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Thursday, 1 July 1920

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - However, the whole thing is now met. If in any way our original Act does not comply with the conditions laid down by the Convention, the Bill now before honorable members, I believe, gives full effect to the requirements, and enables the Commonwealth to carry out its promise to adhere to the Convention, as soon as Part IV. of the Act is declared. I have no doubt that at the time our Act was regarded as a model piece of legislation, and that it did influence the members of the Convention at which Australia was represented. Finally, the compulsory boat drills required by article 56 and its related regulations are provided for in section 235. This last-mentioned, section is, however, being enlarged to provide, also on the lines of the Convention, for collision and fire drills. Power is also being taken, under a new section to follow section 217, to make regulations for the issue of certificates as life-boatmen to seamen who qualify, and for prescribing more particularly the crew to be carried by each life-boat and each life-raft on a vessel. Other requirements of the Convention can also be met by regulations under existing provisions of the Act. Of these the most important is that of article 40, which lays it down as a fundamental principle that at no moment of its voyage may a passenger steam-ship have on board a greater number of persons than those for whom accommodation is provided in life-boats and pontoon life-rafts on board. That is one requirement on which the Convention, perhaps, insisted more 'than any other, and our Act already gives the Minister power to prescribe that it shall be met.

Mr Charlton - Docs that apply to boats trading on rivers?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I think not.

Mr Charlton - It is very serious if it. does.

Mr Richard Foster - Does it apply to boats on the River Murray?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - It does not apply to the Murray; at least, I am inclined to think it does not.

Mr Fenton - If a vessel engages in both sea and river passage, does that provision apply?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Yes. I do not wish to be led into long explanation of some of these matters, but I understand that all vessels which cross routes that are traversed by oversea steamers come under this portion of the Act. This, as well as the requirements of articles 41, 50 - which deal with the types of boats and rafts to be carried - and of regulation 51, relating to life-jackets for all, can be fully met by regulation under existing section 215. Similarly the requirement of article 11 that a Morse signal lamp of sufficient range must be carried by passenger ships will be dealt with by regulation under sections 191 and 258, which fully cover the ground. The new sections, which it is proposed to introduce into the Act to meet the remaining requirements of the Convention, may be readily recognised by the reference in the marginal notes to the Imperial Act and to the relevant articles of the Convention. It is unnecessary for me to deal with these at this stage, but an explanation of each will be given when they come to be considered in Committee. If honorable members refer to the memorandum .which has been prepared, they will be able to follow quite easily the sections which it is proposed to introduce into the Act.

Sir Robert Best - Are we attempting to follow the Convention laws here ?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Wherever our Act has not already met the Convention's requirements, the necessary provisions to that end are incorporated in the Bill.

Sir Robert BEST - And the British Parliament has done the same?

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

Mr Richard Foster - This Bill adjusts matters that were conflicting?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - In many cases, yes. . A word is necessary as to the scope of the Convention, and its application as proposed in the Bill. The Conference was called together for the express purpose of considering the safety of passenger ships engaged in international traffic, in which the vessels at different stages of their voyages would come under the control of different jurisdictions, and in which different Governments would have a direct interest as involving the lives and safety of their subjects. The application of the Convention itself is, therefore, limited - excepting in regard to a few matters of relatively little importance, such as regards ice and derelicts, and the use of signals of distress - to the classes of ships described in Article 2; that is to say, to passenger steam-ships proceeding from a port in a State whichis party to the Convention to a port outside that State, and conversely. The matter of regulating the trade within its own territorial waters has been left to each country itself to deal with. That means that our adherence to the Convention does not make it necessary for Australia to apply these provisions of the Bill to our own shipping on our own coasts, which is entirely under our jurisdiction. We could, if we liked, adhere to the Convention, and leave those provisions out.

