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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3399

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) -I move:

After sub-clause (6), insert the following sub-clause: (6a) Any proclamation shall be subject to any rights, licences and permits acquired under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967-1973'.

This amendment requires that the proclamation of an area of land as a national park under clause 7 shall be subject to any rights, licences and permits acquired under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act. The reason for this amendment is that under this clause of the Bill the GovernorGeneral can declare various areas of land of the Australian continent, both on-shore and offshore, to be a national park provided it is an area of land in which the right, title and interest is vested in Australia. Of course this will severely limit the extent to which these proclamations can be made in respect of the land mass of Australia because most of the land mass is held either in private ownership or in the ownership of the Crown in right of the States. The area may, as provided in sub-clause 1 of clause 7, extend to areas of the Australian coastal sea in respect of the sea bed and sub-soil beneath it, or over a part of the continental shelf of Australia, or an area of land or sea outside the Australian coastal sea in respect of which Australia, with some other country, has certain powers. This amendment is directed to the sea bed or parts of the continental shelf of Australia over which the GovernorGeneral may decide to create a national park. It is true that this is said to be limited to areas over which Australia has a right, title or interest.

As we all know, the question of who owns the seabed or the continental shelf below low water mark involves a vexed legal problem. The sovereignty over that area is to be determined by the High Court of Australia, hopefully within the next 12 months. It may well turn out that the sovereignty over these off-shore areas belongs to the Commonwealth of Australia or Australia, which is the word used by this Bill when referring to the Commonwealth. If that is the case it would appear that clause 7 would give the GovernorGeneral the right to declare as a national park any areas of the seabed or the continental shelf. If that is the case then, of course, a problem arises in relation to all those rights and licences and permits to explore for and to develop oil or natural gas which have been acquired by various companies under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act. I probably do not need to reiterate to honourable senators that this is the well known offshore legislation, the exercise of cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and all States to enable the drilling for oil and natural gas around the off-shore areas of Australia on the continental shelf off the Australian continent. These very important rights have been created. Their importance to Australia becomes more obvious every day with the international oil crisis, as has the need to carry on and encourage further exploration for oil and gas in these areas of Australia. It would be very serious if we in this national Parliament were seen to disturb or possibly disturb in any way the rights and titles that are already in existence and which are of such importance to the nation for the reasons I have outlined. Therefore, I state that the object of this amendment is to make it quite clear that no power we are giving to the Government under this legislation can in any way disturb those rights and titles which are already in existence under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act.

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