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Tuesday, 11 October 1910

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) .- The Minister held a different opinion the other day when he asked the Committee to legislate for British ships and British seamen. He contended then that we had the power to legislate for British ships and British seamen coming to Australia, and I wish the Committee now to legislate for British seamen who are in Australia.

Senator Pearce - I agree that we have the power, but I do not think it would be wise to exercise it in this case.

Senator SAYERS - We have already in this Bill assumed the power to legislate for British seamen. Complications are bound to arise under this proviso. There are thousands of men who are not domiciled in Australia who have the right to vote. If British seamen or persons who have become naturalized British subjects have been six months in Australia, they are entitled to vote in this country. I take the case of a British seaman who has resided for six months in Australia, and so become entitled to a vote, and who has afterwards gone abroad. I assume that he signs on in the United States for a vessel making a round voyage. The owner or master of the vessel might know nothing of the fact that he had resided in Australia and become an Australian citizen. He comes out here, and immediately says, "I am an Australian citizen." Where is the thing to end, and who is to decide?" Senator Pearce has given us a definition of what he calls an " Australian citizen," but I think that the term includes a great dealmore than he has stated. We have to recognise that if a foreigner comes here, and becomes naturalized, he is an Australian citizen. But do other countries recognise our act ? I know that Germans who have come to Australia without having served their term in the German army, and remained here for twenty years, have been arrested immediately on putting their feet on German soil, although they were Australian citizens.

Senator Henderson - That has nothing to do with Australia.

Senator SAYERS - It has. It shows that we cannot prevent that from taking place. Suppose that such a man joins in Hamburg a ship bound to Australia, and on her arrival here, says, " I am an Australian citizen," although Germany claims him as its subject, what will be the position ? There is not the slightest doubt that if this proviso is enacted in its present form we shall get embroiled with foreign Powers. It is all very well for the Minister to smile at that remark, but he knows that theproviso, if enacted, is likely to bring about trouble.

Senator Pearce - Because we will not allow a German seaman to desert?

Senator SAYERS - It is all very well' for us to get a little swelled head, and to imagine that we are the universe, but we cannot enact a provision which is in conflict with international law, and say that we do not care what may happen. I know that, in introducing the clause, the Minister said that he knew of no similar provision, and that he did not feel very sure about its validity. I do not know whether he feels any surer now on that point than he did then. I am aware that he has a following at his back strong enough to pass the proviso, but he must not forget that if it is enacted, it may endanger the whole measure, because, so long as Australia is part of the British Empire, it is not likely that we shall be allowed to make any law which may embroil Great Britain with other countries.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator wants to extend the provision by his amendment.

Senator SAYERS - Not at all.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator wishes to apply the provision to a British or an Australian seaman.

Senator SAYERS - My contention is that an Australian seaman is a Britisher. It is immaterial to me whether my amendment is carried or not. If the proviso is legal - and the Minister ought to know better than I do whether it is or not, because he has the Crown law officers at his back - it certainly cannot be illegal to make the amendment.

Senator Vardon - Why not use the term " British subject"?

Senator SAYERS - An Australian seaman is a British subject, and therefore comes under the international law.

Senator Henderson - A British subject is not always an Australian.

Senator SAYERS - Nor is a "Geordie" always a British subject. When a Britisher comes out to Australia he does not throw off his British citizenship. I landed here forty-five years ago, but I have not thrown off my British citizenship, nor have I abandoned my right to call myself a British subject. I have a vote in Australia, but I have not thrown off my allegiance to the Old Country, nor has the honorable senator done so.

Senator Henderson - That is a weak argument.

Senator SAYERS - I am entitled in Australia to everything which an Australian is entitled to, but I am still a British subject, and so is the honorable senator. If an Australian seaman went to the Old Country, he would receive exactly the same justice and fair play as if he had been born in the United Kingdom. But this clause makes the clear distinction that liecause a man has been born in Australia, or has lived here long enough to get the franchise, he is an Australian citizen. Suppose that this clause is enacted, and that a seaman from the Old Country comes out here in a foreign ship. Another member of the crew can desert and say, " I am an Australian citizen, and I decline to go back to the ship," and the law of the country will permit him to walk away. Why should the other man, because he was born in England or Ireland or Scotland, be liable under our law to be taken on board in irons? Is it not invidious to draw that very wide distinction between the two men? We are not here for the purpose of enacting a provision of that character. I do not know how it ever came to pass the draftsman.

Senator St Ledger - He had to draft it.

Senator SAYERS - Perhaps he received an order to draft the provision ; but I should not like to be a member of the Ministry that forced it through Parliament, because they will be the laughingstock of the civilized world.

Senator Lynch - Yet the honorable senator voted for it.

Senator SAYERS - I may tell the honorable senator later why I did. I said at the time that I did not believe that it was a right provision to enact. But certainly, if it is to be retained in the Bill, all British subjects should be put on one footing.

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