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Friday, 30 April 1915

Senator GUTHRIE - Because, as a solicitor, it would have paid him to do that. The case came before the magistrate every three weeks since last October, and it was only the day before yesterday that a settlement was arrived at.

Senator Findley - I will guarantee that the High Court would have settled it quicker than that.

Senator GUTHRIE - I am not so sure. The Minister of Defence this morning informed the Senate that in Brisbane a special magistrate who inquired into a case, probably arising out of the war, had taken three months to consider his decision, which the Minister has not yet received.

Senator Findley - But that is not in the High Court.

Senator GUTHRIE - In the High Court the position would have been worse. There are a hundred and one cases affecting seamen that will probably crop up, such as salvage, wages, and compensation, and so on; and are we to allow all these matters to go to the High Court? I am glad that I have received some support for my amendment, and, though I am a strong supporter of the Government right through, so far as the war is concerned, I do not want this special legislation to apply to our civilian population. Senator Findley has told us that the AttorneyGeneral will not do this or that; but honorable senators must remember that it does not rest withwhat the AttorneyGeneral or Senator Findley says. It rests with the lawyers and the Court. Naturally a lawyer will see that a case is taken to the Court where he will get the biggest fees.

Senator Story - Who will choose the Court?

Senator GUTHRIE - The prosecutor will choose the Court.

Senator Story - In the case of wages or a lien, would not the men be the prosecutors ?

Senator GUTHRIE - A lien would be an Admiralty case. I do not know what is the position in some of the other States, but in South Australia one of the local Courts with limited jurisdiction has also Admiralty jurisdiction, and can take a case for wages up to £499, but not over that amount. In a case arising out of the war, I see no danger in allowing the extra powers sought in the Bill ; but I am not prepared to allow that course in cases arising out of a civil contract. What would Senator Findley say if this power were granted in respect to the printing trade, and when a man had an action against his employer, he was compelled to go to the High Court? Supposing that a printer had committed a breach of contract; that he was on a weekly engagement, and had broken it, with the result that the employer prosecuted him, and demanded that the case should be tried in the High Court. In such a case I can readily imagine Senator Findley advocating the same position as I am to-day, with respect to the affairs of seamen. The Minister of Defence has just drawn my attention to the fact that the High Court has Admiralty jurisdiction. I admit that. When the Act was passed I agreed with it, and every one will admit that, in the case of interned ships, the High Court is the proper tribunal to approach. I do not know how far our jurisdiction has gone, because in South Australia one interned ship was released by the Supremo Court, and allowed to proceed; but in Western Australia, Judge Burnside, I think it was, took exactly the opposite view, and would not allow a ship to leave. In South Africa, I believe, they can only be released after the matter has gone to the Admiralty Court in England. Honorable senators will see that we are opening up a very complicated question, and, therefore, I ask the Government to agree to the amendment. There can be no harm in it; while, on the other hand, if the amendment is not inserted, grave injustice may be done to masters, engineers, seamen, firemen, and others engaged in a seafaring life. Now, suppose the Bill is passed in its original form, will a lawyer look up the debate in Parliament to see what was the assurance given by the Minister, or what the Hansard report said? No; he would ask, "What does Parliament say?" And he would find that Parliament said, " In all matters." Then, to find what this meant, he would not consult Hansard, or find out what Senator Findley might have said; but he would take up a standard dictionary, and get at the real meaning. He would then find that, as the Act stated, " All matters of Admiralty or maritime jurisdiction " shall be referred to the High Court, there would be no getting away from that position. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will follow me in the amendment. I am prepared to go as far as any honorable member of this Senate to assist the Government where there is an international breach, and in order to safeguard the interests of this country; but I think it would be ridiculous to allow any opportunity to take to the High Court cases such as I have referred to, and which may arise out of civil contracts.

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