is accepting this recommendation. The Government therefore recognises that legislation can usefully be amended by the Opposition as is the case now by its acceptance of this measure.

I could be less than gracious by dwelling on the viewpoints that were expressed both here by certain members of this place- on Part III - as I recall, exclusive of the Minister and by others outside this place as well and the threats that were made to the Opposition parties if they were determined to delay the legislation. What the Opposition parties have succeeded in doing is not bringing about a mere delay but, by their persuasive arguments and of course by the numbers that they could mount in the other place, bring pressure to bear in the most democratic way possible to have legislation properly amended. We therefore welcome the change in attitude by the Government. But it would be less than fair if the Government did not expect us to draw attention to the present divergent attitude compared with what was put earlier in the year.

I think it is a healthy day for the role of the Opposition, for the Parliament and for those who have been keen to see that the different viewpoints expressed in the Federal Parliament to those expressed in the State Parliament can now be resolved by way of this legislation should the States wish to take the matter to the High Court. This pleases us. It calls into question the desirability of including Part III in the legislation in the first place. It underlines the attitude quite properly taken by the Opposition Parties earlier this year and their attitude in the Senate, based not merely on the unilateral application of Commonwealth laws to States - for example, Western Austraia - but on the enormity of the power that was to be vested in the Minister by Part III of the Bill. The Liberal Party has always favoured some restraint on extensive discretionary powers. This was almost the epitomy of widespread discretionary powers being vested in a minister. So I say that because the Government recognised our arguments, because we exposed the fallacies at the time and because the Senate put those fallacies very persuasively we congratulate the Government for accepting our arguments. But surely the Government will allow us some degree of congratulation for the manner in which the case was put. I add to it as a simple rider a gentle plaudit for the Government's acceptance of the amendment moved in the other place.

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