Mr Mahony - But you do not propose to do so?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - No. The Imperial Act, to which reference has been made, gives the provisions of the Convention a much wider application. It applied them to all passenger steamers, irrespective of whether their trade is within the United Kingdom or to foreign countries. That means ships passing from the jurisdiction of England to that of Prance, Holland, or some other country, and the provision applies to all passenger ships, irrespective of whether they trade within the United Kingdom or in foreign countries. Similarly, the requirements as to wireless are applied to ships and voyages which do not come under the Convention.

Mr Tudor - Does the Merchant Shipping Act contain the same provision that our own Act does, namely, that wireless shall be provided for all vessels carrying over ten passengers?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I could not be sureof that point without looking the matter up.

Mr Tudor - Surely the lives of our sailors are just as important as those of the passengers?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - It will, I think, be conceded that if such precautionary measures are desirable in the interests of human life on the short voyages within the waters around the United Kingdom, or even on the somewhat longer voyages from ports in the United Kingdom to European countries, they are even more desirable and necessary on the long runs of from 400 to 1,000 miles between ports in Inter-State voyages along the 10,000 miles of steam-ship routes around the Australian coast.

Our power under the Constitution is, of course, not so wide as that of the Imperial Parliament, and the limitations therein imposed must be regarded.

Generally speaking, however, the provisions of the Convention are applied, under the Bill, and subject to the conditions laid down in section 2 of the Navigation Act, to the following classes of ships: -

(a)   Ships registered in Australia;

(b)   Ships, whether British or foreign, engaged in the coasting trade; and

(c)   British and foreign steam-ships embarking passengers at a portin Australia for conveyance to a port outside Australia. This Parliament has full power to prescribe, in regard to these last-mentioned ships, the conditions under which they shall be permitted to embark passengers at any portwithin the Commonwealth jurisdiction.

It is this power which enables us to control ships which are not registered in Australia, but which embark passengers in Australia for ports beyond the Commonwealth.

Mr Riley - Havewe jurisdiction to control foreign ships which carry passengers on our coast?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - We have jurisdiction over all vessels, whether British or foreign, engaged in the coastal trade.

Sir Robert Best - That is, trading from one port to another in Australia, and not merely disembarking passengers or landing cargo in this country.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - That is so. I speak subject to correction; but I believe that we have jurisdiction over every vessel which touches Australian shores, and engages in our coastal trade. Of course, if a foreign vessel comes to Australia and passes from port to port, but does not pick up passengers or cargo, I do not think we have jurisdiction.

Mr Tudor - That is covered by the coastal trading sections of the main Act.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Myown impression is that we have gone, in this Bill, just as far as the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth enable us to go. Then, of course, we have to leave to all the maritime powers, which have adhered to the Convention, the control of those ships which come here over which we have no jurisdiction. So much for the provisions arising out of the Convention for the safety of life at sea, and which constitute the most important clauses of the Bill.

Sir Robert Best - As regards constructional accommodation on oversea vessels, -will it he uniform on British vessels with that on vessels registered in Australia, by reason of the Convention, or otherwise ?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The Convention deals with the question of construction. If the ship is registered in a British Possession which has adhered to the Convention and passed the' necessary legislation, or if it is under the jurisdiction of any other power which has done so, then the provision will be uniform; but, of course, in the case of any vessel which comes to our coast and engages in the coastal trade, the coastal-trading provisions insure uniformity.

