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Thursday, 2 August 1906

Senator GUTHRIE (South Australia) . - There has been a considerable amount of discussion as to what "tonnage " means, and I have been quoted as an authority. Senator de Largie knows very well that I did not give evidence before the Navigation Commission, and that in cross-examining a witness the object of a question is to elicit what he does know. Surely he must remember quite well that I put crucial questions to Mr. Paxton to discover exactly what he did know. I questioned him about the net line, the load line, heaving the lead, the marks and deeps on the lead, and the tonnage question. All the authorities which have Been quoted by Senator de Largie count for nothing as against the decisions of the Court on this point.

Senator Dobson - Does notLloyd's Register count for something?

Senator GUTHRIE - No. I am prepared to admit that there are two tonnages. Gross tonnage is absolutely a builders' tonnage, and is not registered.

Senator de Largie - Are not Sir James Laing and Sons builders?

Senator GUTHRIE - In the contract they are described, not as ship-owners or ship-runners, or ship-contractors, but merely as" ship-builders. The position I take up is that the tonnage referred to in the contract is a builder's tonnage. The way in which it is arrived at is explained in Rhodes' s Steam-ship Guide, an authority which is published in London, in these terms -

The " deadweight capacity " of a ship in the case of a cargo boat means the total weight she will carry, and includes cargo, coal, crew, and consumable stores. The following example will show how. the total weight of a ship and her lading is made up : -


Senator de Largie - What does the honorable senator call that?

Senator GUTHRIE - That is the gross tonnage of a ship.

Senator de Largie - I thought that that was the displacement.

Senator GUTHRIE - That shows the displacement.


Let us now see what the Merchant Shipping Act says.

Senator Pulsford - What does it matter?

Senator GUTHRIE - I do not think that it matters two pins. The only point is, ought we, as custodians of the public purse, to agree to something in a contract when we do not know what it means? I take it that the best authority we can get on this subject is the Merchant Shipping Act, which operates in all British Possessions.

Senator Turley - If we agree to the contract we shall know that it is 11,000 gross.

Senator GUTHRIE - No; the contract says that it shall be 11,000 tons registered. Chitty, who is an authority on the Merchant Shipping Act, says -

There are two kinds of tonnage under the Act, viz., gross tonnage, which is the full measurement of the ship, and register tonnage, which is the net result after the deductions authorized by section 79 have been made from the primary or gross tonnage. Dues and charges are based on net or register tonnage, showing that net and registered tonnage are one and the same thing.

Senator de Largie - So is gross tonnage.

Senator GUTHRIE - No ; that is a different thing.

As is the ship-owner's liability in the case of a sailing ship, but in the case of a steam-ship that liability is based on the gross tonnage after deducting crew space where section 6 has been complied with.

Section 79 of the Merchant Shipping Act provides for deductions for ascertaining tonnage in measuring or remeasuring a ship for the purpose of ascertaining her registered1 tonnage.

Senator de Largie - We are not making a contract under the Merchant Shipping Act.

Senator GUTHRIE - But the Merchant Shipping Act itself provides that it shall apply to the " whole of Her Majesty's Dominion, and to all places where Her Majesty has jurisdiction. " The Royal Commission on Navigation, of which Senator de Largie was a member, did not touch that part of the Act, thereby acknowledging that the Commonwealth has no power to affect a single letter of it. Section 79 of the Act provides how the registered' tonnage shall be arrived at. In the case of sailing ships allowance is to be made for space for the crew, space for storage of sails, and stowage. In the case of a steam-ship, allowance is to be made for the space occupied by the propelling power, the space necessary for the crew and for stores. When these factors are deducted from the gross tonnage you arrive at the registered tonnage of the ship. Yet Senator de Largie has stated that what I have asserted is absolutely wrong. He puts himself up as an authority above Chitty. . If the honorable senator will go down to the wharf to-morrow, and board any British ship, he will find indelibly cut into the main hatch her registered tonnage. When any proof is wanted regarding the tonnage of a ship, it is not necessary to go to Lloyd's, or to look at the ship's papers. Her registered tonnage is cut with a chisel into the main hatch ; and she is charged her dues in every port in the British Dominions on that tonnage. I intend to try to make it absolutely clear that 11,000 tons' registered tonnage in this agreement means 11,000 tons registered tonnage within the meaning of the Merchant Shipping Act. I feel certain that if we could bring the Postmaster-General to the bar of the Senate, and examine him, the honorable gentleman would have to acknowledge that when he signed the contract he thought it meant 11,000 tons "registered," within the meaning of the Merchant Shipping Act, and1 not 11,000 gross. There is a considerable amount of mystery about this matter. If we were entering into a contract with an existing shipping company we should know whom we were dealing with. But what is our position now ? We do not know who the contractors are. I asked the Minister yesterday to give us a copy of the cablegram authorizing Mr. Croker to enter into this agreement. It was not forthcoming to-day. I asked the question again, but Ve have no notification that we are to get the information. We are, completely in the dark, entering into a contract with Mr. W. H. Croker to supply us with a fortnightly service with vessels of 11,000 tons registered tonnage.

Senator Best - Do we not know that £27,500 has been deposited - £2,500 in cash, and £25,000 by bond?

Senator GUTHRIE - We have proof of the deposit of £2,500.

Senator Best - And what about the bond?

Senator Lt Col Gould - We do not know who has entered into it.

Senator Best - It is approved by the Government, at any rate.

Senator GUTHRIE - Even if we accept it as a fact that £27^00 has been deposited, yet if these people fail to carry out their scheme, and take twelve months in which to fail, what will our position be? I want to make sure that there is somebody behind this contract other than Mr. W. H. Croker. If I am assured that there is a substantial company formed for the purpose of carrying out the contract, I shall be to a large extent satisfied.

Senator Trenwith - Does the honorable senator doubt the bona fides of the company ?

Senator GUTHRIE - I do. I say that there is no company.

Senator Clemons - Surely we have evidence that there is a large company of shipbuilders, who are prepared to build the steamers.

Senator GUTHRIE - I have seen paragraphs in the newspapers - I suppose they were inspired - stating that this is a contract entered into by Sir James Laing and Sons Limited. They are described as shipbuilders, not ship-owners. I do not know whether their articles of association allow them to enter into a contract of this description. The Minister, in reply to a question, informed me that they did not know, but that they assumed the formalities were all right. What right have we, as custodians of the people's interests, to assume that the articles of association of Sir James Laing and Sons allow them to enter into such a contract? I asked Senator Keating if he would make such an assumption in the case of a private client of his own.

Senator Staniforth Smith - We have a deposit of ,£27,500.

Senator GUTHRIE - In a contract which will involve millions !

Senator Best - °Have the Government no agents in the old country ? We may be sure thev have.

Senator GUTHRIE --:If the Government have agents there, the Parliament has not been so informed.

Senator Clemons - The Secretary for Defence is there-

Senator GUTHRIE - I understood from the press reports that the Secretary for Defence was sent Home to look after warlike stores, and not mail ships. We have been further informed by the press that the firm of Lord Armstrong and Company and Messrs. Vickers are associated with Sir James Laing and Sons. If the company formed is what is known throughout the British Possessions as a " one boat company, "-

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