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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) -The Bills before the House are the Navigation Amendment Bill 1976 and the Historic Shipwrecks Bill 1976. 1 congratulate the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates). I did not think I would ever be in a position of agreeing with him. However, I am pleased to say that when we are considering matters of historical interest and environmental matters oft-times party barriers disappear substantially. I congratulate the honourable member for Holt on his contribution to the debate this evening. I join with him in his comments about the Victorian Government. I do not want to be political. All governments in Australia should have a greater awareness of the need to protect the history of this country and not allow relics to fall to pieces or be destroyed. I agree with the remarks of the honourable member for Holt.

I congratulate the Government for introducing a first-class Bill into the Parliament. The Bill is almost identical with the Bill that was introduced into this Parliament in October 1973 by the Labor Governmentr. Once again, the Government has adopted Labor legislation- first-class legislation- which is in the interests of people involved in the maritime industry. I am disappointed, of course, that many important parts of the 1975 legislation are not included in this Bill. I will deal with those matters later. I turn now to the important sections of the 1975 legislation which have been included in the Bill. A considerable number of amendments are proposed to the

Navigation Act. I always find navigation legislation interesting and intriguing to deal with. Unfortunately, amendments to the Navigation Act are not brought before the Parliament often enough. It is outdated legislation sadly in need of updating. It was the objective of the Labor Party in 1975 to update the legislation when it introduced amendments and new initiatives, some of which are now contained in this Bill.

The main provision contained in this Bill concerns the limit of liability of owners of seagoing ships for loss of life or property. We adopted the provisions of the International Convention relating to the Limitation of Liability on Owners of Sea-going Ships signed at Brussels on 10 October 1957 and they became law in 1968. Part II of the Act deals with the crews of ships and their conditions of service. This will no longer apply to visiting ships, the conditions of whose operations in Australia were governed by the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act. Visiting ships no longer will be governed by the Australian legislation because of improvements which the British Government has provided. Our law will apply only to ships under charter in Australia

New Division 14, which is to be added to Part IV of the principal Act, makes it mandatory for a ship's master to submit plans of a ship's voyage in Australian waters and to report its movements. I will deal with that in detail. It is a provision of which I am very proud. Part VII of the Navigation Act deals with historical wrecks and wrecks as a whole. The definition of 'historic wreck' is to be included in the Navigation Act. This is necessary because of provisions in the Historic Shipwrecks Bill. Proposed new Part VA deals with special purpose ships and special personnel. That is a broad outline of what the Navigation Amendment Bill is about.

So far as the limitation of liability is concerned, Part VIII of the Navigation Act limited the liability of ship owners for loss or damage in accordance with the provisions of the Imperial Act known as the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. This Part subsititutes a new Part VIII which gives the International Convention relating to the Limitation of Liability on Owners of Sea-going Ships the force of law in Australia except that the liability relating to salvage operations or damage to marine facilities and waterways cannot be limited. The effect is to increase substantially the liability of ship owners. The figures referred to by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) in his second reading speech have been updated since 1975. They have increased, for liability for personal claims, from $20 per ton to $189 a ton and, in the case of property claims, from about $1 1 a ton to $61 a ton. With the recent revaluation, these figures are not out of date. They will continue to fluctuate.

The International Convention, to which I referred, is included in the Bill as Schedule 1 and approval is given for its ratification. Proposed new section 59b states that an owner cannot limit his liability in respect of loss or life or personal injuries sustained by crew and other people who have duties on the ship. One aspect of this provision which concerns me is that the Convention was signed in Brussels in 1957 and it became law in 1968 yet this Government, when in office between 1968 and December 1972, did absolutely nothing about implementing or bringing into operation the terms and conditions of the 1957 Brussels Convention. When I introduced similar legislation 12 months ago all that the present Minister for Transport did was to severely castigate the Labor Government for what it had done. He was most critical of our actions in bringing forward amendments. However, I am pleased to say that in the 12 months in which he has been the Minister he has seen the light of day and has had enough sense to pick up what we initiated and what we suggested at that time.

Mr Morris - Charlie Nixon?

Mr CHARLES JONES -Charlie Nixon as he is called. If we do not tell the Minister what to do, he does not do anything. If he does not have our legislation to refer to he does not do anything. The new Convention signed recently increases the figures to which I referred earlier by about 400 per cent. I hope that the Government will not wait another 12 months- it will certainly not have 23 years or as long as it took to adopt the recommendations of the 1957 Conventionbefore it adopts the new Convention. The Government should get on with the job and get away from the present archaic system of limited owner liability. It applies to aeroplanes; it applies to the maritime industry. It is something that belongs to the bad old days. It is time that governments got rid of it. My one disappointment is that when I was the Minister I was not able to get rid of it because its retention could have harmed our own shipping industry. The sooner the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation gets rid of this limited liability, the better. At least governments can then get on with the job of implementing decisions made by IMCO and at international conventions.

Mr Baillieu - Your Government did not.

