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Wednesday, 15 June 1904

Mr HUGHES - I have here a lengthy memorandum upon the subject, which, I think, furnishes the information for which the honorable member asks. It is as follows : -

On the 4th May a letter was received from the secretary of the Federated Seamen's Union of Australasia to the effect that the Inger, a Norwegian steamer, had left Melbourne on the previous day, leaving thirteen of her crew stranded ashore in Sydney without means of any sort, even their clothing having been taken away.

Mr. Cameronreferred me to paragraph b of section 3 of the Immigration Restriction Act. He said that the crew had asked for the rates ruling in the Commonwealth, but were refused, although their vessel was chartered by the Pacific Island Company to trade to Ocean Islands and back, in which trade Australian rates had' been paid with one or two exceptions. That communication was referred to the Collector of Customs, Sydney, for report. It was ascertained that as there were no coloured members of the crew, no action was taken under paragraph * of section 3 of the Act to hold a muster. The officer further reported having informed the Norwegian Consul, who made a statement to the effect that he had been requested by the master to visit the ship, as a portion of the crew refused to work. Mr. Pauss had done so, and had ascertained that the men wanted to be signed off, and on again at increased wages. The Consul interviewed two of the men, who- stated that they had been advised by the Seamen's Union not to go at the wages they were receiving, but to insist upon coastal rates, and that if they did so the union would stick to them.

The Consul pointed out to the men that they were breaking the law, that, no complaint had been laid before him officially by them, and stating that, in his opinion, they were receiving very good pay, and were not engaged in the coasting trade.

The officer stated that he ascertained from the charterers that when the vessel was leaving the wharf, at about 6 p.m., the men deserted the ship, the captain took the vessel into the stream, picked up a sufficient crew, and sailed.

On the 7U1 May, the secretary of the Seamen's Union was informed that, as the practice of the Government hitherto had been to construe the Act so that it did not operate against white sailors, the Minister felt that he should not take such a serious departure as would be involved by applying the Act to these seamen without previous consultation with his colleagues. At the same time, any further particulars obtainable were asked for. In acknowledging that communication on the 10th May, the secretary of the' union stated that the Inger had arrived in Sydney under charter to the Pacific Island Company, carrying on business for the express purpose of trading on the Australian coast and to the Pacific Islands. The crew, having ascertained the rate of wages payable in the Commonwealth, asked for an increase, which was declined. The master then put thirteen of the crew on the wharf, and proceeded to sea. On his (the secretary's) advice, the men, who were unable to speak English, were removed to the Sailors' Home, where they are staying, and are entirely dependent on charity. The captain dumped the men on to the wharf, and steamed away in their presence,, notwithstanding the appeals of the men left behind.

On the 25th May the Collector of Customs, Sydney, was asked to make inquiries as to the condition of the men, and to report whether they were still at the Seamen's Home, and if so, whether they were destitute; also as to whether they had any prospects of employment, and whether they were regarded as likely to become a charge On the public. If the men were still at the Seamen's Home, and had no prospect of employment, the Norwegian Consul was to be informed, and asked whether he would make arrangements for their being sent back to Norway.

The Collector of Customs telegraphed on the following day that the men were still at the Sailors' Home, that they had no money, nor any clothes, other than those they were wearing. They did not appear to have sought employment, as they believed that they would be able to rejoin their vessel on her return. No payment was being made to the Sailors' Home for their keep, but the Superintendent states that they were taken there by the Secretary of the Seamen's Union, whom he holds responsible for their maintenance. The men were described as clean, strong, and healthy-looking, but most of them speak English more or less imperfectly. It was difficult to express any opinion as to their prospects of employment. lt was doubtful whether they are the class of men likely to become a. charge on the public. The Norwegian Consul had been seen, and he hari stated that the men left their ship under very exceptional circumstances, and that he does not propose taking any action in regard to them, except with the knowledge and direction of his Government. All the circumstances had been reported to Norway, and he was awaiting instructions.

On the 27th May the Pacific Island Company was advised that the circumstances in connexion with the case had been brought under the notice of this Department, and were asked to furnish particulars of the articles on which the men were engaged, and to state whether there was any understanding that they should receive increased wages when the vessel sailed from Sydney. On the same day the Norwegian Consul was communicated with, and asked what he proposed to do in regard to the men.

On the 30th May the Pacific Island Company acknowledged my letter, and stated that the lager was under charter to Messrs. Crosbie and Co., of Melbourne, and not to the Company, though Messrs. Crosbie and Co. were arranging to carry a cargo of phosphate for them. It was understood that the men left behind were induced to break their contract, and leave the vessel, by members of the Sydney Seamen's Union. The men had signed on the articles to serve for a period of two years, and there was no understanding or agreement for any increase of wages. The demand for an increase of wages was made on the suggestion of the union, on the ground that the vessel was to trade on the Australian coast, but the company pointed out, as the vessel was to have sailed, and actually did sail, from Sydney to Ocean Island, and will return direct from the island to Melbourne, there could be no question of trading 011 the Australian coast.

The Norwegian Consul replied on the 31st May, stating that a number of the men had explained to him that it was at the instigation and on the advice of the representatives or delegates of the Seamen's Union that they had left their vessel, and that the delegates had promised to look after them and make the necessary arrangements for them. It was understood that, in accordance with the promise referred to, the union had arranged for board and lodging for the men at the Sailors' Home; thus, it would appear that the men were really not suffering any distress. The majority had since made a similar explanation, stating that their only reason for leaving the vessel was because the delegates from the union not only encouraged them to do so, but even made threats of personal violence in connexion with the matter.

A letter was written to the Secretary of the union, on the 2nd June, inquiring -

1.   Whether it is a fact that the men were incited to break their contract by the Seamen's Union ;

2.   Whether delegates from the Seamen's Union not only encouraged the men to leave the vessel, but even made threats of personal violence in connexion with the matter ; and

3.   Whether delegates from the Seamen's Union promised to look after the men, and make the necessary arrangements for them.

A reply was received from the secretary of the union on the 6th June, stating that no inducement was held out by the representatives of the union for the men to leave their ship. On the contrary, some of the crew called at his office, and were advised by him to go on board, and under no circumstances to come ashore. The statement that personal violence was threatened is incorrect, as, so far as can be gathered, no threats of any sort were made. He was not aware of any promise having been made by any one; but when the vessel had left the wharf and the men were left stranded, he personally had them sent to the Sailors' Home as indigent seamen, until such time as he could communicate with the Department of External Affairs.

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