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Wednesday, 29 April 1942

Mr MAKIN (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Munitions) - by leave- The experience gained in the Malayan campaign showed that small craft were of great value to the enemy, and that they materially aided his infiltration tactics. The best method of denying the use' of such craft to the enemy was considered by the Army authorities in conjunction with the State War Effort Coordination Committee. The final plans, which were arranged with the State authorities, provided for the concentration of theboats in various localities under Army control so that, in the event of the necessity arising for their destruction, immediate action could be taken. It was not considered that the destruction could safely be left to individual owners, particularly in view of the conditions likely to prevail when the necessity arose ; moreover, the time factor in warning scattered owners precluded the adoption of such a scheme.

There are approximately 19,000 boats involved in New South Wales, in respect of which about 2,000 exemptions have been granted by State Fisheries Inspectors in the following categories: -

(a)   Fishing boats in full time use.

(b)   Essential services.

(c)   Ferries.

(e)   Community boats for residents on islands.

(g)   Groupsof boats under police control in. areas subject to floods.

My department was given the duty of implementing the scheme, which is being carried out by Fisheries Inspectors in conjunction with the Maritime Services Board and the State police. A complete record hasbeen made of every boat removed from the control of its owner, and action is now being taken to supply owners with a receipt in the form of a card giving particulars of the boat in respect of which it is issued. It was most unfortunate that while the operation was in hand in the Hawkesbury and Georges rivers, floods occurred. I understand that these were the heaviest experienced for 60 years and that the consequent loss and damage to boats was considerable. An interim report in regard to this matter estimates that approximately 165 boats were lost or damaged beyond repair, and that 90 were damaged but are reparable. To what degree this loss was due to. the removal of the boats from the custody of their owners, cannot be assessed until the investigation has been completed.

The care and maintenance of these boats has been assumedby the Army, which, I understand, is now arranging for Volunteer Defence Corps maintenance squads to be recruited, as far as possible from boat-owners and boatshed proprietors whose boats have been removed.

The matter of compensation has two phases, viz. : -

(a)   in respect of loss of or damage to boats removed under the provisions of the Immobilization Order; and

(b)   in respect of loss or damage resulting from enemy action.

The latter can, it is understood, be covered by insurance under the National Security (War Damage to Property) Regulations. The present regulations, however, whilst providing cover for boats which have been removed from the water and stowed on land, do not provide for those on the water or on the foreshores below high-water mark. I have discussed the matter with my colleague, the Treasurer, and arrangements have been made to amend theWar Damage to Property Regulations in order to permit the insurance of small boats which are not at present covered.

I have received several inquiries as to the payment of compensation to owners who have been deprived of the use of their boats. Honorable members will appreciate that there are various circumstances in which it has been found necessary, for the attainment of the full war effort, to interfere with the normal conditions of living and the means of livelihood of the greater part of the Australian people. Damage to or loss of boats which has been occasioned as a result of removal or during the course of removal, is another matter. This phase certainly will be the subject of discussion between the Minister for the Army, the Treasurer, and myself.

I have already directed that, subject to security, every consideration is to be given to boat-owners who undertake to provide proper precautions for the safe custody of their own boats. I am informed by the Army authorities that, in their opinion, this matter cannot safely be left to the individual owners, and that any extension of the exemptions already granted would defeat the principal purpose, which for security reasons requires the greatest possible immobilization of all small craft. In view of this decision by the Army authorities, responsibility for further direction in this regard must be accepted by my colleague, the Minister for the Army.

Mr FORDE - by leave - Experience in the Malayan campaign showed that small craft were of great value to the enemy, if left available to him, and materially aided his infiltration tactics. It was felt that preparatory action, at least, should not be left until the actual threat developed. The army plan was to move the craft as far inland as possible, and concentrate them in order to simplify destruction, should that become necessary. The Department of the Army is not prepared to accept the responsibility for allowing pleasure craft and craft, used for hiring to remain in their owners' hands, beyond the measures already indicated by the Minister for the Navy. If owners were allowed the custody of their boats several thousands of craft would be affected, and it would be impossible to ensure the denial of those vessels to the enemy in the event of attack against our shores. It is essential that this action he taken now, as it would be dangerous to wait until an attack was imminent before taking these precautions which are so essential for the safety of the nation as a whole. It is considered that the exemptions which have been granted in respect of boats used for essential service, as advised by the Minister for the Navy, are sufficient. The policing of security measures in regard to the exemptions will create considerable difficulty. At the present time, in New South Wales, about 2,000 boats are involved. Arrangements have been made whereby, if a person has a legitimate claim for the retention of his boat, he can submit his case to the Inspector of Fisheries, who is empowered to grant an exemption if he is satisfied that the case warrants such exemption.

Mr SPOONER - I do not question the necessity for the immobilization of small craft. Every body realizes the need for such action, and the value of it. I ask the Minister, however, whether he will set up a competent authority to deal with the immobilization of vessels, thus taking the matter out of the hands of the naval and military authorities who cannot be expected to understand the needs of industry along the coast? Will he see that justice shall be done to the thousands of persons who depend on these boats for a livelihood?

Mr MAKIN - My department has in this matter merely been carrying out the instructions issued by the Department of the Army, .but in doing so we have worked in conjunction with a co-ordinating committee appointed by the State authority. Having regard to this fact, I suggest that any further questions on the subject be directed to the Minister for the Army.

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