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Friday, 1 November 1912

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I have heard of cases where seamen have refused to join because of some defect in the ship. In many cases I believe that seamen have discovered after having signed on that there was something wrong with the ship, and refused to go in her.

Senator Guthrie - They had not seen the ship before they signed on.

Senator STEWART - Exactly.I believe that under the law such men are liable to be taken summarily beforethe magistrate and punished. Of course, there is a proviso here about reasonable cause, but that means a lot of litigation. I think that the interests of the seamen ought to be fully safeguarded. Any one who has read the history of the merchant service of Great Britain can come to only one conclusion, and that is that there has been a great deal of brutality and sweating from the . dawn of the industry down to the present day. It behoves us in Australia to be exceedingly careful what we do in this connexion. The interests of the ship-owners are well looked after.

Senator Clemons - This amendment is not in the interests of the ship-owners, but to stop crimping, as the Minister has explained.

Senator STEWART - The Minister of Defence is in the same position as the average Scotchman is with his money. He is very economical about his breath. I did not hear what he said, and probably if I had heard him it might have saved me some trouble. I want, if possible, to safeguard the interests of the seamen. According to Senator Guthrie, this amendment has nothing to do with crimping, but, according to Senator Clemons, it has.

Senator Clemons - And according to the Minister it has.

Senator STEWART - I prefer to take the opinion of Senator Guthrie in this matter, because the Minister is not a shell-back, but something else.

Senator Pearce - I said that the practice of men deserting at the last moment played into the hands of crimps who are always on the look out to provide for such cases, and who would drug men, and have done it, as the evidence taken before the Navigation Commission shows.

Senator STEWART - There is a premium placed by this Bill on crimping. A man who can get hold of a sailor, drug him, and haul him up to some shipping office, is to get free.

Senator Pearce - Where?

Senator STEWART - The Bill says something about £2, does it not?

Senator Pearce - No.

Senator STEWART - I thought I read something about that.

Senator Pearce - It is absolutely forbidden.

Senator STEWART - I cannot find the reference at the present moment. I ask Senator Guthrie whether I am right or wrong, and will take his word for it. What I maintain is that the interests of the seamen should be protected as far as possible. The shipping companies are perfectly well able to look after themselves. If they want to keep men in their employment there is one way of doing it, and one only. That is by paying them fair wages, and treating them as human beings ought to be treated. I remember now, where I saw the reference about the £2. It was in the Sydney Bulletin in connexion with crimping at Newcastle. It appears that the British seaman is paid the magnificent wage of £4 per month.

Senator Guthrie - Less.

Senator STEWART - When he touches a port in Australia, and hears of the wages paid in this modern land of promise, he hurriedly leaves his ship. In plain English, he deserts. I do not blame him. Every man is entitled to get as much for his labour as he possibly can. If British ship-owners object to men leaving ships inAustralian ports the remedy is to pay them decent wages, and feed them as men ought to be fed.

Senator Pearce - Thereference in the Sydney Bulletin was to the existing practice, which this Bill is intended to prevent. The honorable senator can find evidence of that in the report of the Royal Commission on Navigation.

Senator STEWART - Senator Guthriesays that the clause under consideration has nothing to do with crimping. Whom am I to believe?

Senator Pearce - I never said that the clause had to do with crimping, but I saidthat the practice of finding substitutes encourages crimping.

Senator STEWART - All that I am anxious for is that the position of the men shall be made as secure as possible.

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