1 December 2009

A new book by a leading maritime law expert has found that Australian offshore legislation, in particular the laws relating to fisheries, immigration, defence and customs, and the Australian Offshore Constitutional Settlement 1979, is in serious need of review.

The book, Australian Offshore Laws, was written by Dr Michael White, Adjunct Professor of the TC Beirne School of Law Marine and Shipping Unit and UQ’s Centre for Marine Studies, will be launched at UQ on Wednesday, December 2.

Dr White said it was the first book in Australia to bring together a reference to all the laws that apply to offshore Australian waters.

“The book provides a starting point for those who need to find and understand what offshore legislation is applicable to any one offshore activity, situation or circumstance," he said.

“Australian culture was predominantly land based for the first 200 years or so. British interests and skills dominated, which had benefits and detriments. For example, it was not until 1981 that we had laws for Australian shipping to be Australian registered rather than British registered.

“But with increasing maritime activity, such as the rapid growth of off-shore oil and gas industries, increased overseas trade and over 95 percent of cargo by volume being carried by sea, Australia is now starting to become alert to the importance of the seas and what is happening on, under and above Australian waters.”

Dr White said his research also indicated that many Australian offshore laws should be consolidated into one group of laws to enable better regulation and enforcement in offshore regions.

“A critical analysis of the current situation shows that Australian offshore laws overlap, are confused and lack reference one to the other. Underpinning this unsatisfactory situation is the 1979 Offshore Constitutional Settlement and the Acts that gave effect to them," he said.

“This 30 year old Settlement between the Commonwealth and the States, giving States legal jurisdiction three nautical miles offshore, no longer has any logic or utility. A major recommendation of the book is that Australia’s maritime laws need to be reviewed and replaced by a truly cooperative federalism between the Commonwealth and the States.

“My recommendation would be to undertake a wide and thorough investigation. Wide in terms of taking into consideration the many relevant areas of law and thorough by holding one or more major inquiries by suitably qualified people.

“It is time Australia matured in relation to its offshore laws and a comprehensive review would be a good start."

Media: Dr Michael White (07 3365 2120, m.white@uq.edu.au) or Ms Lynda Flower, School of Law (07 3365 2523, l.flower@law.uq.edu.au)