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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 1530

The PRESIDENT - No, it will be for me to tell you.

Senator CANT - Senator O'Byrne, Senator Keeffe and ] saw fit on. some matters upon which we have strong opinions to bring in a minority report. I want to talk about only one section of it, the permits section. My colleagues will deal with the other parts. I think the way permits have been issued over the continental shelf of Australia is a disgrace, an absolute disgrace. By 1969 some of those permits had been under issue for up to 19 years and absolutely no work at all had been done on them. They were held by exploration companies which did nothing on them. When this legislation came into force it set out, of course, to confirm what the States had done for the purpose of ensuring the legal effectiveness of authorities to explore for or to exploit the petroleum resources of those submerged lands. That was the time when the Commonwealth Government should have exercised its authority and allowed the permits to run out under the terms under which they had been issued, and then reissued permits. Burmah Oil, Shell and Woodside were issued permits over 104,000 square miles off the coast of Western Australia. It is physically and financially impossible for any company, even the largest oil company in the world, properly to explore 104,000 square miles in 6 years under the terms of this legislation, which includes oil drilling. One sees the mad scramble today. Woodside and Mid Eastern have gone now. Burmah Woodside is trying to auction parts of its permits as farm-in areas to get some work done so that the company will know what areas it will not have to surrender in April 1974. The Commonwealth Government acquiesced in this position when it allowed the scandalous issue of permits by the State governments. We should see to it as soon as possible that these areas under permit, or as much of them as can legally be taken, are returned to the States and to the Commonwealth. If the companies holding those permits are not carrying out the work load and the expenditure load which have been put on them, the permits should be forfeited as soon as possible.

There is much talk in this country about the fall-off in exploration in Australia. There will continue to be a fall-off in exploration if there is no way of allowing a company that wants to explore to run a line or put down a hole. That is the position. AD the prospective areas around Australia have been let out to major oil companies. WA Petroleum has another 63,000 square miles off the coast of Western Australia. BHP and Esso have 60,000 square miles in Bass Strait and they each have more in separate titles.

Senator Byrne - Would many companies have the capital to take over those forfeited leases and comply with the terms of the leases?

Senator CANT - I do not know, except that representatives of two or three of the larger companies told me during the inquiry that they would like to get into the northwest shelf but could not get in.

Senator Cotton - Or did they not have the resources?

Senator CANT - I would not doubt Magellan has the resources. I do not want to be impertinent, but Senator Cotton was Chairman of the Committee when Magellan came before us.

Senator Cotton - I am asking in the light of your later work whether you have established in your own mind that they would have the resources. This is a bona fide inquiry of you who were involved in this work for a longer period than I.

Senator CANT - Yes; I believe the companies that wanted to get into the northwest shelf or Bass Strait would have had the resources to do so. If they did not have the resources in Murumba, those areas were so prospective that they could have got backing anywhere in the world. That is the position with respect to permits. 1 think it is a disgrace and that something should be done about it as quickly as possible.

In the 2 or 3 minutes left to me In which to speak 1 want to deal with the conditions in the oil industry. The oil industry is a dangerous industry and people are being maimed or killed in it all the time. That is not the fault of the people in the industry, although I believe that the extra long hours worked on drilling rigs does create a situation of fatigue which makes workers more accident prone. Two workers have been killed off the north-west shelf in the last 6 weeks. I do not know whether the Western Australian Government has appointed an inspector under its legislation, but it is interesting to note than on each occasion a fatality occurred a policeman was sent out to make the necessary inspection. I have a great admiration for policemen. I know a lot of the policemen in Western Australia. They are mostly good people. But they are not equipped to be inspectors in this industry. Proper and qualified inspectors should be appointed for this purpose. Although the States will be looking for royalties when these areas become productive they are not prepared to spend anything in the preliminary stages to ensure that the work force is protected.

Senator Byrne - Would there not be inspectors of machinery and mining to do that?

Senator CANT - There would be, but they are all on land. There are machinery inspectors, mines inspectors, factory inspectors, hut inspectors and all sorts of inspectors, but they cannot swim 90 miles and there is no provision for them to be able to go out to the oil rigs. There is not a State in Australia which has a helicopter that would be able to take people out to an oil rig in an emergency. In any case, most of the helicopters which are in operation along the Australian coast have very short ranges and would not be able to get out to the rigs which are a good distance off the coast. Which Government has purchased a power boat to get people out to an oil rig in an emergency? Not one Government has done so. The governments rely upon the industry for assistance. Evidence has shown clearly that a surprise inspection by an inspector is of more value than a dozen inspections which have been arranged. I believe that the States will have to do something in this respect. Perhaps it would not be up to the States if the Commonwealth were to clear the atmosphere as to the constitutional position. It may be that it would appoint its own inspectors for this purpose. I believe that proper inspections should be made to save the lives of workers. My time has run out but I have only just touched upon the fringes of the Committee's report. It is an important report. Therefore, I will debate it again at some other time.

Motion (by Senator Keeffe) proposed:

That an extension of time be granted to Senator Cant under standing order 407a.

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