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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I do not blame the Government for introducing a drastic provision of this kind, because those who have charge of the lives of people at sea should be obliged to take every precaution for their safety. I do not object that heavy penalties should be imposed under this clause. But I certainly object to sub-clause 3, which provides that any person may lay an information against the master of a vessel for overcrowding, and may pocket any fine which may be inflicted on the offender. In no other industry is such a thing permitted. I have seen tramcars crowded to their utmost limit, and I have known of a man being seriously injured as the result of a fall from a tramcar, consequent upon overcrowding.

Senator Lynch - The principle is contained in our Licensing Act to-day.

Senator VARDON - There is no law under which a passenger by an overcrowded tramcar may lay an information against the Tramway Company, and pocket the fine which may be imposed.

Senator Guthrie - There is no law relating to overcrowded tramcars

Senator VARDON - Yes, there is. When the Commonwealth was established I saw men riding on the roofs of railway carriages in Sydney. Surely that was not a proper thing.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator would not condemn a man for initiating a prosecution against an individual who illtreats a horse.

Senator VARDON - But I would not allow the informant to pocket the fine which was imposed upon the offender. We do not allow an employe" to recover a penalty for any infringement by his employer of our factories laws.

Senator Guthrie - The Companies Act permits an individual to sue and retain the penalty inflicted.

Senator VARDON - Not in a case of this sort. It has been urged that in the absence of this provision a difficulty is likely to arise in the administration. But I venture to say that if the Government will only take one or two offenders into Court, and have them mulcted in a heavy penalty, it will have a deterrent effect upon the owners and masters of steam-ships who may be disposed to permit overcrowding.

Senator Findley - A heavy penalty may be inflicted upon the masters of vessels for bringing Chinese into Australia, but they are brought in nevertheless.

Senator VARDON - But do we allow any informer to pocket the fine which may be imposed upon a master who is convicted of that offence? Why then should we allow some mean, unprincipled scoundrel to benefit in this way ? I believe in honest administration, and I do hope that we shall not cumber the Bill with this provision. Let us do everything that we can to secure the safety of passengers and crews, but do not let us do it in such a mean and contemptible way as is here proposed.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [5.5].- It has been suggested to me that instead of eliminating the entire penalty, it would be wise to omit the words "and retained by him for his own use." In speaking of this matter the Minister of Defence endeavoured to evade the objection which has been urged against the creation of a breed of informers. He said that passengers by sea might be sufferers as the result of the overcrowding of vessels, and that, therefore, they ought to be encouraged to lay informations where such offences are committed. But if overcrowding occurs on any vessel, a passenger has merely to protest to the master, and if he cannot secure redress to communicate: with the police.

Senator Guthrie - When he is at sea?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - When he again reaches the shore. It will then be the duty of the authorities to take action. The clause practically affirms that we do not think any passenger will lay au information against the master of a vessel which has been overcrowded in the interests of the public safety, and in the absence of a pecuniary reward. I hold that it is not proper to offer an inducement of this sort, of which advantage may be taken by dishonest passengers. Quite a number of persons who travel by our ferry boats will be prepared to lay informations against the masters of those vessels if there be a prospect that by so doing they will obtain a substantial reward.

Senator Needham - Is not that a libel on Australians?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If we hold out to these persons the hope of such a reward we shall at once engender a suspicion as to the validity of any complaint which may be made. I can corroborate the statement of Senator McColl in regard to the Sydney ferry boats. I know that when the masters of those vessels have been summoned for having permitted overcrowding upon public holidays it has been clearly shown that such overcrowding was the result of a great rush at a particular time - a rush which it was impossible for them to avert.

Senator Needham - Suppose that a dishonest person lays an information and that the master is not convicted ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The informant may be a man of straw, so that the result of the action does not matter twopence to him. I ask the Minister to cause his officials to inquire whether the statement which I have made in regard to the Sydney ferry boats is not absolutely true. I challenge him to quote any instance in which a similar law is operative, either in connexion with merchant shipping or navigation. I know that there are a few cases' in which the statutebook has been disgraced by such legislation in other directions.

Senator Needham - We are establishing precedents and not following them.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If we establish precedents in the light of reason and knowledge I shall not utter a complaint. But this Parliament has created most undesirable and most un-British precedents. It would be unparliamentary for me to say more than that. But if I were on the public platform I should speak more plainly. -

Senator Needham - Speak plainly here. The honorable senator is afraid to do that.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- - I am not. But I am not so foolish as to allow the honorable senator to side-track me in that way. The Min,ister of Defence has not attempted to reply to the statement that, in many cases, this clause would act as an incentive to the members of the crews of vessels to lay informations against the masters of those vessels - informations which were not absolutely correct. Senator Lynch "has affirmed that where a master knowingly permits overcrowding he deserves the penalty which would be inflicted upon him under this clause, and that the Ministry were justified in using any means by which to secure his conviction. When I suggested that the word " knowingly " should be inserted in the clause, the Minister exclaimed, " How can we consent to that," seeing that the master of a vessel would be on the bridge, and, therefore, could not know the number of passengers who were on board? But, if any overcrowding takes place, he is the man who is responsible, and who has to pay the penalty. In its present form the clause is most un-British and unjust. I am very sorry that the Minister is not prepared to consider it from that stand-point. He has pointed out that, as the result of overcrowding, a passenger may suffer inconvenience and loss. But in such circumstances the passenger is entitled to recover damages without the necessity of becoming an informer. Every honorable senator must realize at once that the law contains ample provision to enable him to protect his interests. I cannot allow a clause of this character to pass without entering a protest both by voice and vote. Whilst I recognise that the overcrowding of a vessel is a serious thing which ought to be put a stop to, I contend that the proper plan is to allow the marine authorities to deal with the matter, or if a person feels impelled by a sense of justice to intimate to those authorities that a breach of the law has been committed, let him have the right to do so, without having to run the risk of being told he did this because he thought he would receive ^5 or j£io or £20 out of it. If a man sees a person ill-using a horse in the street he can give information to the police, but he does not take the penalty which is inflicted on the wrongdoer. No matter how strong a case may be made out, an honorable senator on this side has apparently very little opportunity of impressing any arguments upon honorable senators opposite. The Minister in charge of the Bill is the arbiter. When he says " yea " or "nay " there are twenty - two honorable senators who are prepared to follow him in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. I think that Senator Guthrie - has realized occasionally, when he has tried to exercise- an independent judgment, that he was kicking against the pricks, and could not get his arguments considered or given proper weight to. It is not a question of one party wanting 'one thing and another party wanting another. Both parties here, I take it, desire to make as suitable and equitable a law as possible for the country. It is very hard when an honorable senator on this side tries to improve a provision in the Bill to find that he does not receive the slightest sympathy from honorable senators sitting opposite. What one says from this side of the Chamber is just like so much water thrown on a duck's back.

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