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Thursday, 3 December 1914

Senator GUTHRIE (South Australia) . - When I moved the adjournment of the debate on this motion we had scarcely seen the Bill, and had not seen the report of the International Convention that dealt with the question of the safety of life at sea. After looking over these matters I have come to the conclusion that there is no need for any violent opposition to the Bill. The provisions framed by the Committee, which was presided over by Lord Mersey, will not, I think, affect Australian shipping at all. That Committee merely dealt with western ocean trade, and with the subject of icebergs and derelicts. However, I see no harm in incorporating them in our navigation laws. With the exception of one provision which contemplates an important departure from the principal Act in the matter of determining who is the owner of a vessel when she is lost, and who is, therefore, responsible for paying the seamen who have been injured, the clauses of the Bill relate to small details. As it stands, the law provides that the ownership of a lost vessel is determined by her ownership at the time of her loss. I fail to see any necessity for altering that position. During the present war, Great Britain has captured many German ships, and the Germans have captured quite a number of British vessels. The provision in the Bill raises the question, Are the interned German ships lost, and, if so, who is the owner of them today? When the present European war is over, I venture to say that we shall either have to return these vessels or to compensate their owners for them.

Senator Millen - Not necessarily. That will depend upon the terms of the settlement.

Senator GUTHRIE - In the case of the Cheltenham, a ship which, while carrying contraband during the RussoJapanese war, was captured by the Russians and confiscated by a Russian Prize Court, it transpired that, although the master knew that she was carrying contraband, the crew were unaware of it, and had signed on for an ordinary trading voyage. It was held that the owners had broken their agreement with the crew, and that the loss of the ship did not terminate the services of the seamen, who were entitled to wages until their return to the United Kingdom. But in other cases it has been held that when once a ship has been captured - so far as her owners are concerned - she is lost.

Senator Millen - There is strong presumptive evidence, too.

Senator GUTHRIE - One of the leading authorities on maritime law - Mr. Sandford D. Cole - has written an article in which he affirms that the legal position in such cases is a very open one. In speaking of the Hague Convention, he says - .

The Hague Convention of 1007, to which both Great Britain and Germany were parties, has some bearing upon the position of ships in an enemy port at the time of the outbreak of hostilities. In the absence of any arrangement between the countries at war, such ships are liable to be confiscated by the enemy. The Convention provides, however, that a ship which, at the commencement of hostilities, is in an enemy port, or enters such port from sea while still ignorant of the war, may depart, if both countries allow such ships to leave. The British Government were not satisfied that reciprocal treatment would be secured to British ships in German ports, and, therefore, German ships have not been released. The Convention, further provides that ships, unable from causes beyond their control to leave the enemy port, or not allowed to leave, may not be confiscated,, but may be detained and restored after the war. In view of the Convention, some German ships have been ordered by the British Prize Court to be detained, the question whether they should be restored at the end of the war, or be condemned to bc confiscated as prizes, beingleft open for the time being.

Now the whole question of whether a ship upon being captured is lost is thus left absolutely open till the end of the war. I ask the Minister if there is any particular reason why our Navigation Bill should be so altered as to provide for ownership prior to the loss of a vessel, instead of ownership from the time of the loss? If there be none, we had better leave the matter where it stands to-day. There are no general principles embodied in the Bill, but I desire to call attention to the fact that the measure is not in tended to come into operation until a proclamation has been issued after the King's assent to it has been obtained. This circumstance leads me to inquire whether the Government intend to hold up the Navigation Bill of 1912 until these provisions have been incorporated in it? We must bear in mind that in the near future still further amendments may become necessary. Since we passed the Act of 1912, no less than four amending Acts have been sanctioned by the Imperial Parliament. Yet our Act is not yet law, and I see very little prospect of it coming into operation at an early date. If this Bill is intended to delay-

Senator Gardiner - Why should we desire to delay?

Senator GUTHRIE - The Minister said, in his opening speech, that the Act of 1912 would not be proclaimed until the provisions of this measure had been incorporated with it. It is evident, therefore, that the Bill now before us will have to await the King's assent, which may involve considerable delay. I regret that,, in introducing the measure, the Government have not taken steps to restore the provisions relating to the load line of' 1906. If they had looked into the matter of the number of lives which have been' sacrificed as the result of the alteration made in that law, not by Parliament, but by a Committee of the Board of Trade, without even the regulations being laid before Parliament, they would have realized the necessity for doing this. I intend to take care that, where regulations are made under this Bill, no Department shall have power to frame and enforce them unless they first receive parliamentary sanction. I notice that the Government have summed up sufficient courage to appoint a Director of Navigation, and I congratulate them upon having selected an Australian for the post. I intend to support the second reading of the Bill.

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