I wish to explain clauses 3 and 4, which provide for the postponement of the coastal-trading provisions of the Act. Clause 3 provides for the annulment of the proclamation issued in December last, fixing 2nd March as the date on which certain provisions of the Act, commonly known as the coastal-trading provisions, were to commence. Clause 4 similarly suspends the operation of regulations issued under those proclaimed provisions. I believe there is a good deal of misconception, and possibly of ignorance, on the part of the public, both as to the nature of the Navigation Act itself and as to the effect that its provisions would have on shipping facilities in Australia if the Act were proclaimed at this moment. "We often hear criticism directed against this Government, as it has been against previous Governments, for not proclaiming the Act. That criticism I believe to be very largely based upon lack of knowledge as to the shipping situation generally, and as to the effect which the enforcement of the Act would have upon our coastal trade. I was not here through the closing days of the last part of this session, but I believe a good deal was said at that time as to the enormous accumulation of cargo in different parts of Australia and the impossibility of moving it to other parts where it was badly needed. At that particular time the drought was very bad. It looked as if it were never going to break. There were vast accumulations of fodder at various parts of Australia, and it was found utterly impossible to move it. Great pressure was brought to bear on the Government to release some of its overseas vessels and put them on the coastal trade. This position arose in the first place through the war. I think over fifty of our coastal vessels, and the very best of them, were during the war taken off our coast and requisitioned by the Imperial Government. According to the latest statistics available, the Inter-State steam-ship tonnage remaining on the coast is to-day only about two-thirds of what it was at the outbreak of the war in 1914. This deprivation of one-third of our effective transportation service was a most serious loss to the Commonwealth. We felt the effect of it all through the war; and, had it not been for the fact that the ' Government requisitioned all the ships and ran them as one line to all intents and purposes instead of a number of competing lines, it would have been utterly impossible, during the period of the war, to meet the requirements of Australia. The position has been accentuated for another reason, to which I am very glad to be able to bear testimony. During the war, owing to the fact that we were shut off from our sources of supply for many things which we had been in the habit of importing, Australian manufacturers got to work, and all sorts of new industries were started in the country.

Mr Gregory - Shovels, for instance!

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - That was a very small one; but still it was one. The result was that the coastal trade of Australia grew tremendously during the war.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Not only had we less ships during the war; but, a3 I am reminded by the honorable member for Wakefield, who is a member of a Commission that has been investigating this matter very closely, the coastal trade of Australia has very nearly doubled.

Mr Gregory - Is that in tonnage or in value?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - In actual tonnage. That fact, has of course, accentuated the difficulty very much. The position is far from normal, and this abnormality has been brought about, I am sorry to say, by two very serious maritime strikes.

On top of the fact that we were working with only two-thirds of the shipping on our coast that we required, and the fact that our coastal trade had grown to such a great extent during the war, we have had two very serious industrial disturbances, which have led to the piling up at various parts of Australia of an enormous accumulation of cargo, which it has been found impossible to move.

Mr MAHONY (DALLEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) -. - Will not the Minister admit that the influenza epidemic had far more to do with it than the strike?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I believe that the influenza epidemic, or the action which the States saw fit to take at that particular time, had a good deal to do with it, but by the strenuous efforts put forth by the Controller of Shipping, Admiral Clarkson, we have, to a great extent, got over that trouble, which occurred about twelve months ago. We have, however, not yet fully recovered from the effects of the strikes, because they meant a complete cessation of shipping. Honorable members will see, therefore, that, for the time being at all events, it is absolutely necessary to engage in the trade every vessel that comes to our shores, and is prepared to carry coastal cargo. The object of the coastal trading provisions of the Act was to insist that all vessels engaged in our coastal trade should comply with certain conditions as regards the manning scale, accommodation, pay, and rations, and generally to make tilt condition of Australian seamen very much better than it had been in the past.

Mr Mahony - And it needs to be made better.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - It certainly did need to bc. Every one who has looked into this question must admit that the conditions which obtained in our mercantile marine in days gone by were a disgrace to our twentieth-century civilization. The provisions of the Navigation Act are an attempt to put them on a much better footing. It was recognised, too, that it would not bc fair to compel the owners of ships registered in Australia to comply with the coastal trading provisions while allowing ships trading from other parts of the world, and which had not to comply with those conditions, to compete with them. But for us at this moment to ask vessels calling at our shores, and which are so necessary to carry on our coastal trade, to comply with the coastal trading provisions, would simply result in pushing them out of the trade. Australia's national requirements are such at the present moment that the Government do not think that would be a desirable step to take. We have, at the same time, the knowledge that, as a result of the conference held at the conclusion of the first big maritime strike, practically all the provisions relating to the comfort, pay, rations, and manning scale on Australian ships are now being carried out; and I believe I am safe in saying that, if the coastal trading provisions of the Act were proclaimed to-morrow, they would not materially alter in any respect the conditions of our Australian seamen engaged in the coastal trade.

