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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - in reply - As the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) did raise certain matters, I assume I will be allowed to touch upon them, briefly, in reply. I never imagined they would be raised on this bill and I have not brought the papers with me. Consequently. I will have to speak from memory.

The broad outline of the facts is much as represented by the honorable member for Herbert, but one or two points need to be brought out more clearly. In the first place, the laws of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in respect of immigration, customs, and shipping are very similar to the laws which operate on the mainland of Australia in respect of those matters. What happened was that this small vessel, with a master and crew, intending to engage in trochus fishing left Townsville and, either through ignorance or because of bad advice, left without any ships' papers. They left without any permit to enter the territory and they left without any permit to. fish in Territory waters. When the boat arrived at the first Territory port, officials of the port, carrying out their duty in administering the laws of the Territory, boarded the boat and. said, "Where are your papers? ". They had no papers. They were asked, " Where is your permit? ". They had no permit. They were asked. " What are you- here for? ". Their reply was thai they were going to fish. They were asked for their licence to fish but they had no licence. That situation, which was quite a simple and customary one, was complicated by the fact that during the voyage from Townsville to Samarai there had apparently been some disagreements on board the vessel and two members of the crew deserted the ship, took refuge on the land, and said they were not going to travel with this man any more. That presented a further complication.

The first action that was taken by our district officials was entirely in the interests of the master of the vessel. They used their good offices first of all to persuade the two men who had deserted the ship and had refused to sail with this man any longer to return to the ship. Having patched up that difficulty, in the interests of all concerned, our district official said in effect, " You have committed about three offences. We are not going to take any notice of them. What we advise you to do is to return to Townsville and everything will be all right ". No action was taken.

Some time later this ship, which was thought to be on its way back to Townsville, was reported at another part of the Territory, making landings on other islands, and actually engaging in fishing. Not having the papers with me I will not venture to say how many days or weeks later that was. The ship was actually engaged in fishing. The officials asked it to return to Samarai, and having returned to Samarai, they were, in view of this flagrant defiance of the law, obliged to administer the law and charges were laid. Instead of three charges being laid the officials acted rather temperately and laid charges in respect of only one offence. The men were brought before the court in the same way as they would have been brought before a court in Australia and the sentence was passed. It is usual in such cases that the sentence of imprisonment is suspended as soon as the bond is furnished and the men can return. In due course a bond was furnished and the master of the ship was liberated.

There was another complicating element which the honorable member for Herbert has overlooked. It is a question I will not canvass at length because it may involve litigation; but the owner of the ship who had leased or chartered this vessel to the man who had landed in New Guinea interposed and by a message to the Administration started to assert his rights. I do not know the facts of the case, but he represented that this ship had been chartered under circumstances which amounted to misrepresentation, that it had been taken out of Queensland waters without his knowledge, and that the amount of the charter had not been paid. I know nothing of the truth of these details, but those were the facts as represented to our officials in New Guinea and on the representations of a person entitled to make them, namely the owner, the ship was seized. The procedures throughout were exactly the same as would have happened in the Queensland port of Townsville if the traffic had been in the reverse direction. Substantially, the law of the Territory on these matters is no different from the law that operates in Townsville, and if a New Guinea ship had done the same sort of thing and landed in the same sort of way in Townsville, exactly the same sort of thing would have happened.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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