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Tuesday, 14 November 1905

Senator GRAY (New South Wales) - I move -

That the word " ship " in sub-clause 3 be left out.

I feel sure that every honorable senator will recognise that after a cargo has been quickly loaded an officer should not, without very grave reason, order bulk to be broken in order to inspect any goods. Take butter, which is shipped in lots of 1,000 or 2,000 cases : In the first' place it is sent to the stores whence it can only be taken to the ship after sunset. The whole shipment has to be placed on board in the course of three or four hours. We are asked to intrust to an officer the great responsibility of directing bulk to be broken in order that he may inspect some boxes of butter. If this option be left in the hands of any Customs officer, it may result in grave consequences to the producers. Moreover, if the ship be detained until an inspection can take place, it will mean a large loss to her owners. Supposethat a quantity of wool has been shipped rapidly, and an officer assumes that a bale was not properly classed. It may seem ridiculous to some honorable senators to suppose that a Customs officer might require the wool to be landed in order to examine that bale. But such extraordinary proceedings by Ministers and officers have taken place that it is not wise or prudent to place this great responsibility on any person. It is to be exercised, not only by the officers at Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, but also by the officers right round the coast, although they may not possess that practical knowledge which is derived from serving in a large port. It is inconsistent with ordinary commercial rules to place this great responsibility in the hands of officers, because we do not know whether the inspectors at the different ports will be experts or not. Of late, we have had examples of what a Minister may do in certain circumstances. What can we expect from persons who have no knowledge of business matters ? Let honorable senators consider the trouble that may be caused if this power be granted? Throughout the States we have had cases of men in inferior positions being amenable to improper influences in cases where they were not subjected to anything like the temptations to which Customs officers might be subjected under this Bill. In Victoria and New South Wales we have heard of policemen who have persistently received bribes to wink at infractions of the law. It is not improbable that other men might yield to greater temptations. My maxim is to place as little temptation as possible in the way of any man unless it is absolutely necessary. There is no advantage to be gained from making it possible for an officer to order bulk to be taken out of a ship for the purpose of making an examination. The examination should be made when the goods are taken to the ship, except in the case of butter, which should be inspected before it leaves the stores. Ifit were provided that the owner of the stores should see that the boxes of butter were properly branded before they left the ship, there would be no necessity for a clause of this kind. If the Minister could show any reason for its enactment, I should be satisfied, because I am not against anything which I believe would 'be to the advantage of the Commonwealth. The Bill contains some good provisions, but it also contains provisions which, to my mind, could be improved very much.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia). - I should like to hear from the Minister why the word " ship " is in subclause 3.

Senator Guthrie - Because a package may have got into a ship.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - We do not interfere with imports until they are entered and landed.

Senator Playford - I want to know why the word should not be in the subclause.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Perhaps the Minister wishes us to leave it in ?

Senator Playford - Hear, hear.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Surely it is the duty of the Minister to tell the Committee why the word is in the subclause, if it has any meaning; and if it has no meaning, to take it out. Why are we to follow the exports on board the ship? It will cause intense inconvenience and trouble to the exporters. The proper place to make the inspection is on the wharf. What is the object of waiting until the exports are all on board the ship? Surely there ought to be a regulation made, in the interest of the exporters, that the goods should be examined before they were shipped.

Senator Playford - Exports may come in lighters from outports.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Will the Minister look at clause 6 of his Bill? It says -

Every person who intends to export any goods of a kind or class required under this Act to be inspected or examined by an officer, shall, if required to do so by regulation, before the goods are shipped, give notice, in accordance with the regulations, to the Customs of his intention to export the goods, and of the place where the goods may be inspected.

Senator Best - Suppose the goods are put on board ship without notice?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - There is a penalty of £20 for not giving notice.

Senator Best - This is a question of enabling officers to see the goods ; the penalties may be enforced afterwards.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That is true. The inspection must be made before the goods are placed on board a ship, and if a penalty of , £20. is not enough, make it larger.

Senator Best - Ifthe goods are on board the ship, penalties will no doubt have been incurred by reason of the default of the shipper; but the officer, in the interests of the Commonwealth, goes on board the ship.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - If the honorable senator looks at clause 5, he will see that the words " wharf or place are used, and, as I said before, if the provision is not sufficiently drastic, make it more so. We have now passed these provisions. and, having submitted to the decision of the Committee, my desire is to make them as effective as possible.

Senator Best - It might suit a shipper to run the risk of a penalty, and put the goods on board ship.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That is quite true; but the goods might be at the bottom of the hold.

Senator Playford - Under ordinary circumstances the inspection will take place outside the ship, but there may be cases in which it has to be made on board.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - But why give unlimited power to examine on board ship when that would be impossible, or might involve the unloading of the cargo ?

