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Thursday, 31 October 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - Honorable senators opposite are raising a good deal of dust and fog in connexion with this matter. It has been pointed out more than once in both Houses that the constitutional difficulty is always before us in connexion with this legislation. It arises, not from the Constitution, but out of the very nature of the subject with which we are dealing. I agree, to a large extent, with the explanation given by the Minister of Defence. The honorable gentleman was historically correct in saying that there has been a conflict of opinion on this matter between the law officers of the Commonwealth and the Board of Trade.

Senator Rae - We should know what it is based upon.

Senator ST LEDGER - On the -very nature of the subject dealt with.

Senator Rae - We want the reasons for the action taken.

Senator ST LEDGER - It seems to me that they are obvious. I thought that Senator Symon had made the matter clear. If he' has not, it will probably be impossible for me to do so; but I, might refresh the memories of honorable senators, or explain. the matter in my own way. In dealing with navigation, we have to make provision for two classes of ships, those which are on our own register, and trading exclusively in our own coasting trade, and foreign ships, which are not registered here, but which come to the Commonwealth with goods from other countries and take our produce to other countries. It is axiomatic that we have not the same power to deal with ships on a foreign register, trading with Australia, that we have to deal with our own ships engaged in our own coasting trade. Some distinction must, therefore, be made in the legislation applicable to the two classes of shipping. Another point might be referred to which arises in connexion with this subject. If the most extreme unificationist on the other side could give the Commonwealth Parliament all the powers he could imagine, it is clear that there would be doubt as to our power with regard to foreign shipping trading with Australia in only a partial way. The Merchant Shipping Act was designed in order to assist the self-governing Dominions with a power which only an Imperial Act could give. We could not expect to pass legislation so perfect that conflict could not possibly arise in connexion with the treatment of complex questions. The Merchant Shipping Act was never designed to restrict the self-governing powers of the Dominions, but to assist them, and I believe that it does so in a way that is highly beneficial to the Commonwealth, by enabling us to deal with, not only our own shipping, but, to a certain extent, with foreign shipping. I am glad that this clause is to be amended in the way proposed. I think that, on a previous occasion, when the matter was under consideration in the Senate, I pointed out that a similar provision was to be found in the Canadian Navigation Act; and I asked why the reservation for the King's assent was not included in this Bill. After careful consideration, the Bill comes up to us now from another place with the provision of the Canadian Act to which I directed attention in its forefront.

Senator Guthrie - At the honorable senator's suggestion.

Senator ST LEDGER - I shall not say so. Hansard, for last year is really too deep a mine in which to delve at this moment.

Senator Pearce - We will take the honorable senator's word for it rather than have him read Hansard.

Senator ST LEDGER - Hansard and my word will be found equally correct in the matter.

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