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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 2155

Senator YOUNG (South Australia) - I rise to take part in this debate. At the outset I must commend Senator Wright on the great indepth address which he contributed on this very important issue. It is an important issue. It has gone on from the time of Federation. The issue is where authority lies in the off-shore areas. It was not until oil was discovered in Bass Strait that suddenly there seemed to be a great and urgent need for clarification of this issue. Of course, this was due also to the fact that internationally oil was being found on so many of the continental shelves. Australia, being an island state, had great off-shore areas which were possibly full of oil. So the States and the Commonwealth got together and finally, after long discussions, came up with mirror legislation, as Senator Wright mentioned in his speech, even though there are many faults in it.

One thing the States and the Commonwealth did initially was to put aside, as they said, the very important issue of where authority lay in the off-shore areas so that they could get on with the other job of making sure that both the Commonwealth and State interests were preserved. Mention also has been made of the fact that in the United States of America and Canada litigation has gone on for a great while because of challenges as to where authority lay. This was a possible reason why the decision on where authority lay was put aside. It could have taken a long time to resolve this issue in Australia. Because of the discovery of oil there was concern to get some uniformity between the States and the Commonwealth. So at that time this important issue was put aside. Eventually, as I said, the Commonwealth and the States agreed to mirror legislation which is known as the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act.

But some honourable senators were not particularly happy with that proposed legislation. Hence a Senate committee was established to carry out an in-depth inquiry into this matter. The Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources sat for a long time. During the course of taking evidence many eminent lawyers gave evidence to the Committee on where they considered authority over the off-shore areas lay. Even though they could not reach agreement as to where authority lay they reached agreement on one issue, and that was that the important issue of where authority lay should be resolved, that it should not be allowed to go on indefinitely as it had since Federation.

The Committee, in its Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations, stated:

That, notwithstanding the advantages to the national interest which the legislation and its underlying conception has produced, the larger national interest is not served by leaving unresolved and uncertain the extent of State and Commonwealth authority in the territorial sea-bed and the continental shelf.

As Senator Wright said earlier today, the Senate Committee did expand this point much more. The point I made is that the Committee, which had an in-depth inquiry, did come out on this point that the issue should be resolved.

I support Part I and Part II of this Bill because I support the need to have the issue clarified and resolved. I support those Parts not because I think the Government's claim is justified that it is entitled to lay claim that all this territory should be Commonwealth territory. I do it because it will give an opportunity eventually for clarification of this important issue. I have been concerned at the Government's attitude generally because it wants to take upon itself so much control, for Canberra, and this no doubt is another example where the Government is trying to do this. The reason why I pass this critical comment is that Part III of the Bill relates to the actual claims of the off-shore areas whereby the Government wants to give everything unto itself. On a previous occasion when this Bill was put forward, we in the Opposition deferred it until the first sitting day of this session. We did not reject it. We deferred it for the specific purpose of giving the Government an opportunity to have discussions with the various States to see if it could not by co-operation rather than confrontation resolve this issue. Such discussions had taken place when the Liberal and Country parties were in government; there were quite a few meetings between the then Commonwealth Government and the various State governments. Unfortunately we did not see any discussion take place between the present Federal Government and the States.

Perhaps more unfortunately still has been the criticism levelled against us in Opposition by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Conner) in Saying virtually that we had rejected the Bill. This I refute, because we did not reject it. Senator Greenwood has stated previously, and I am stating again today, that the reason why we deferred this Bill was to give an opportunity for cooperation between States and Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the Government was not prepared to pick up the tab on this and to go ahead. So we have the farcical situation of 2 lots of Bills sitting on the notice paper. If we look at today's notice paper we find the Seas and Submerged Lands

Bill 1973 (No. 2) sitting as No. 1 Order of the Day- and it is sitting also in No. 4 1 position. Two identical Bills on the same notice paper is, to me, a farcical situation. No doubt the Government is trying to say: 'The Opposition has rejected the Bill a second time'. I challenge it because we did not on any occasion reject the Bill a first time. On the contrary the Government itself rejected the States. That is where the rejection comes in: It rejected the States because it was not prepared to have discussions with them.

One could go into more detail on many other aspects. However, lengthy discussion has taken place on this every important legislation today and I do not intend to do it. In giving support to Part I and Part II of this Bill I do so because of the need for clarification. In the international sphere Australia is recognised as a coastal state. The Government of that coastal state which is recognised internationally and which is involved with so many aspects- very important aspects- is the Federal Government based in Canberra, not the individual State governments. There are many reasons why clarification should be sought. We should define clearly where State authority lies and where Commonwealth authorities lies. Therefore I do support Part I and Part II of this Bill. But I am not supporting Part III which spells out the mining code- and this will be debated in the Committee stage- because in this area the Commonwealth Government shows clearly its intention and it is not interested in clarification. What it is interested in is Commonwealth control without regard to the States or the States' interests. This is a challenge that I will not accept.

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