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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4056

Mr VINER (Stirling) - As one who was involved in the debates in this chamber on the 2 occasions on which the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill was brought before us, I am pleased to see now the result that the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), who is at the table, has seen fit to accept the amendment made by the Senate. It must be gratifying to those who opposed the legislation in this chamber and those who carried that opposition into the Senate. As has been said by the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) and the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair), the Senate must be well satisfied with the role that it has played in dealing with the same Bill on the 2 occasions on which it was brought before it. It has justified before the people of Australia the reviewing role which the Senate can play on important pieces of legislation.

It has to be remembered that when the Minister introduced this Bill the first time he justified it on the basis that it was referred to in the Governor-General's Speech as a major plank in the Government's platform and as a major piece of legislation to be introduced by the Government as quickly as possible. This Bill was introduced early as a key piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the Government's policy of seeking to obtain Commonwealth control of the natural resources of Australia. This Government saw in the off-shore areas of Australia, not only in minerals but also in hydrocarbons, an area in which in terms of its ideology it had to take control from the States. As the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party has said, the Senate, as a states House, has been able to exert its influence upon the Government in a proper, reasonable, rational and intelligent way. The Senate has shown the Government that it cannot simply ride roughshod over not only the States in terms of State rights but also the people of those States who are affected by this legislation.

With the Parts of the Bill that are left, I venture to suggest that it is no worth any more than the paper upon which it is printed. It is not a vehicle for establishing sovereignty in the Commonwealth, as the Minister has put forward before. It is not a vehicle for establishing exclusive control over the off-shore areas of Australia, as the Government sought to do when it set out to introduce this legislation. It is not a vehicle for extending the laws of the Australian Capital Territory to the areas off-shore from Australia beyond the 3-mile limit. It will not do any of those things for the Government. I suggest that it will be a piece of legislation which will lie dormant on the statute book until something else is done in this area.

It adds the third tier in the trilogy of legislation which was introduced by this Government with a great fanfare of trumpeting as being legislation which, if not passed by the Senate, could bring about a double dissolution very quickly. The first Bill in the trilogy was the Electoral Bill, which was dealt with in this chamber, where it was opposed by the Opposition, taken to the Senate where it was rejected, returned to this chamber, sent back to the Senate and rejected again by the Senate. That was the first piece of legislation over which the Government threatened to have a double dissolution. We have not seen the Government take any step in that regard. The second major Bill that was dealt with by the Senate was the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. We saw very recently that all the Senate amendments were accepted by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) when the Bill came back to this chamber.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock) - Order! I appreciate the point that the honourable member for Stirling is making in relation to the amendment being sent back from the Senate to this chamber. But I should not like this debate, in Committee, to develop into a debate on the authenticity of the action of the Senate in relation to other legislation.

Mr VINER - I think I have said enough on that point. I shall not take the matter any further, but it is obvious to the Committee and to the Senate. It is pertinent to this piece of legislation. This Bill was presented to this Parliament by the Minister as a fundamental plank in the Government's platform and in its policy to control the natural resources of Australia. It is pertinent to observe again the role that the Senate has played. It has upheld the stand that was taken by the Opposition - a stand which is now accepted by the Minister.

To those in the various States of Australia who at all times have sought co-operation with the Commonwealth Government in the exploitation and development of the off-shore areas of Australia in the minerals field as distinct from the exploration for and development of petroleum resources, it must be satisfying to see that the mining code has been rejected by the Senate and that the rejection has now been accepted by the Minister. We shall be interested to see what the Minister does with the legislation as it stands and whether he seeks to erect upon it some other kind of regime in the off-shore areas of Australia or whether he will, accepting the good faith of the Opposition and the good faith of the Senate, approach the States of Australia to see whether some mutual and beneficial regime for the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources of off-shore areas of Australia cannot be negotiated and brought into effect, if not precisely in the same terms as the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act, then in some similar terms.

This takes me back to the GovernorGeneral's Speech when so much was said by him on behalf of the Government of the desire of the Government for co-operative federalism.

One would have thought that co-operative federalism in action in this area would have caused the Minister at the table to approach the States to see whether a regime of mutual benefit could not have been negotiated and put into effect through legislation which he knew would be accepted by this House, 'the Senate and the parliaments of the various States. I am sure that is what the States will be looking forward to - to see where the good faith of the Minister lies in this area and whether, with merely a declaration of sovereignty being worth what it might be, and nobody knows that, he will leave the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act as it is and work in co-operation with the appropriate ministerial authority under that Act for the mutual benefit of the States and the Commonwealth.

It must be satisfying to those in this House and in the Senate who opposed the Bill in its present form to see that the Minister has now accepted the amendments steadfastly pursued by the Senate. As was said by the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock), the Senate acted in a spirit of review of the legislation. One can see that quite clearly from the debates in the Senate. In that spirit we ought to assume that the Minister has accepted the amendments to the Bill so as to remove Part III from the Act. I commend the Minister for the stand he has taken tonight. I hope that same spirit pervades the approach that he brings to bear in his dealings with the States in this critical area of mineral and petroleum exploration and development throughout Australia.

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