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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - There is some doubt as to what alterations would be required to fit vessels with watertight false bottoms. It is asserted by Senator Guthrie that the requirement means practically nothing. On the other side, it is asserted by ship-owners that a good deal of the coasting trade, at any rate on the eastern side of Australia, is done with ships which have not been constructed in accordance with these requirements. Unless the Minister, with the assistance of his experts, or of Senator Guthrie, can tell us that the loss of life at sea in the coasting trade of Australia is abnormal, surely we ought to provide that as long as vessels remain seaworthy they shall be allowed to be employed.

Senator Guthrie - These requirements would reduce the risks 50 per cent.

Senator ST LEDGER - I do not believe that there is any reasonably strong evidence to show that the coasting trade of Australia is conducted in vessels so built as to jeopardize human life. The proviso submitted by me is intended to give statutory protection in the case of vessels, the owners of which desire to continue to trade as they have hitherto done. The vessels will still have to come up for survey occasionally, and if they are not fit to carry on the trade they have been doing in the past, other provisions of this Bill will enable the Minister to insist upon such structural alterations as are required. But as long as the vessels are maintained in a condition of efficiency, and are fit to carry on the work they are doing, why impose upon them this additional precaution? Why should not the owners of these vessels be considered? I remind the Committee that we have already, in another part of the Bill, given the Minister power to do what I ask by way of regulation, if he is satisfied that it may be done with safety. In the circumstances, I cannot see why there should be any objection to exempting from this provision vessels already engaged in our coasting trade and carrying it on satisfactorily.

Senator Guthrie - The Royal Commission said that they are not carrying it on satisfactorily. There is evidence of the necessity for this provision.

Senator ST LEDGER - This is the first reference which has been made to it, and I should like to hear .that evidence quoted.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator would exempt all ships, no matter what their condition?

Senator ST LEDGER - Certainly not. We have agreed to many clauses giving the Minister large discretionary powers to secure the seaworthiness of vessels engaged in our shipping trade, and to require them, from time to time, to undergo a survey. We must assume that vessels at present engaged in the coastal trade have complied with the provisions of the State Acts, and 1 do not see why we should not permit them to carry on the trade in the future as they have done in the past.

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