Opinion Number. 405



Key Legislation


The Secretary, Department of External Affairs

Mr J. B. Steel has written to the Prime Minister asking whether the Great Barrier Reef has been annexed to Queensland, and the Secretary to the Department of External Affairs has forwarded the matter to me for advice.

The facts with regard to the boundaries of Queensland are as follows:

By Letters Patent of 6 June 1859 the boundaries of Queensland were defined as including 'all the adjacent islands their members and appurtenances in the Pacific Ocean'.

By Letters Patent of 30 May 1872 the Governor of Queensland was appointed to be Governor of all islands within 60 miles from the coast of the Colony with power to surrender the said islands to the Colony; and by proclamation and deed of transfer dated 22 August 1872, under the hand and seal of the Governor, the said islands were annexed to the Colony of Queensland.

By Letters Patent of 10 October 1878 Her Majesty authorised the Governor of Queensland to declare by proclamation that certain islands included within a line drawn as therein described from Sandy Cape to the 138th meridian of east longitude should be annexed to and form part of the Colony of Queensland; but it was provided that the Governor should not. issue such proclamation until the Legislature of Queensland had passed a law providing that the said islands should on the day to be proclaimed become part of the Colony and subject to its laws.

Accordingly the Parliament of Queensland, by Act 43 Vic. No. l(1), provided that from and after such day as the Governor should appoint the islands included within the line so drawn should be annexed to and form part of the Colony of Queensland and be subject to the laws in force therein; and by proclamation in the Queensland Gazette of 21 July 1879 the Governor declared that the islands should be so annexed from 1 August 1879.

The effect of the various Letters Patent and proclamations is that the whole of the islands between the coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef and the islands comprising part of the Great Barrier Reef are annexed to and form part of the State of Queensland.

Wheaton, in his treatise on International Law states at p. 271, 3rd edn: 'The term "coasts" includes the natural appendages of the territory which rise out of the water'-though not sunken shoals 'perpetually covered with water'.

The Great Barrier Reef, I understand, consists of a chain of islands, some of which are connected by reefs partially or wholly submerged by the sea, while between others there are openings for navigation. Such parts of the Great Barrier Reef as consist of islands are annexed to Queensland by virtue of the Letters Patent and proclamations before mentioned, while such parts as consist of partially submerged reefs are part of the territory of Queensland by virtue of international law as being natural appendages of these islands.

In my opinion, therefore, the Great Barrier Reef, so far as it is capable of annexation, has been wholly annexed to Queensland.

[Vol. 8, p. 310]

( I ) The Queensland Coast Islands Act o f 1879 (Qld).