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Tuesday, 23 March 1965

Senator PALTRIDGE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . -I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

In my second reading speech on the large Navigation Bill 1958, in my capacity as Minister for Shipping and Transport, I drew attention to the fact that our navigation laws need to be continually kept under review, and gave an undertaking that this would be done, so that amendments would be promptly effected as changing circumstances required, and anomalies removed soon after they became apparent. This undertaking has been honoured by my successors, and we have dealt with the 1961 Bill and now have before us the second of such Bills, which deals with a variety of matters that have been found to need attention since 1961. However, most of the matters relate to more or less minor variations of the existing provisions of the Navigation Act and do not involve important policy decisions. Briefly, then, the Bill is for the purpose of improving the clarity and ease of application of the Act, and does not contain any really contentious provisions.

I therefore propose to deal in detail with only the more important clauses, and indeed even these do not involve any really important policy decisions.

I refer first of all to clause 12. The Act now provides that a superintendent of a mercantile marine office shall refuse to approve the engagement of a person in respect of whom the war-time Maritime Industry Commission directed that he be not engaged as a seaman. About 700 seamen were so excluded during the 1939-45 war, under a power derived from the National Security (Maritime Industry) Regulations. In 1952 the Navigation Act was amended to give continuing effect to certain powers and procedures which would

Otherwise have lapsed because of the repeal of war-time legislation, provisions being inserted to continue the exclusion of those seamen. As these men have now been excluded for from 11 to 21 years, and as only a minority of them were of really bad character, the exclusions are to be terminated by the repeal of those provisions. Very few of the men would now be both alive and interested in returning to sea and so there is no question of any large increase of seamen seeking employment.

The Navigation Act precludes seamen's articles of agreement from containing any provision for the payment of wages in advance to any seaman. This was an old safeguard going back to the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, designed to protect seamen from the practice of giving an advance in wages to a man in order to bind him to go to sea. Such a safeguard is not required under modern conditions and arrangements for the engagement of seamen, and in fact is a disadvantage to seamen in that it precludes the making of advances against accrued wages in cases where the wages are normally paid to their bank accounts. Clause 18 therefore repeals the section concerned.

Section 179 of the Act provides terms of imprisonment as punishment for certain breaches of labour discipline by foreign seamen, whereas section 100 does not provide for imprisonment for similar offences by seamen on British ships. Clause 30 removes this anomaly by omitting the imprisonment penalties applicable to foreign seamen.

I turn now to clause 32, which deals with the important matter of the survey of ships. The Act now requires the owner of every ship to which it applies, including a River Murray ship, to have the survey of each part of the ship that has to be surveyed carried out at least once each year. But ships on inland waters such as the River Murray operate, of course, under conditions vastly different from those applying to seagoing ships, and operation in sheltered and relatively shallow waters does not require the application of all the stringent conditions which must be applied to sea-going ships. The Act is therefore being amended to allow the regulations to prescribe not only the parts of a ship which must be surveyed but also the manner and period of such surveys in relation to a particular class or type of ship, thus permitting greater flexibility in respect of the survey requirements for the few small ships that are involved.

Honorable senators will have observed that clauses 35, 36 and 37 deal with the requirements for the production of ships certificates to customs in order that a clearance or transire might be' obtained. To avoid unnecessary red tape in this matter, the provisions are being amended so that the production of the certificates will only be necessary at certain specified ports of call instead of at every port.

Clause 39 repeals a Division in the Act which, although inserted in 1912, has never been used. The division deals with the testing and use of anchors, chain cables and gear in ships, but as the necessary safeguards in respect of these items are already provided in the Navigation (Loading and Unloading - Safety Measures) Regulations the division is, and would continue to be, superfluous, and is therefore being cleared away.

The Navigation Act was amended in 1958 to enable Australia to ratify two International Labour Organization Conventions which provide for the examination and certification of able seamen and cooks. However, before ratification could be accomplished it has been necessary to try to ensure that proper training and examination facilities are available. Some practical difficulties have so far prevented the provision of these facilities and so it has not yet been possible to bring the amendments of the Act into force. As it is now clear that it will be some time yet before the facilities can be provided, and as in the meantime there is an urgent need to bring into force the other provisions of the sections of the 1958 Act which relate to this subject, the provisions requiring the passing of prescribed examinations and the issue of certificates of qualification to enable rating as an able seaman or a cook are being repealed, by clauses 55 and 56. It is proposed that these provisions be re-inserted in the Act and the conventions ratified as soon as the difficulties associated with the provision of training facilities and examinations have been overcome. In the meantime, because of the amendments, it will be possible to have the benefit of the operation of the other provisions of the two sections of the 1958 Act and to finalise a much-needed consolidation of the Navigation Act.

As the Bill will considerably assist in the effective administration of the Act, and is of a generally non-controversial nature, I look forward to its receiving the general support of the Senate.

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