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Thursday, 9 December 1976
Page: 3627


Mr MORRIS (Shortland) -I shall take the opportunity to comment on the question asked by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley). I think there is a relationship between these 2 Bills. If there had been an Australian ship reporting system operating in those days we might not have had any historic shipwrecks. I also take the opportunity, before I debate these Bills, to express my gratitude and appreciation to the retiring Clerk of the House, Norman James Parkes. I wish to say how much I appreciated, as a new member, his courtesy and assistance and kindly attitude to the problems which new members faced. I wish him well in his retirement and a long and happy life.

The Navigation Amendment Bill 1976 is similar in many aspects to the Navigation Bill 1975 which had not passed the Senate when the infamous sacking of November 1975 took place. Hence the Bill lapsed.


Mr Bradfield


Mr MORRIS - The honourable member will lapse without a sacking, so he should not worry. The essential difference between the 2 Bills is that this Government has deleted those sections of the 1975 Bill which dealt with the operation of off-shore vessels and collision regulations. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill but it notes that the Government has delayed this legislation for more than a year. Despite the deletion of sections of the 1975 Bill relating to collision regulations, it is encouraging to note that at the meeting of the Marine and Ports Council of Australia held in Surfers Paradise on 26 November 1976 the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) advanced the proposition that a single unitary law should apply to all shipping on the Australian coast instead of the present fragmented method whereby 7 separate governments are all involved in regulating shipping. While the Minister did not achieve complete success in having his proposal accepted by the relevant State Ministers, at least they recognised that advantages were to be gained from uniform shipping legislation and the matter is to be further discussed at the next meeting of the Marine and Ports Council of Australia.

More positively, the Council agreed that the Australian Government should legislate to implement on the widest possible basis the international collision regulations which, in effect, are the rules of the road at sea but leaving to State laws the administration of navigation rules for vessels within harbours. Apart from the large number of miscellaneous amendments which I shall touch on later, the 4 major changes made to the principal Act, the Navigation Act 1912, are: Firstly, it raises the limit of liability of owners of seagoing ships for loss of life or property, for example, from $20 per ton to $189 per ton for personal claims and from $1 1 to $61 per ton for property claims by adopting the provisions ofthe international convention relating to owners of seagoing ships which was signed at Brussels in October 19S7 and which came into force in 1968. Secondly, consequent upon the provisions of the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act 1970, Part II of the principal Act is amended to redefine visiting British ships so as to exclude British ships visiting Australia in the course of an international voyage.

Thirdly, new Division 14 is added to Part IV of the principal Act thus giving legislative force to the unique ship reporting system introduced by the previous Minister for Transport on a voluntary basis. Fourthly, following the passage of the Historic Shipwrecks Bill it is necessary that reference be made to its provisions concerning compensation when rights to a shipwreck are altered. The basic legislation governing the activities of Australian merchant shipping is the Navigation Act 1912-1972. This Act was the result of discussions during the years immediately after federation when At was sought to adapt existing British legislation to Australian conditions. The base legislation was the British Merchant Shipping Act 1894 which, in many ways, reflected attitudes at the end of the 19th century. In the period since 1912 numerous considerations have been given to updating the Navigation Act to bring it more in line with the needs of a young and growing maritime federation. The most recent attempt to review the Act was the appointment by the then Minister, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), in 1973 of the Maritime Industry Commission of Inquiry under the stewardship of Mr Mai Summers to report on 'The need for revision and modernisation of existing legislation'. His comprehensive report was tabled in the Parliament some weeks ago.

From time to time differing views have been expressed as to how government should go about updating Australia's maritime laws. One view is that a completely new Act designed to meet Aus.tralian conditions should be enacted. Another view is that the existing Navigation Act should be updated by a series of gradual amendments. The Bill before us represents a stage in that second view. As far as the Summers report is concerned the Government has yet to indicate its intentions. So far the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) has said only that the Government is giving consideration to the report. For all practical purposes it may be simpler for the industry if the gradual amendment procedure is followed. However, it is a poor reflection on our Constitution and our progress as a Federation that, 76 years after attaining nationhood, our shipping industry is regulated in the main by British legislation drawn up to meet the needs of a 19th century colonial empire. Mr Summers reported that there is a need for urgent action to enact Aus.tralian legislation relating to the registration of ships in Australia'. He noted that legally there are no 'Australian ships'. At law they are British ships registered in Australia under the U.K. Merchant Snipping Act. He goes on at page 5 of his report to say.

The bar to effective legislation by the Australian Parliament has been the Australian Constitution which it was believed did not give the Commonwealth Government power to enact provisions comparable to those contained in Part 1 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1 894.

