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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for Shipping and Transport) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

In his second reading speech in the Senate on the very lengthy Navigation Bill 1958, the then Minister for Shipping and Transport, Senator Paltridge, drew attention to the fact that the navigation laws need to remain under continual surveillance. He indicated that his Department would be keeping the Navigation Act under review so that, in future, anomalies would be removed when they became apparent, and any amendments made necessary by changing circumstances could be promptly effected, without allowing numerous amendments to accumulate, thus necessitating lengthy pieces of legislation.

The Navigation Act 1961 was the first of a regular series of amendments of this nature and we now have before us the second Bill of the series, drawn up to deal with various matters that have been found to need attention since the 1961 Bill was passed. Most of the clauses relate to matters of relatively minor importance and I think need only be referred to in detail in Committee. Even the more important matters dealt with, to which I shall now refer, do not involve really important policy decisions.

It is now provided in the Act that a superintendent shall refuse to approve the engagement of a person whom the Maritime Industry Commission, constituted under the National Security (Maritime Industry) Regulations, has directed be not engaged as a seaman. About 700 seamen were excluded by the Commission from employment in the Australian Maritime Industry during the 1939-45 war under a power derived from the National Security (Maritime Industry) Regulations. In 1952 the Navigation Act was amended to give continuing effect to certain powers and procedures which would otherwise have lapsed because of the repeal of war-time legislation and provisions were inserted in the Act to continue the exclusion of these 700 seamen. Only a small minority of excluded seamen had really bad characters and, as the exclusions are now of some 11 to 21 years' standing, these provisions are to be repealed and the exclusions terminated. Such action will not result in any large re-entry into the industry. Many of the men have left Australia, have died or have established themselves permanently ashore and are no longer interested in returning to sea. It is undesirable that the exclusion should continue indefinitely and the repeal of the provision is effected by clause 12 of the Bill.

Under an existing provision in the Act which was taken from a similar section in the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, intended to protect seamen from the practice of giving an advance in wages to a man which thereby bound him to go to sea; articles of agreement cannot contain any provision for the payment in advance to any seaman of wages due to him. Under modern industrial conditions and the present system of engaging seamen in Australia, such a protection is no longer necessary It is a disadvantage in connection with the institution of modern methods of paying employees such as by credit to their bank accounts, as in these circumstances advances against accrued wages are often sought by both the seaman and the employer. Clauses 17 and 18 of the Bill effect the repeal of this provision.

Section 179 of the Navigation Act applies terms of imprisonment for breaches of labour discipline to foreign seamen and is therefore out of line with section 100 of the Act which deals with like offences by seamen in British ships but does not impose imprisonment. Clause 30 is designed to remove the reference to imprisonment in the penalties attaching to offences related to labour discipline by foreign seamen, thus bringing the section into line with section 100.

The Act now requires the owner of every ship to which it applies, including a River Murray ship, to have each part of the ship that is required to be surveyed under the regulations surveyed at least once each year. Ships on inland waters, such as the River Murray, operate under conditions very different from those applying to sea-going ships to which the survey provisions of the Act and the regulations are designed to apply. Such ships operate in shallow sheltered waters and there is not the necessity for the stringent conditions which have to be applied to ships engaged in interstate or overseas voyages. The ships concerned are few and small, and greater flexibility is desirable in the laying down of suitable conditions, and this can best be done by regulation. Clause 32 amends the Act to allow the regulations to prescribe not only the parts of a ship which must be surveyed but also the manner and period of such surveys in relation to a particular class or type of ship.

The Act now provides that the masters of certain ships shall produce to the Collector of Customs from whom a clearance or transire is desired, certain certificates which are in their possession. A clearance cannot be granted to the ship and the ship may be detained until these certificates are produced. To facilitate the documentation of ships moving on the Australian coast arrangements are being made for the production and notation of these documents at certain specified ports of call so that it will not be necessary for a ship to produce the certificate to the Collector at every Australian port. Clauses 35, 36 and 37 give effect to this proposal.

Division 9 of Part IV of the Act provides for the testing and use of anchors, chain cables and gear in ships. It provides a procedure whereby the Minister may grant licences to persons for the testing, proving and marking of anchors, chain cables and gear and it provides penalties for the use of gear which is unsafe. The division, which was inserted in the Act in 1912, has never been proclaimed. To prepare and keep up to date Australian regulations for this purpose would involve an effort out of proportion to its usefulness. The gear covered by this division is that used on ships in connection with the loading and unloading of cargo, and it is covered in Australia under the Navigation (Loading and Unloading - Safety Measures) Regulations. There never has been and there is not now any necessity to proclaim these sections, and clause 39 provides for their repeal.

Two International Labour Organisation conventions made in Seattle in 1946 provide for the examination and certification of able seamen and cooks. The Navigation Act was amended in 1958 to enable Australia to ratify these conventions but, before this could be done, it has been necessary to try to ensure that acceptable training and examination facilities for able seamen and cooks are provided. Certain practical difficulties have so far prevented the provision of these facilities and as a result these provisions have not yet been brought into force. It is now evident that some time must elapse before appropriate facilities can be established, and in the meantime there is an urgent need to bring into operation the remaining provisions of the sections of the 1958 Act which relate to this subject. Clauses 55 and 56 of the Bill have the effect of deleting from the 1958 Act the provisions requiring the passing of prescribed examinations and the issue of certificates of qualification before a seaman may be rated as an able seaman or a cook. Without these provisions sections 26 and 76 of the 1958 Act can be proclaimed and brought into force immediately. As soon as the difficulties associated with the provision of training facilities and examinations have been overcome, action will be taken to amend the Act to reinsert these provisions and to move towards ratification of the conventions. In the meantime it will be possible to have the benefit of the operation of the remaining provisions of these two sections of the 1958 Act and to effect a consolidation of the Navigation Act generally, all sections of which will then be in force.

Apart from the matters which I have dealt with in a little detail, the content of the Bill is concerned with more or less minor variations to the existing provisions of the Act. They do not involve important policy decisions and in the" main are designed to clarify existing provisions, to remove anomalies or to simplify administrative procedures. The main object of the whole Bill is to make clearer, more precise or more workable the existing provisions of the Act and the Bill does not contain any matters to which any honorable member might be expected to object. It will to a considerable extent improve the effectiveness of the Act and I recommend it to the House for favorable consideration.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.

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