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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- I hope this latest amendment to the Explosives Act settles the matter of what are Commonwealth explosives and what the Commonwealth can do about them. We passed the original act in 1952 and in it we said that the phrase " Commonwealth explosives " means explosives which are the property of, or are in the possession or control of, the Commonwealth and are for use or are capable of being used by the Commonwealth military forces or for the defence of the Commonwealth. Apparently a doubt has now arisen as to precisely what are explosives which are capable of being used by the Commonwealth's military forces or for the defence of the Commonwealth. Accordingly, we are taking out the whole of that definition and are inserting a new one.

The doubt in this matter was raised by the Permanent Committee of the Australian Port Authorities Association which the Minister, under the 1952 act, is under an obligation to consult before making orders for the berthing of ships, which contain Commonwealth explosives, in Australian ports, all of which, of course, are under the control of State governments or authorities set up by the State governments.

In 1957 we sought to lay at rest another doubt about this legislation, the difference there being that between the words " mooring " and " berthing ". We were not quite sure what they meant and so we took out " mooring ". After that 1957 act was passed, under its new definition we made regulation 48a of the Explosives Regulations. On the 5th October last the Minister told me, in answer to a question which I put on the notice-paper, that on the 2nd April, 1958, the Australian Port Authorities Association had requested that the new section which had been put into the Explosives Act by the 1957 legislation be further amended by omitting the new definition and that we should not promulgate this new regulation 48a. The Minister told me he refused to repeal the new section but did agree not to promulgate the new regulation. Apparently the 1957 amendment has been a dead letter to this day.

The whole position under this act seems to be somewhat confused. On the date to which I have referred the Minister also told me that on 13th January last year the port authorities had resolved that the Commonwealth Government be requested to amend the Explosives Act to restore the former position. He told me that as the intention of that resolution was not clear and as no formal request for a special amendment had been made, no action was taken. I do not know whether this bill, which he introduced on 20th October, was designed to carry out any request implied as a result of the resolution that he told me about on 5th October.

The control of ports is unsatisfactory. There are more than 30 different port authorities in Australia. The Commonwealth has power under the Constitution to regulate port navigation of ships which are engaged on interstate or overseas voyages, or engaged on defence purposes. In this bill the Commonwealth deals only with defence purposes. The Commonwealth is the only authority in Australia which, under the Constitution, can deal with customs matters that arise in all our ports. In practice, the Commonwealth also is the only authority which regulates the stevedoring industry.

The regulation of our ports is a matter of exotic confusion. The Commonwealth's customs, migration, stevedoring, navigation and quarantine authorities all deal with some aspects of ports which are, in other aspects, dealt with by 30 different State authorities. New South Wales and South Australia are the only States in which one authority controls all the ports of any significance. In the other States there are different authorities to control each port. This bill at least makes it plain that where the Commonwealth is engaged in defence purposes in the ports, the Commonwealth's will shall prevail. I very deeply regret that the Commonwealth does not show a little more boldness by co-ordinating all the functions of the ports which come within its powers, that is, interstate or overseas shipping amounting to well over 90 per cent, of the shipping in every port.

We support the bill as far as it goes. We hope that this third amendment of the act at least will make plain what Commonwealth explosives are, and will make plain that the port authorities of Australia cannot shilly-shally and stall on this matter any longer.

There is another matter to which I must refer. The act will now apply to explosives owned or controlled by the government or forces of another country which are in the Commonwealth or a Territory with the approval and for the defence of the Commonwealth. That also seems to be a reasonable and appropriate amendment, and we give it our support.

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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