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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 2017

Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) - If anyone in this Parliament or in the nation feels there is a better advocate for the quid a week and keep policy than the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) I should like to hear his nomination. I feel that the honourable member for Wakefield is living in the past. He believes he is a member of a government that has provided for us a better way of living and a better way of life than that enjoyed by people in most of our neighbouring nations in the Asian area. The honourable member feels that we would be better off living on their low wage standards rather than competing as a nation in the transportation of the goods of Australia. He believes that we should leave the carriage of our goods in the hands of others. The honourable member has failed to recognise that in doing so we are leaving ourselves wide open. Apparently he would rather see Australia in that position than see Australia participating in competition which would result in Australian seamen and others associated with martime unions receiving higher wage rates for their involvement in foreign trade. He is concerned that the Australian community might be asked to contribute something towards maintaining high standards and therefore he believes that we would be better off using slave labour and the low wage conditions of other countries.

The Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) on behalf of the Minister for Shipping and Transport, has introduced amendments to the Navigation Act. Those amendments do not actually deal with the matters to which the honourable member for Wakefield referred. They introduce a varied means of measuring the tonnage of ships and in effect will reduce the tonnage of several Australian ships competing with vessels of other nations on the trade routes of the world. The Minister said that the registered tonnage of a ship is used for assessing harbour dues, docking fees and such matters. I recall the time when ships using the Suez Canal often had spaces in their hulls sealed off so that they might be excluded from the net tonnage of the vessel as it was on the net tonnage that fees for the use of the canal were charged. The Australian Labor Party does not oppose the provisions of this Bill. On Thursday last the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) moved an amendment, which provided:

That all words after That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill this House condemns the Government for having failed to amend the Navigation Act to comply with International Labour Organisation and Inter-governmental Martime Consultative Organisation Conventions, modern shipping practice, and effective safety operations, as promised by the Minister for Shipping and Transport in August 1967, and for failing to introduce a Bill to provide for an Australian Register of Shipping.'

The Navigation Act was introduced in 1912 and since then on various occasions piecemeal amendments have been introduced. 1 invite the attention of the Pari Lament to the fact that the Government of New Zealand, another island nation, has seen fit to accept in total the provisions recommended by the British Board of Trade. Those provisions are recognised throughout the world and cover navigation, navigation requirements, suitability of vessels for survey and other matters. 1 understand that in Australia several interstate conferences have been held particularly in regard to survey and other requirements of the Navigation Act. These conferences have discussed the type of vessels, the requirements for vessels and the requirements to be met for vessels plying on the intrastate and interstate trade along the Australian shoreline. The conferences were called for the purpose of recommending amendments to the Navigation Act. In 1967 the Minister for Shipping and Transport, the honourable Gordon Freeth, promised that the Government would introduce certain amendments. In reply to the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) who had proposed amendments suggested by the Opposition Members Transport Committeee, the Minister said that the proposed amendments would be considered. He agreed to quite a number of the amendments put forward but expressed doubt about others and he said that he understood the Parliamentary Counsel was preparing some amendments to the Act. He said that though he thought some of the amendments put forward by the Opposition were acceptable he felt that it was not the time to introduce them. That was almost 5 years ago, on 21st July 1967. Since then we have seen one amendment made to the Navigation Act and that related mainly to the construction of ships. A considerable number of smaller vessels, constructed in Australia, operate along the Australian coastline. The Minister would be aware of these vessels and would know that many of them are under 200 tons, which is the qualifying tonnage for a shipbuilding subsidy. The Navigation Act, as it stands, does not apply to these vessels.

My understanding of the Act is that there are 3 distinct requirements regarding various types of vessels. The United Kingdom legislation, accepted by New

Zealand, provides for many more classifications and sets out the types of vessels which may operate within certain waters. Australia does have classifications covering navigation of the River Murray but outside those waters the same classifications apply to ocean going vessels as apply to other vessels operating within restricted waters. The United Kingdom legislation applies to the operation of vessels within certain seasons. This does not create any great problem. The Minister for Shipping and Transport had some experience in this field when he was in charge of meteorology as Minister for the Interior, and he knows that along certain parts of the Australian coastline at certain limes of the year there are potential dangers to shipping. The United Kingdom Navigation Act provides for regulations governing the operation of ships within certain times in the North Sea and in other waters off the British coast and restricting shipping to within certain distances of the British coast. I believe that similar provisions could be worked out to control the operation of Australian ships at different times of the year.