Mr CHARLES JONES -We did. The honourable member for La Trobe will be voting on our legislation tonight. I hope that his Party does not delay this legislation in the Senate. This legislation is similar to the legislation introduced in October 1975 by the Labor Government- it is almost word for word. I hope the honourable member has enough sense to vote for it. His Minister has had enough sense to introduce this legislation and to get on with a job which is sadly overdue. I hope this Bill will not be delayed any further. I will give an example of how little people can be hurt by delaying legislation of this type. I think we are indebted to Jimmy Ramsden of the Australian Financial Review for an article which he wrote and which appeared yesterday, 8 December. Honourable members can read it. He gave me a bit of a dig and he gave the Minister for Transport an even bigger dig. In that article he drew attention to a crewman of a fishing boat who severely injured his hand and lost a number of fingers. That man received as compensation a paltry sum because he did not belong to a union that had the muscle to be able to get mm what he was entitled to. This is a clear case which shows how little people can be deprived because parliaments are too dilatory and are not prepared to act. It is obvious from the attack on me 12 months ago by the present Minister that if we had not embarrassed him into the position of having to reject that section of the Act, the possibility is that he would not have gone on with it. So we have these cases where little people can be hurt.

In the case of the new amendment, proposed new section 59B which will be written into the Act, trade unions are able to get over the problem of limitation by reason of their industrial strength. We have had numerous cases where seaman have received just compensation. In the case of the Birchgrove Park they would have received virtually peanuts under the provisions of the old Merchant Shipping Act if the limitation of liability had applied. In the case of the Blythe Star fatality in Tasmania a few years ago, those women received their just entitlements under the then compensation Act, but under limited liability provisions they would have been deprived of many of the benefits. Where the unions have strength they can get away with it; but where they have not, such as in the case I quoted or in the case of the fisherman, there is nobody to fight for them. That fisherman lost out and finished up with a very paltry amount of compensation. So much for the matter of limited liability.

The next matter I want to deal with is the reporting of shipping movements. The Labor Party is entitled to be proud because of this amendment being written into the Act. I am pleased that the Minister left this amendment in the Bill. Australia will be the first country which will have compulsory filing of sailing plans and position reporting every 24 hours for Australian ships or other ships on the Australian coast. The maritime industry throughout the world is very keenly interested in what is going on. Some of the moneybags are concerned about it because it might cost them some money, but if this section had been in the Maritime Act and had been in operation when the Blythe Star fatality occurred, in my opinion those men who lost their lives would still be with us today. The Transport Commission did not know whether that ship was going up the west coast of Tasmania or whether it was going up the east coast of Tasmania. It did not have a clue about whether the ship sunk on the Friday night, the Saturday or the Sunday. It did not have a clue because the captain was not required to report his position or to lodge a sail plan. Every pilot who takes off in an aeroplane, whether it is a single-engine aeroplane, a 4-engined jumbo or a Concorde has to lodge a flight plan so that controllers know where the aircraft is. The same principle will apply to shipping.

From discussions I had with people overseas I know that the American Coast Guard is very interested in this idea. It has a voluntary system working but it is most interested in seeing what happens with this idea. My hope is that very shortly this legislation will be extended further to cover fishing vessels and pleasure craft. The honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) drew attention to the number of fatalities that occur with pleasure craft along the coast of this country. We have a beautiful coastline but it is also one of the most dangerous coastlines. The weather can change so very quickly and people out at sea can be in trouble unless somebody on shore knows where they are or where they should be. I cannot understand why any owner of a boat going to sea, whether it be a 14-footer, an 18-footer or bigger boats up to 30 feet or 40 feet, is not prepared to lodge a sail plan and to report his position regularly. I will never know why that is so. It is in his own interest and for the welfare of the people with him that he do so. The same can be said for fishing vessels.

I was going to deal with historic wrecks but I am watching the clock on the wall. I know that my friend the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) will be speaking on this subject so I will pass it by. The next matter I want to deal with is visiting British ships. The British Government has updated the Merchant Shipping Act and we have kept pace with it. Therefore we have excluded British ships from the Australian Navigation Act, except when they are on charter here.

The other points I want to mention relate to items omitted from the Bill. They concern me greatly. The first I want to deal with is the deletion of amendments relating to vessels and other structures engaged in offshore industry and activities associated with it, such as exploring or exploiting the natural resources of the continental shelf of Australia or the seabed off the Australian coast I am referring to those fixed structures and mobile units used in industry of this kind. There are going to be more and more of these units at sea. I tried to obtain agreement with the States about the operations of oil drilling rigs which have been engaged off the Australian coast for about 15 years. The former Department of Shipping and Transport tried for 15 years to get agreement with the State governments on laws to apply to offshore shipping. When I was Minister my Department tried to get agreement with them and I made a similar attempt at a meeting of the Marine and Ports Council. It was just not on. Following the Press statement dated 26 November and recently released by the Minister, in relation to navigation laws, I hope that he can get some agreement with the States. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a page out of the 1975 Navigation Bill which sets out proposed amendments relating to offshore shipping arrangements.

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