25 May 2010

A one-day seminar taking place at the University of Queensland in July will facilitate the continuing urgent debate about Australia’s offshore constitutional laws and the unsatisfactory nature of the federal issues between the States and the Commonwealth.

The “Rethinking the 1979 Offshore Constitutional Settlement” seminar and workshop will take place on Friday 16 July from 9am – 5pm at UQ’s St Lucia Campus. Places are strictly limited.

Adjunct Professor of the TC Beirne School of Law Marine and Shipping Law Unit Dr Michael White said the seminar would be the start of a discussion about the best way to resolve the issues surrounding Australia’s offshore laws.

In particular, the seminar would debate how the offshore constitutional settlement between the Commonwealth and the States can be improved.

“An instance of the lack of systematic laws is how oil spills are currently dealt with," he said.

"There have been three offshore oil spills in the past 18 months and a different set of Australian laws has applied to each spill.

“The Pacific Venturer incident came under Queensland state law, the Western Australian Mantara oil rig leak was a mixture of Commonwealth, Western Australian and no satisfactory law at all, and the Shen Neng 1 grounding and oil spill in the Great Barrier Reef came under Commonwealth law.

”In addition to oil spills, there have also been incidents where fisheries and immigration boarding parties have been injured. It could only be a question of time before someone is shot and killed, and should that happen there could well be confusion over which offshore laws apply to the situation.

"This is quite unfair on the officers concerned as they have a right to go about their duty under clear and well understood laws.”

Dr White said Australian offshore regulations for boat people, fisheries, customs and oil spills required urgent attention because they overlapped, were confused and lacked reference one to the other.

“Bumbling on as we are now every time there is an offshore maritime incident is not only an inefficient use of Australian resources but it is unfair to those involved.

“This seminar will be the start of a discussion about how Australia, as a federation, can do it better. We’re inviting representatives from all states and territories to get together and start a debate about how to improve the situation. When we get it right the whole country will benefit."

Dr White said he was delighted to have some highly experienced chairs and speakers attending the seminar, such as Justice James Allsop, President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal and Justice Steven Rares from the Federal court.

“They will be sharing their extensive knowledge and expertise with delegates and making a valuable contribution to this first step in Australian offshore law reform between the Commonwealth and the States.”

The seminar is being jointly organised by Adjunct Professor Dr Michael White and TC Beirne School of Law Professor of Maritime Law Nick Gaskell.

Further information is available at http://www.law.uq.edu.au/maslu

Adjunct Professor Dr Michael White, 07 3365 2120, m.white@law.uq.edu.au
Professor Nick Gaskell, 07 3365 2490, n.gaskell@law.uq.edu.au
Lynda Flower, School of Law Marketing, 07 3365 2523, l.flower@law.uq.edu.au