But it goes even further than that. I noticed recently that the Minister, when speaking on the occasion of the establishment of an air-sea rescue body, indicated that some charge should be made on the owners of the number of small craft operating along the coast to cover the operations of air-sea rescue. Most of these craft are trailer-drawn boats which in some cases operate outside our territorial waters, even if one accepts the 12-mile limit and certainly if one accepts the 3-mile limit. We all agree that the Commonwealth at various times has been put to expense by people who operate small craft which normally should not be out in certain weather. Nevertheless they are, and sometimes they are caught because of the inexperience - sometimes a complete lack of experience - of the operator. This has put the Commonwealth to expense in conducting searches and rescues.

The achievements of Mr John Fairfax and his companion, Miss Sylvia Cook, in crossing the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat do not need to be duplicated. These people deserve congratulations for what they have achieved, but I hope that this will not be an encouragement to other people to take unnecessary risks by going to sea in craft that are not seaworthy, particularly in certain weather. The cyclone which hit the Queensland coastline between Brisbane and Gladstone over Easter and in which 2 vessels were lost - one a trimaran - indicated the necessity for a uniform Navigation Act which would apply to vessels operating within certain waters at certain times of the year. From my experience of the Queensland coastline, in another month or so it will be quite possible for small craft to operate with reasonable safety in that area, but in the cyclone season from December to the end of March or even to the middle of April there are extreme dangers to people operating these craft.

We should have a Navigation Act which lays down quite clearly national requirements in regard to the operation of vessels, particularly for the benefit of surveyors of vessels. These amendments to the Navigation Act, which are being introduced in a piecemeal fashion, are not giving the Australian public the protection that it requires. I do not believe that the surveyors of vessels are given the authority that should be given to them in the control of the operations of vessels. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett) mentioned a vessel which was not cleared on inspection and could not obtain a certificate in one port but apparently was cleared in another port. It was eventually abandoned by the crew in calm water. We can be thankful that it was calm water at the time that this vessel was abandoned. We have had along the Australian coastline numerous cases in recent times - and these have been brought up in this Parliament - which have amply shown that the Navigation Act is not stringent enough. As the honourable member for Swan has said, in most of these cases the objection to these vessels operating in the first place was raised by maritime unions. I mention this in order to refute the argument put forward by the honourable member for Wakefield to the effect that members of these unions do not act responsibly. From my experience, particularly with regard to the margins of safety, they do act responsibly. Perhaps there have been a few cases - and thank God there have been only a few - which have proved that their objections were not based on false grounds. We can be thankful that in those cases there was no loss of life.

The Commonwealth should conduct an urgent inquiry into the Navigation Act. It should act quickly. The experience of the United Kingdom Board of Trade is there and can be accepted in total. It will be a vast improvement on what we are trying to do new. It will introduce into Australia a Navigation Act which will be to the benefit of most Australians and will be in their interests. There may be some cases where alterations will need to be made. But, as I recall most of the amendments which have been introduced while I have been in the Parliament, they have been almost chapter and verse the provisions of the United Kingdom Board of Trade. If it is good enough for New Zealand to accept these provisions - and we are getting closer and closer to New Zealand - particularly in relation to the operation of small craft we will be serving the country well if, instead of having lengthy discussions about whether we should do this or that and whether we should introduce small amendments which mean very little at the time they are introduced in this Parliament, we accept the provisions of the United Kingdom Board of Trade whose Navigation Act has been drawn up from experience and making allowances for particular seasonal conditions. These provisions can be readily put into operation along the Australian coastline.

There should be uniform laws regarding the survey of vessels. This applies particularly to fishing vessels which operate between New South Wales and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Uniform laws regarding the survey of these vessels would contribute much to the welfare of the fishing industry. As I said before, the people who are engaged as surveyors should see that the Navigation Act is complied with in regard to the measurement of ships, bearing in mind particularly the safety of operations. They will know exactly what is required of them; the owners of the vessels will know what is required of them, and so also will the men who are obliged to man these vessels in their operations.

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