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Wednesday, 6 December 1911

Senator McGREGOR (South AustraliaVicepresident of) (the Executive Council) . - It may be remembered by honorable senators that a considerable time ago a Seamen's Compensation Act was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament. 1 am sure that every member of this Parliament was gratified that something was being done for a very deserving section of the community, namely, the seafaring folk. Later,however', an action was brought under the Act in connexion with the steamship Kilibia, when it was found that the Commonwealth Parliament had not all the power that we imagined we possessed. The High Court decided that section 4 of the Act was ultra vires, and unconstitutional. Consequently, it could have no effect. Worse than that, the High Court decided that the section in question was not severable, and that the whole Act was ultra vires. It may be asked why we are re-introducing this Seamen's Compensation Bill, that is to say, why we do not propose to amend the old Act. But it will be seen that, in consequence of a certain section of that Act being ultra vires and not being severable, if we simply patched up the old Act we might have the High Court declaring again that what we did was ultra vires. It has therefore been determined by the Government, under the advice of their law officers, to make sure of our position. We have introduced a new Seamen's Compensation Bill to meet, the situation. After it is passed, it will be a new Act entirely. It is, however, an exact copy of the old Act, with the exception of section 4, which has been entirely redrafted, and section 18, which specifically repeals the old Act. Clause 4 differs materially from section 4 of the old Act. The redrafting has been undertaken with a view to meet the objections raised by the High Court, and to bring the measure within our constitutional powers. As the whole of the remainder of the clauses were fully debated when the original Bill was before the Senate, I do not think that there is any necessity to go into then again. When we get into Committee, however, I shall have a couple of amendments of a formal character to move. The first provides that where a seaman is eligible for compensation in two countries, he may only claim in one of them. That point was not absolutely clear under the old Act. If a seaman claims compensation in Australia, he cannot go to England, or to any other country, and claim, again. The second amendment requires a seaman receiving compensation in the Commonwealth to sign a declaration to the effect that he will not apply for compensation in any other country.

Senator Rae - Why should that be? If we pay compensation that is due, what have we to do with what a seaman does elsewhere ?

Senator McGREGOR - I do not think that Senator Rae fully seizes the position. It is not the Commonwealth that pays the compensation, but the ship-owner or shipping company. It would be unfair to our own, and to other ship-owners, to enact a law under which a seaman or officer would be enabled to claim compensation in Australia, and also in another country. I am sure that Senator Rae has no desire to make blackmailers of seamen, or officers, or of anybody else, and that he will have no hesitation in agreeing to the .amendment I have indicated. At this stage of the session, honorable senators do not expect me to make a long speech; and, therefore, I shall content myself with moving - 0

That this Bill be now read a second time.

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