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Wednesday, 7 July 1920

Mr TUDOR (Yarra) .- Navigation Bills, in some such form as this measure, have been before this Parliament practically ever since the Federal Legislature was inaugurate-!. The present measure is due to various maritime conferences, but even today the Navigation Bill passed in 1912 is not in operation as a Statute of this country. That is largely due to the war. Certain parts, I understand, have been put into operation. In respect to this matter, the Government should state just how the Navigation Bill really stands to-day, and should indicate what parts, if any, are in actual operation. "When the seamen's strike was in existence, about this time last year, it was stated that if the Navigation Act were proclaimed it might have an important bearing upon the settlement of the dispute. I have already stated, when dealing with another matter, that during the past twelve months I have travelled around tha Australian coast in various coastal vessels in which the accommodation for the crews was absolutely disgraceful. An ordinarily built man could not turn over in his bunk. It will be scarcely credited that such conditions could exist to-day. The Navigation Bill is different from any ordinary measure, in that it does not call for the assent of the GovernorGeneral, but must be sent to England for the Royal assent. The British Parliament will not errant to any of the Dominions the right to legislate upon the matter of navigation without referring the proposed Statute to the Imperial authorities. It is to be expected, therefore, that even the present Bill, when it has passed, will be hung up for some time, No immediate relief can be expected from this measure in regard to the present treatment of crews on our coastal vessels. It is a disgrace to some of the wealthy shipping companies of Australia, which take every opportunity to increase freights and fares, that such conditions as I saw should exist. At least 95 per cent, of the industrial workers to-day have failed to obtain the improved conditions which they have sought by any other means than by fighting for them, and the same, it appears, must apply to the seamen. Owing to the shortage of shipping, the Government, in some cases recently, have given reluctant permission for the sale of certain vessels off the coastal trade, but on the strict condition that new vessels shall be constructed or purchased to take their place. I learned only last week, however, that a certain company which had obtained permission' to make a sale from among its coastal fleet, on condition that they replaced it with a modern vessel, had failed to fulfil its obligation in the matter. During the war, nearly the whole of our best Inter-State ships were sent oversea on transport and other service, and very many have not yet returned to Australian waters. One of the reasons why the effects of the recent drought have been so severely felt is that there has been a shortage of coastal shipping. To-day, the shortage of coal, owing to the lack of colliers upon our coast, has involved a consequent shortage of wood supplies, for wood has had to take the place of coal in many instances. Colliers have been sold off our coastal service, and have not been replaced. In to-day's press, there is a report 0;f a deputation which waited on the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), at which seamen complained that the vessels constructed for the Commonwealth Government are not being built in accordance with the provisions of the Navigation Bill, in the matter of accommodation for crews. I hope, for the honour of the Government; that that statement is not correct. The Government should be a model employer; it should set an example, and should not construct ships which fail to fulfil the condition's laid down' in the Government's own legislation.

It has been stated that, in relation to the proclamation of the Navigation Bill of 1912, unless exemption is granted with respect to certain ports - for example, from Fremantle up along the north-west coast - the trade of that portion' of Australia will be entirely destroyed; no vessels will call there. That argument cannot be applied, however, to the greater portion of the Australian coast, at any rate, between Fremantle and Cairns, or Thursday Island.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The difficulty is that there ia not sufficient shipping to handle the trade.

Mr TUDOR - I have already indicated that that is the trouble, but I understand that certain owners have been permitted to sell ships which have been serving on the Australian coast, and have not fulfilled the condition laid down by the Government with respect to replacement. The Minister for Trade and Customs, in the course of his second reading speech, indicated that the provisions of the Navigation Bill passed in 1912 were such, in respect to their vital portions, that, despite that they were framed prior to the convention which followed the wreck of the Titanic, it has not been thought necessary to make any material alterations. That is to say, our Navigation Bill anticipated some of the most important features of the convention of January, 1914. Although the House of

Commons passed a measure as an outcome of that convention, I believe it has not yet been given effect to; the reason in this case also is that the war intervened.

I do not approve of one amendment indicated by the Minister, in relation to wireless equipment. Section 231 of the 1912 measure states -

Except as prescribed, every foreign-going ship, Australian-trade ship, or ship engaged in the coasting trade, carrying fifty or more persons, including passengers and crew, shall, before going to sea from any port in Australia, be equipped with an efficient apparatus for wireless communication in good working order in charge of one or more persons holding prescribed certificate's of skill in the use of such apparatus.

The lives of the crew are just as valuable as the lives of any passengers may be. If there is to be any limitation at all the clause should provide for a wireless installation on vessels carrying twelve or more persons, including crew. I am appealing for the men employed on these vessels. At present they are not provided for.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - If the honorable member will read the clause again, he will find that they are.

Mr West - There are more wrecks amongst cargo vessels than passenger ships.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The clause which takes the place of the original section provides that wireless shall be installed on vessels carrying twelve or more passengers, and of not less than 1,600 tons register.

Mr TUDOR - Many ships, colliers particularly, carry more than fifty persons, including firemen, greasers, engineers, seamen, and officers.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - As a matter of fact the Bill is more liberal than the Act, because if there is a crew of fifty, a vessel will be of more than 1,600 tons register.

Mr TUDOR - I am glad to have that assurance, but I believe the seamen fear the Bill is not so liberal as the Act.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Well, I have the assurance of practical men that it is.

Mr Mahony - If there is any doubt upon the point, why not put the question beyond all doubt?

Mr TUDOR - This matter is viewed from different angles by different persons. I am only anxious that the provisions should be as liberal as possible.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - They are more liberal than those of the original Act. The representatives of the seamen, accompanied by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews), saw me concerning the Bill, and they did not raise the point referred to by the honorable member at all.

Mr TUDOR - I have received the following letter from the general secretary of the Federated Seamen's Union: -

Goulburn-street, Sydney.,

May 10, 1920.

Dear Sir,

I am instructed by my executive council to write you and point out that, on behalf of the seamen of Australia, we shall be thankful if you offer our protest against any amendment of the Navigation Act which would enable ships carrying less than ten passengers to leave port without a wireless installation.

We hold that the lives of the crew are of as much importance as the lives of an equal number of passengers, and, therefore, we trust that you will endeavour to safeguard the interests of the seamen by insisting that all ships engaged in the coastal trade shall be fitted with wireless telegraphy.

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Walsh.

It might be said that some vessels engaged on the coastal trade, such as those on the run between Sydney and Newcastle, are only a few hours out of port, and, therefore, do not require a wireless installation; but I think that all vessels should be equipped with wireless.

Mr Bowden - Would the seamen prefer the provisions of the original Act to this Bill?

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