Mr Fenton - Does that apply to accommodation ?

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

Mr Mahony - The Minister will find that the seamen do not agree with the statement he has just made.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I can only give the House the information which has reached me from responsible quarters. I believe that, broadly speaking, that is the fact. There are some ships on our coast on which the accommodation has not been altered.

Mr Tudor - In some cases it is absolutely scandalous.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - There are some ships upon which the accommodation has not been altered, but, broadly speaking, the statement I have made is, I believe, correct. We cannot insist upon the observance of these conditions until such time as we are able to proclaim the coastal trading provisions of the Act. The disadvantages to this country of doing that at this time would be so great that no Government would be justified in adopting that course. As soon as we are able to do so with due regard to the' welfare of the community generally, we intend to proclaim the whole of the Navigation Act, including the coastal provisions. When the Government decided some time ago to prolaim those provisions, we were met by insuperable difficulties in several quarters. For instance, the north-west of Western Australia and Thursday Island are entirely dependent upon sea communication, and either no vessels of any kind were calling at those ports, or practically the whole of the trade was being carried by foreign-going ships. Had we proceeded with the proclamation of the whole of the Navigation Act at that time, those portions of Australia would have been isolated entirely, and deprived of all means of communication with other parts of the Commonwealth. Many of the people would have been ruined, and some starved. The owners of the vessels calling at those ports told us that they would not comply with the coastal trading provisions, and would entirely abandon those ports of call. The Government are satisfied that even when the coastal trading provisions of the Act are proclaimed, fresh provision will have to be made to meet those peculiar conditions which exist in some parts of Australia, and whilst it is conceivable, and probably is right, that later the whole of the Australian coastal trade will be catered for by vessels registered in Australia, that consummation cannot be reached for some time. Honorable members will find that clause 96 enables the Minister for the time being to make provisions to meet these peculiar conditions as they arise. There is considerable constitutional difficulty in the way of exempting any part of Australia from the provisions of the Act, because we are not allowed, in our trade and commerce legislation, . to differentiate between different portions of Australia.

Sir Robert Best - But we did that in the Act by stating that certain provisions should not apply to vessels trading between Fremantle and Adelaide.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - We did that; but the honorable member will admit that the provision is of doubtful constitutionality, and may be challenged later. I believe that by clause 96 we have overcome the constitutional difficulty by giving the Minister power to grant permits to any vessel or vessels to engage in the coastal trade without complying with the coastal trading provisions of the Act. That will meet the circumstances of isolated parts of Australia, and at the same time will enable the Minister, as Australian ships become available to take up the slack of the coastal trade, to cancel permits after due notice has been given.

Mr Fenton - The clause insists upon any unlicensed ship being British owned.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Yes; wherever possible, permits would be granted to British ships, in preference to others. The only other important provision of the Bill which it may be desirable to mention at this stage is clause 5, which introduces into the principal Act a new section (1a), providing that the provisions of the Act expressed to apply to ships registered in Australia shall also apply to and. be enforced on other British ships whose first port of clearance and port of destination are within the Commonwealth. This takes advantage of section 5 of the covering Act of the Constitution, to extend the application of the Act in regard to those particular provisions which it has been thought desirable to apply to " ships registered in Australia." The principal object in introducing this into the Act is to prevent any evasion of those provisions expressed to apply to Australian registered ships by the simple expedient on the part of the ship-owner of transferring the registry of the ships to British ports outside the Commonwealth.

Mr Tudor - As it has been alleged some owners have done recently.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) -Yes. If that is done in future, we shall be enabledby this provision to bring those owners within the purview of the Navigation Act. I shall make further reference to this matter when the Bill is in Committee. I have outlined briefly the principal provisions of the Bill. It is really a Committee measure, and when that stage is reached I shall be glad to furnish honorable members with any further information they require. The Bill is of a nonparty character, and will, I think, make for the welfare of this country. Therefore, I hope that honorable members will facilitate its passage.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.

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