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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator FRASER (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) . - The amendments proposed in para graphs a and b are purely technical, to remove possible doubts as to the interpretation of section 364 of the principal act which confers jurisdiction on a court of marine inquiry. In section 372 of the act a court of marine inquiry is given jurisdiction to cancel or suspend the certificate of any master or ship's officer if it finds that he has failed in his duty in certain particulars. But in section 364, which expressly confers jurisdiction on a court to inquire into charges against masters and ship's officers, no mention is made of charges of " failure of duty ". It is accordingly proposed to insert in subsection 1 specific reference to "failure of duty " on the part of a master or ship's officer in regard to any collision or in any matter relating to the navigation, management or working of a ship.

Sub-section 2 of section 364 of the act provides, inter alia, that an inquiry by a court of marine inquiry shall not be held into any matter which has once been the subject of an investigation or inquiry and has been reported on by a "competent court or tribunal in any part of the King's dominions". In 1924, the steamship City of Singapore was destroyed by fire and explosion whilst lying at the wharf in Port Adelaide. Some members of the local fire brigade were lulled by an explosion, and an inquiry was held by the local Coroner's Court into the circumstances attending the death of these persons. When it was proposed to open an inquiry by a court of marine inquiry into the cause of the fire and explosion on the vessel, it was ruled by the Attorney-General's Department that the inquiry that had been held by the coroner was an inquiry by a " competent court or tribunal " and barred any further inquiry into the matter. A coroner's court, it is considered, is not properly equipped to investigate and correctly determine facts in connexion with shipping casualties. A court of marine inquiry, it is pointed out, is invariably assisted by two or more highly skilled assessors, who advise the court on technical matters, which almost invariably arise in the course of the hearing. Outside Australia, so far as can be ascertained, the only courts that deal with, shipping casualties are courts constituted under legislation relating to shipping and navigation, and which are always assisted by assessors.

The amendment proposed in paragraph c is to make it impossible for a proper inquiry by a court of marine inquiry under the Navigation Act to be barred simply by the fact that some inquiry has been held by a local court or tribunal, sitting without assessors, under a State law, and covering possibly some phase only of the casualty which it is desired to investigate.

Paragraph d inserts an additional limit to the jurisdiction of a Commonwealth court of marine inquiry. In 1931, Australia entered into .an agreement with other members of the British Commonwealth as to principles they would adopt in their shipping legislation, one of them being that an investigation would not be held in one part of the Commonwealth into a casualty occurring to a ship registered in another part of the Commonwealth, except by request or with the consent of the port where the ship is registered. This restriction, however, does not apply when the casualty occurs on or near the coast, or while the ship is wholly in the coasting trade. Paragraph d gives effect to the undertaking in the agreement.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 (Power to cancel or suspend certificate).

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