The years since Federation have seen a number of great changes in the Australian shipping scene. Sails gave way to steam, coal-fired vessels to oil-fired vessels, then to oil-powered motor vessels and gas turbines, and maybe on the horizon nuclear-powered vessels. Coastal passenger vessels were displaced by surface and rail transport, which was followed by the motor car and the aeroplane. Sea-borne general cargo has lost out to surface transport while bulk carriers have brought a new dimension to sea transport. Yet through all these changes Australia has held fast to the principles of the 19th century British Merchant Shipping Act.

John Bach in A Maritime History of Australia, which was published recently, referred to the activities of the Imperial Shipping Committee which was established in 1918 and which functioned between the 2 World Wars. Describing the argument of the Dominions as to the extent to which they were still bound to observe British maritime law within their own waters, he said:

Indeed, for Australia this question is still not resolved, since ship registrations still have to be referred to the Central British office at Cardiff, United Kingdom, for final approval, a remnant of the 1 894 Shipping Act that infuriates some and enchants others.

There would be many Australians who would be infuriated to learn of that. In his second reading speech and in the explanatory notes attached to the Bill the Minister details the provisions of clause 34 which substitutes a new Part VII for the existing Part VII of the principal Act. As in the Bill of 2 October 1975, the clause provides for the exclusion of sub-paragraph (c) of Article 1 of the 1957 International Convention. The effect of this exclusion is to remove the opportunity for ship owners to limit their liability in respect of damage to harbour works or for wreck removal. The inclusion of this clause is surprising, because when the 1 975 Bill was debated the present Minister for Transport, then the Opposition spokesman on transport, objected to the exclusion of sub-paragraph (c) of Article 1 of the Convention. He claimed that this would impose a further burden on Australian ship owners. At page 2175 of Hansard of that date he said:

The practical effect of this is that ship owners in Australia will have to pay massive amounts in liability insurance to cover these increased risks. This will lead to significantly higher sea transport costs within Australia.

As the sponsor of this Bill he may care to explain to the House what has caused the dramatic reversal of his previous opinion in respect of subparagraph (c) of Article 1 of the Convention.

In the same debate he embarked on his usual union-bashing exercise by claiming that the wage levels, crewing requirements and living conditions which have been imposed on Australian shipowners make it quite uneconomic for Australian vessels to compete against vessels flying foreign flags. A little later in that same speech he contradicted himself by saying:

It seems that basically we are not a maritime nation. There does not exist in Australia the incentive for men to go to sea and earn their living.

One would have thought that if conditions on Australian ships are so well paid and so luxurious as the Minister would have us believe, there would be a wild rush of landlubbers to go to sea. But that is not the case. He ignored also the fact that some Australian general cargo vessels have operated profitably and with increasing success on the Australia- Japan service. He often slams seamen for their wage levels and working conditions, but the 1975 annual report of the Australian National Line shows crews' wages and allowances as 20.1 per cent of expenses. The 1976 annual report shows crews' wages and allowances as having reduced to 18.5 per cent of expenses. Clearly, total crewing costs are an important factor but the Minister was overstating the case.

I would like to take the opportunity to refer to that part of the Summers report under the heading of 'coastal shipping'. In paragraphs 6 and 17 the Commission says:

The coastal section of the Australian shipping industry faces serious problems at the present dme. Shipownerswhether in general cargo, bulk trades or in tankers- say that these problems are labour problems. Shipowners say also that there are too many unions and that they act irresponsibly.

Then in paragraph 1 8 the Commission says:

The maritime unions do not agree with these statements.

If we move to paragraph 19 we find the Commission saying: it has been too easy to blame industrial matters for lack of development in the shipping industry in the past.

I commend very strongly to the Minister and to the Government the next paragraph because it represents a constructive and positive approach to the problem. It says:

Nevertheless industrial attitudes between owners and unions require a strong effort, which the Commission believes only the Commonwealth Government can make, to bring both sides to a better working relationship. Failing this the Commission would expect that we shall continue to see the demise of major parts of the coastal shipping industry.

I believe that that is the responsible way to go about it because I see the role ofthe Minister for Transport as being that of a good broker, not of an agitator and certainly not of inflaming already delicate and difficult conditions between employers and employees.

Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill amend the definition of 'visiting British ships' to take into account the consequential effects of the UK Merchant Shipping Act 1970. The provisions of that Act extend to masters and crews of British ships visiting Australia in the course of an international voyage and are different from the provisions of the Australian Navigation Act. The amended definitions exclude from the category of visiting British ships those ships that have Australian connections, that are chartered or based in Australia and those ships which by regulation are declared not to be visiting British ships, such as vessels operated by the British Phosphate Commission, which are registered in London but whose operations are based on Australia.

