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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator FRASER (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for External Territories) . - Under the Merchant Shipping Act, a court holding a formal investigation in the United Kingdom into a shipping casualty, may cancel or suspend the. certificate of a master, mate, or engineer if it finds that the casualty has been caused by his wrongful act or default. It is not necessary that the person concerned should be formally charged before the commencement of the inquiry, the only requirement being that a copy of the report or statement of the case on which the investigation had been ordered shall be furnished to him before such commencement. In practice, under that act, when an inquiry is decided upon, notice is served upon the master of the ship and on any officer whose conduct may be called into question. These then become parties to the case. With the notice is furnished also a statement of the case on which the inquiry has been ordered and a list of questions which it is proposed to ask the court to answer. When the formal investigation is opened and the evidence in chief has been heard, the person representing the Ministry of War Transport indicates to the court the questions which it is desired shall be answered. Such questions, when necessary, touch on the matter of culpability of the master or officers and the latter, having been made parties to the investigation, have then an opportunity of calling evidence in rebuttal if desired and generally of making their defence. Under the Navigation Act, however, no certificate of a master, mate or engineer can be cancelled or suspended unless a copy of charges against the holder of a certificate has been served upon him at least 48 hours before the commencement of the inquiry. That is provided in section 373. Consequently it has been found necessary to hold first a formal investigation into the circumstances attending the casualty itself, and after the finding of the court has been given in the matter, to then formally charge the persons who in the opinion of the court were responsible for the casualty and to constitute a fresh court to investigate the charges and to rehear practically the same evidence. This happened on several occasions, viz., in the case of the collision between the MV. Duntroon and the H.M.A.S. Goorangai at Port Phillip Bay on the 20th November, 1940, the collision between the MV. Sydney Star and SS. Macumba in Sydney Harbour on the 23rd September, 1938, and the collision between the MV. Wanganella and the steam trawler Durraween off the New South Wales coast on the 28th December, 1937. The double trial inflicts a great hardship on the shipmasters and officers concerned, not only in the matter of expense, but also in the more lengthy period during which they are delayed in obtaining reemployment and subjected to mental stress.

It has been decided to follow as closely as possible the British practice, which has stood the test of time, and proved generally satisfactory. To that end section 372 has been re-drafted. It might be argued that the single court procedure will mean giving only one chance to an officer whose conduct is in doubt, as against his double chance under the present procedure. However, in clause 9 of this bill a right of appeal to a supreme court is given, and this will give an opportunity for relief to any officer not satisfied with a court's decision. In the proposed new clause a distinction has been made between the extent of jurisdiction as to certificates of competency granted in Australia, and those granted "in any part of the King's dominions outside Australia". This distinction is necessary because of a clause in the merchant shipping agreement of 1931 already referred to, which provides that a court shall be empowered to cancel or suspend a certificate granted in another part of the British Commonwealth so as to affect its validity only within the jurisdiction of the part in which the investigation is made.

Other slight amendments have been made in the section, the principal being the omission of reference to a" gross act " of misconduct. The term " misconduct" is already defined in section 6 as including careless navigation, drunkenness, tyranny, failure of duty, want of skill, or improper conduct. This is regarded as sufficiently comprehensive.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 (Delivery up of certificate).

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