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Thursday, 2 May 1957

Mr BEALE (Parramatta) (Minister for Supply and Minister for Defence Production) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Since the Parliament passed the Explosives Act in 1952, some doubts have been raised on the correct legal interpretation of certain terms relating to the berthing of ships and also whether the act makes sufficiently certain the power to require by regulation that a berth provided by a port authority for a vessel berthing by order is suitable for the purpose specified in the order. Sub-section (l)(b) of section 6 of the Explosives Act 1952 provides that the regulations may empower a person to direct, by order, that a vessel in which Commonwealth explosives are, or are to be, loaded may be " moored " or " berthed " in a port specified in the order. Some differences of opinion have arisen as to the correct legal interpretation of the words " moored " and " berthed " appearing in this section. J should have thought, having had some slight experience in the matter, as my colleague the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has had also, that when a vessel is moored, it is moored in a stream, but when it is berthed, it is berthed alongside a wharf. Apparently, however, we did not know what were talking about when the legislation was passed and a great deal of uncertainty has arisen as to whether the word " moored " has the connotation of being alongside, apart from being in the stream. That is how the trouble arose.

Mr Thompson - Do they attach the mooring lines to fixtures?

Mr BEALE - Apparently the mooring lines are attached to the fixtures on shore and, therefore, a vessel is deemed to be moored, although most sailors would assume that mooring means something done to the vessel out in the stream.

Mr Haylen - When the vessel is tied to a wharf, it is berthed but only " moor " so.

Mr BEALE - That is so. There is no clear differentiation between these terms, and it has been suggested that as matters now stand the requirements of an order would be met if a vessel were moored at an anchorage. The purpose of the provision in the act, however, is to ensure that to meet defence requirements a vessel shall be berthed at a wharf where the facilities are available for handling that particular consignment or for handling other cargo when Commonwealth explosives are on board a vessel.

The bill before the House will resolve these differences of opinion by leaving out the word " moored " entirely. It will also place beyond doubt the power to ensure by regulation that a vessel is provided with a berth which is suitable for handling the cargo it carries. The effect of it all is that the land lubbers have won the day in this legal argument.

Since the passing by the Parliament of the Explosives Act 1952, it has been found necessary on 50 occasions for orders to be made directing that a ship in which Commonwealth explosives were loaded, or were to be loaded or discharged, should be berthed in a specified port. This action was necessary for three principal reasons - first, because the normal facilities provided by the State could not be made available to handle the quantity of Commonwealth explosives in a particular consignment because it would result in serious delay to shipments of commercial explosives. In such cases, State authorities have requested that the vessel be berthed at a commercial wharf under authority of an order. Secondly, action was taken because a ship carrying Commonwealth explosives had to berth at an intermediate port to work ordinary commercial cargo, and thirdly, because an urgent defence requirement could not be delayed for the time which it would take to load by lighters.

Orders made on these occasions have been tabled in the House as is required by section 6 of the act.

In every other case of Commonwealth explosives being shipped through Australian ports where the particular circumstances previously mentioned did not apply, the explosives have been handled through the explosives anchorages or wharfs established by the State authorities. In all cases, the port authorities are consulted before an order is made, and recognizing the paramount needs of defence, the port authorities generally have co-operated fully with the Commonwealth departments concerned to provide berths suitable for the loading or discharge as the case was.

While it is proposed to continue to consult the port authorities before an order is made, it is felt that the importance of ensuring the expeditious and safe handling of explosives needed for the defence of the country demands that any doubts existing as to the efficacy of the Commonwealth's authority to require by order that a vessel be provided with a suitable berth should be placed beyond doubt. In the case of some made-up explosives required at Woomera, the explosive content is small, but the mechanism is so delicate that offloading into lighters at an open anchorage could cause extensive damage. Only the defence authorities are competent to judge the need for berthing at a commercial wharf and the bill proposes, therefore, to provide for the making of a regulation which will ensure that a suitable berth is provided where necessary.

Before regulations under this sub-section are promulgated, the Port Authorities Association will be given the opportunity, as is provided for in section 5 (3) of the act, to make recommendations to the Minister. It is not proposed to vest any officer with unrestricted authority to exercise the power contained in sub-section (1a). The regulations will provide that these powers will only be invoked in the case of failure on the part of a port authority to provide a suitable berth for a vessel loaded with, or to load, explosives urgently required for the defence of the Commonwealth. I commend the bill to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.

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