Clause 4 ( 1 ) (d) extends the references in the principal Act to the owner of a ship to include a reference to the operator, except in a few specified circumstances. The many minor amendments in the Bill cover such items as adjustments to incorporate the metric system. I draw the attention of honourable members to the fact that a nautical mile is now declared to be 1852 metres. The amendments include the appointment of superintendents or deputy superintendents where there is no mercantile office, procedures concerning production of competency certificates, procedures concerning character reports of seamen, administration of discharged seamen's wages, administration of deceased seamen's estates, accommodation, and numerous other items which time will not permit me to detail.

I want to move now to clause 23 of the Bill because it is a very important provision for which the Department of Transport, the previous Minister for Transport- the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones)- and the Australian Government can take a great deal of credit. Clause 23 of the Bill creates a new division 14 at the end of Part IV, which gives legislative force to the Australian ship reporting system, AUSREP. AUSREP was established on a voluntary basis by the previous Minister for Transport following the loss of the 'Blythe Star'. This ship reporting system is unique in the world and stands to the continuing credit of the honourable member for Newcastle. It is an excellent example of Australian initiative in the field of navigation and marine safety, like the aviation interscan system now under development.

The present Minister for Transport ridiculed the honourable member for Newcastle during the 1975 debate on this issue for claiming AUSREP would be a world first, but again he has had a change of heart, I am pleased to note, and it has remained part of this Bill. The wide acceptability of the ship reporting system, even on a voluntary basis, and its importance is evidenced by the fact that the Marine Operations Centre was involved in 1327 search and rescue coastal surveillance and general maritime incidents in 1975-76, which represents an increase over the previous year of 49 such incidents. Searches were carried out in 41 of the incidents. Of the 994 ships that participated in AUSREP in 1975-76, 720 were foreign-owned vessels.

The disturbing factor in the report of the Marine Operations Centre is the high frequency of incidents involving pleasure craft. In fact, 308- or 23 per cent- of the 1327 incidents reported concerned pleasure craft, the largest single category. Much more needs to be done by State governments to ensure the safe operation of pleasure craft off our coastline. In many cases powered craft are taken to sea at weekends by people with little or no knowledge of seacraft. It is not unusual to see off our coast people fishing in very small open boats- boats down to the size sometimes oft I would guess, 9 feet, but certainly no more than 10 feet and powered by 3 horsepower motors. In some cases, I suggest, they would be 20 years old, but with 3 horsepower or 6 horsepower outboard motors. In many ways this practice is an invitation to disaster, and when difficulty does occur it also involves, in the aggregate, a great deal of public expense. Governments have a responsibility to protect people from themselves by much closer supervision of pleasure craft that put out from our foreshores.

I want to turn now from the Navigation Amendment Bill to the companion Bill in this debate, the Historic Shipwrecks Bill 1976, which originated in the other place. The Opposition welcomes this legislation, particularly as, like the Navigation Amendment Bill, it was initiated by the previous Labor Government. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) looks at me, but a decision was made by Cabinet on 2 June 1975 to appoint a committee and that resulted in this legislation being drawn up. I think he now agrees with me; he has nodded.


Mr Ellicott - There are other historic wrecks around.


Mr MORRIS -Is the Attorney-General suggesting that the legislation is a historic wreck?


Mr Ellicott - I am suggesting that the Opposition is a historic wreck.


Mr MORRIS -I am suggesting that the Attorney-General is a historic wreck in the making.

Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.


Mr MORRIS - Before the suspension of the sitting I had commenced my remarks relating to the Historic Shipwrecks Bill. As I said, the Opposition welcomes this legislation, because, like the Navigation Amendment Bill, it was initiated by the previous Labor Government. It is a sad reflection on some Australians that legislation should be necessary to protect our historic relics and evidence of early visitors to our shores from the maraudings and the destruction of irresponsible vandals. The provisions of the Bill will enable protection to be given to the many relics and wrecked vessels that lie off the coast of our continent. No federal legislation exists to cover historic shipwrecks, although the Navigation Act has some powers related to shipwrecks. The passage of this Bill has necessitated amendments to the Navigation Act which I mentioned earlier in this debate. The legislation provides controls for the recovery of wrecks and relics declared to be historic and for their disposition.