Senator Givens - The power is required because, otherwise, there may be an evasion of the law.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Then let us make the penalty more severe - make it£100, or even , £500, if honorable not to be found in inconveniencing the shipsenators desire. The remedy, however, is owner, and making him liable to practically unload his cargo.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator is conjuring.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I am not doing anything of the sort. We know perfectly well that Senator Playford disagrees with half the provisions, though he has not the courage to say so. He takes his instructions from another gentleman, who comes into the box usually occupied by the Departmental officials. Let Senator Playford apply his common-sense, and he will see that the provision is impossible.

Senator Playford - There may be cases in which it is advisable to have the power.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - A power which cannot be exercised?

Senator Guthrie - The power is necessary.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - Let it be shown that the power is necessary. I say again that if the penalty is not enough, let it be increased.

Senator Playford - A penalty of £20 is quite enough.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I think it is, and, in the face of such a penalty. I do not think any shipper would wrongfully ship his goods. In my opinion it is making a farce of legislation to allow this word to remain.

Senator GUTHRIE(South Australia).Senator Symon expresses a desire to make the. Bill efficient. I point out, however, that this. clause deals not only with exports, but also with imports ; and in every port in Australia shippers have taken advantage of old disused ships, and made them storehouses.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - These are regarded as warehouses under the Customs Act.

Senator GUTHRIE - They are licensed lighters or hulks.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - They are licensed not as hulks, but as warehouses.

Senator GUTHRIE - They are licensed lighters, 'and goods may be stored there for a considerable number of months, and then transhipped into coasting vessels.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - What goods are kept in lighters for months?

Senator GUTHRIE - In Port Adelaide, cornsacks are kept on board these lighters for twelve months, or from one season to another. Power is asked for to inspect imports which at Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and elsewhere, may never go on shore at all, but are placed on board these vessels, and kept there until it suits the owners to distribute them.

Senator Gray - The word " ship " does not apply to hulks.

Senator GUTHRIE - It certainly does. The only definition of "ship" is in the Merchant Shipping Act, in which it is interpreted as any vessel that is not propelled by oars. These lighters may be thoroughly seaworthy vessels, which are out of commission owing to slack times ; and if we leave out the word " ship " the Bill may be to a large extent evaded.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - I know a little about commercial arrangements, and I cannot agree with the statements of Senator Guthrie. If goods arrive from any part of the world, and are placed on board hulks, entries have to be' passed. These hulks are practically floating warehouses, which are under the absolute control of Customs House officers, who have the power at any hour of the day or night to enter warehouses containing goods.

Senator Guthrie - Bonded goods.

Senator PULSFORD - These are practically bonded goods : if they were free goods the Customs officers would not concern themselves about them. There is no necessity for the retention of the word " ship." which will only give rise to the possibility of a good deal of trouble. If this power is not sought in connexion with imported goods, why should it be sought specially in connexion with exported goods ? A vessel might be ready for sea, and some message, it might be a hoax, as to the misdescription of goods of trumpery value, might lead to the unloading of the cargo, only to discover a " mare's nest." Surely when goods are shipped, they are shipped. There is no necessity for the retention of the word " ship," which I hope will be' excised.

Senator PLAYFORD(South AustraliaMinister of Defence). - Two or three words will show the necessity to retain the word "ship" in this portion of the clause, which deals with exports. On the coast of South Australia there are several small places where coasting vessels pick up their cargo, but where there are no Customs House officers. For instance, a man may ship at Fowler's Bay, which is such a place as I have indicated, and he has to give notice that he intends to take his cargo alongside a certain ocean steamer, and there discharge. The Customs House officer having the notice, must go on board that ship and inspect; and it will be seen at once that the work could not be done at any " wharf or place." To insist on that would unnecessarily harass people; and, therefore, so far, at any rate, as the trade of South Australia is concerned, a provision of the kind is absolutely imperative. I dare say the same conditions prevail to a greater or lesser degree elsewhere.

Amendment negatived.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - I move -

That the following new sub-clause be added : - " (4.) No fees shall be charged for the inspection or examination of goods under this section."

It isdesirable that this should be made clear.

Senator Guthrie - There is no provision in the Bill to make a regulation charging fees.

Senator PULSFORD - It will be impossible to make such a regulation if we state in the measure itself that no fees shall be. charged. Some time ago I pressed upon the Minister a question as to the expenditure likely to be involved in the administration of this measure, the arrangements for officers, and so on. The honorable senator made no reply. I presume it was because he did not know anything about it, and had no reply to make, as the matter had not been thought out. I can quite believe that considerable charges might be made in respect of the inspection of goods of little value in themselves. We should set our faces against anything of that sort, which would tend to lessen the profitableness of our export trade.

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