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Thursday, 1 July 1920

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) . - In moving

That this Bill be now read a second time,

I wish to remark that it is not entirely a new measure. For similar reasons to those actuating this Government, and to which I shall presently allude, the Government in which the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) filled the office of Minister for Trade and Customs, introduced into another place in November, 1914, a Bill which embodied many of the provisions that are to be found in this measure. That Bill passed the other branch of the Legislature in December, 1914, and was placed upon the businesspaper of this House. Honorable members will recollect that just at that time the war began to assume very serious dimensions, and consequently we became deeply immersed in matters relating to the national safety, with the result that it was found impracticable to proceed with the measure. The Government, therefore, postponed its consideration from time to time; and, finally, owing to the prorogation of Parliament, the Bill lapsed.

The primary object of this measure, as of that to which I have already referred, is to make such amendments in the Navigation Act as will enable the Commonwealth to give effect to the provisions of the International Convention for the safety of life at sea, to which all the principal maritime powers of the world are signatories. Its second object is to postpone the coming into operation of the coastal provisions of our Navigation Act, which were proclaimed to come into operation on 2nd March last. In the few remarks which I intend making I Shall attempt to show why that course has become necessary, and why, atthe present time, it is not considered desirable to proclaim those provisions. Incidentally, I think I shall be able to convince honorable members that the seamen, for whose benefit, as much as anything else, the coastal trading provisions were inserted in our Navigation Act, are to-day enjoying, practically in their entirety, the benefits conferred by those provisions. In the third place the opportunity is being taken to make a number of amendments in the Act for the purpose of bringing it into line with recent maritime legislation in Great Britain, and of remedying defects and inconsistencies which have been discovered since the passing of the original measure. It is also proposed to enact certain provisions which experience has shown are necessary to meet the peculiar conditions which exist upon some parts of our Australian coast. As some considerable time has elapsed since the tragic event which led to the calling of the International Conference for the Safety of Life at .Sea, perhaps it will not be out of place for me to say a few words concerning the work of that Conference.

Mr Tudor - That was the Conference which was called after the wreck of the Titanic.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - As the honorable member for Yarra has interjected, it was the Conference which was called after the wreck of the Titanic, which, as the result of a collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic, brought about an appalling loss of life. At the time, it came in the nature of a shock to the whole civilized world to learn that 1,500 people had been drowned, merely because a vessel which was regarded as the last word in naval construction, and which was deemed to be practically unsinkable, had not sufficient life-saving appliances on board to accommodate more than one-half of her passengers and crew.

Mr Stewart - And mainly because the live-saving appliances which were carried were not utilized to the fullest extent.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - That circumstance accounted for a portion of the loss of life sustained, but the outstanding feature disclosed by the inquiry was that there were not on the vessel sufficient boats and rafts to accommodate the whole of the people she was carrying. . At that period, I believe, there was no legislation in any part of the world which made it necessary for ships to provide boats sufficient to accommodate more than a portion of the persons carried by them.

The result of the Titanic disaster was that there was an insistent and worldwide demand that all vessels should carry sufficient boats to accommodate all on board, both passengers and crew. A Conference was, therefore, called by Great Britain, as the leading maritime power of the world, and representatives of all the maritime Powers gathered in London to consider the question of formulating such standards of safety for passenger ships as might be generally accepted. Fourteen sovereign Powers, embracing all the maritime nations, with the exception of Japan, were represented at the Conference which met in London at the end of 1913. Australia, Canada, and' New Zealand were also separately represented. Though Japan was not actually represented at the Conference, she subsequently announced _ her intention of becoming a party to the Convention. The Convention, however, is not binding upon the countries represented at that gathering until it has been ratified by their several Governments. Some of the principal Powers, including Great Britain, have already given legislative effect to its provisions.

Mr Tudor - Have all the Powers done so '?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Not all of them. I am not able to say off-hand exactly how many Powers represented at the Con.ence have since passed the necessary legislation to give effect to the Convention. But I d'o know that the great majority of the important maritime Powers have enacted that legislation, and that Japan, which was not represented at the Conference has adhered to the Convention.