Clause 3 of the Bill provides for the inclusion in Schedule I of the agreement between the Netherlands and Australia concerning old Dutch shipwrecks which was signed at The Hague in November 1972. In that agreement the Netherlands transferred to Australia all its right, title and interest in and to wrecked vessels of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC, lying on or off the coast of the State of Western Australia and in and to any articles thereof to Australia which shall accept such right, title and interest. Article 4 of the agreement provided for the establishment of a committee of 4 persons, two nominated by Australia and two by the Netherlands, to determine the disposition and subsequent ownership of the articles recovered from vessels between the Netherlands, Australia and the State of Western Australia. Honourable members will no doubt be aware of the West Australian Maritime Archaeology Act 1973 and the challenge to its validity now before the High Court. The Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) has indicated that should the Court's judgment impinge on the Bill before us, the Bill will be reviewed in the light of that judgment.

Briefly, this legislation gives the Minister the power to declare as historic shipwrecks or historic articles the remains of ships or articles taken from them that are of historic significance. Persons in possession of or finding such items are required to notify the Minister, who may then direct how they are to be dealt with. The Minister may also authorise the exploration for a recovery of shipwrecks and articles under appropriate conditions. The environs of a declared wreck or article may be protected by the Minister declaring that area a protected zone and applying controls to any activity in the zone so declared. The report ofthe Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections, set up by the Whitlam Government on 10 April 1974 and chaired by Mr P. H. Pigott, established the importance of the mass of historic material that lies beneath the sea off our coastline. It shows that soo identified shipwrecks have been located, the oldest of which is the Tryal, an English East India Company merchantman lost in 1622 off the West Australian coast, 66 years before Dampier reached Australia. I would like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to Mr Pigott, who chaired that Committee of Inquiry. He performed an excellent service to the nation and to those who follow us in drawing attention to the valuable material that we need to take account of and to preserve and examine. I think I can do no better than to refer to Mr Pigott 's report. Paragraph 14.2 states:

Marine archaeology, moreover, is a vital source for those Australian museums which belatedly are investigating and exhibiting maritime history. The Committee is concerned that the legislative powers and procedures at present in force cannot protect historic shipwrecks in Australia from indiscriminate looting. Future research in marine archaeology will be severely impaired because of the scores of significant shipwrecks which have been pillaged, damaged or disturbed by amateur archaeologists and treasure seekers in the last two decades. Since the invention of the aqualung in 1943, and the subsequent popularisation of underwater activities, diving in search of shipwrecks has become a popular sport and, on parts of the Australian coast, an unsystematic industry. In some wrecks relics have been recovered in a responsible manner. In other wrecks the divers have looted what they assessed as marketable and have blown up or discarded the remainder: often the remainder has been more important, historically.

In paragraph 14.3 he continues:

As the earliest wreck off the West Australian coast is the earliest known contact of European Man with Australia- 66 years before Dampier's voyages and 148 years before James

Cook's discovery of the east coast- it is disturbing to learn of the wanton destruction that has occurred. In 1622 the Tryal sank in fairly deep water and hence escaped battering from the waves. When she was discovered in 1969, she seemed to be virtually as she was when sank three centuries previously. In 1971, however, a museum expedition found that the wreck had been recently blown to pieces. Apparently charges had been placed along the hull and in the mouths of the ancient cannons, and the resulting explosion had not only scattered the relics but had also brought down a cliff, thus burying many of the remains.

Further on the report refers to the wreck of the Gilt Dragon which was wrecked off the West Australian coast in 1656. It also was damaged recklessly by explosives 3 centuries later. The report of the Daily News of 14 October 1963 described the condition ofthe vessel when it was found. It also deals with the condition of the wreck after it was damaged. Mr Pigott stated, in relation to this wreck:

These are not isolated incidents of underwater vandalism although they may be the most serious.

Reference is also made to the activities of skin diving clubs. A magazine called 'Skin Diving in Australia' describes how divers found a ship's money box, but realising that the box contained only old paper money and documents, threw it back into the sea.


Mr Shipton - It sounds like the Labor Government.


Mr MORRIS - The way you are going, you will need it before long. You might go into the sea with it. Another excellent publication called The Treasure Divers Guide' presents up-dated information on sunken treasures throughout the world. Australia gets a good mention. The publication states that pirating of wrecks is increasing rapidly along the Australian coast. I commend to honourable members a perusal of that report to see what information could be gained on our early history. The surprising feature is that of all the vessels that must have arrived off the west coast of Australia, surely some persons must have survived and reached shore. Yet there seems to be no evidence whatsoever of the existence of white man or of the cohabitation of white man on our western coast. That is something which later investigation and research may reveal. It is certainly a very interesting subject and something that we as a nation should be preserving and devoting a lot more attention to. I can only request those people who participate in skin diving and underwater activities to have the utmost regard to preserving whatever relics they may come across. As I said earlier, the Opposition supports the view expressed by the Minister in his second reading speech on this Bill. The

Opposition hopes that the legislation will adequately serve the purpose of protecting an important part of our national heritage.







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