Mr Tudor - The British House of Commons amended the Merchant Service Shipping Act just prior to the outbreak of the war.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Great Britain has passed the necessary legislation.

Mr Tudor - Has it been put into operation ?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - So far as I know, yes. To the best of my belief, that has been done. The Commonwealth Government have notified their intention to adhere to the Convention as from the date of the proclamation of the Navigation Act. If that Act is not brought into operation as a whole,- the date of our adherence in terms of our notification will be from the commencement of Part IV. of the Act, which comprises the provisions relating to surveys, equipment, and the safety of life at sea. Honorable members will recollect that a short time ago we put through a brief amending Bill, which empowered us to proclaim piecemeal, if that course should be deemed desirable, the provisions of the Navigation Act. I am not able to say whether the Act will be proclaimed in that way or not. It may be that we shall be able a little later, when the necessary preparatory work has been carried through, to proclaim the whole Act simultaneously. But if it be not proclaimed in "that way, our adherence to the Convention will take effect from the time that Part IV. of the Act is proclaimed. The Powers subscribing to the Convention pledged themselves to the early introduction of legislation to give effect to the provisions of the Convention, and', it is understood, practically the whole of the Powers have already fulfilled their obligations in this regard. As I stated just now, the matter was dealt with by the Imperial Parliament in the few months immediately preceding the outbreak of the war. The Merchant Shipping Convention Act of 1914 received the Royal assent on the 10th August of that year. The Imperial Act, however, was not applied to Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, it being left to the Dominions to deal individually with the matter by means of local legislation. The Convention itself, of which there are some few copies available to honorable members who may wish to ,peruse it, forms a very voluminous document, consisting of no less than seventy-four articles aud fifty-one regulations. It deals most comprehensively with the question of securing the maximum degree of safety in ocean travelling, ranging over such matters as the method of construction to be adopted, equipment to be_ carried, fire control, urgent signals, and the drills of the crew. The three outstanding requirements of the Convention, however, may be thus stated - (a) safety of construction, (6) wireless telegraphy, (c) life-saving appliances and fire protection. The heading "safety of construction " comprises such important questions as the subdivision of ships into water-tight compartments, the provision of double bottoms, , fire-proof bulkheads, auxiliary steering apparatus, and periodical surveys of the vessels in regard to hulls, boilers, machinery and equipment. It must be very gratifying to those who were associated with the framing and passing of our Navigation Act to know that in a number of important matters it successfully anticipated the findings of the Conference to which I have referred and the requirements of the Convention. I believe that at the time the Navigation Act was put through this Parliament it was probably the most up-to-date piece of legislation dealing with navigation in the world. It is certainly gratifying to this Parliament to know that after the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea had deliberated upon these matters the alterations that we require to make in our Navigation Act are not very numerous. The requirement, for instance, of sufficient and efficient manning of passenger ships, referred to in article 15 of the Convention, is fully met by sections 14 and 43 and schedules I. and II. of the Act; the periodical inspection and survey of hull, boilers, machinery, and equipment - article 29 - is covered by sections 191, 193, and 199 ; the provision as to wireless installation - articles 31 and 35 - was covered in all its main particulars by section 231; the prohibition of carriage of dangerous goods on passenger ships - article 55 - by section 254; the requirement that each life-boat and life-raft shall include in its crew a certain number of certificated lifeboatmen - article 54 - i3 to a great extent met by section 41, sub-section 2 of which provides that after the expiration of twelve month's from the commencement of the Act a seaman - other than a seaman who has not previously served at sea - shall not be permitted to engage in any capacity unless he satisfies the superintendent that he can pull an oar and handle a boat.

Mr Watkins - Is that one of the amendments you propose in the present Bill?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - No : what I am endeavouring to show is that in regard to all these things mentioned - most important as they are in connexion with the safety of passengers and crews - our Act has already made adequate provision to meet the requirements of the Convention.

Mr Watkins - Our present Act does not provide for what you are referring to now.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I think it does to a very large extent.

Mr Watkins - I am advised by the seamen that it does not.

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