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Friday, 1 November 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I thinkI can put to rest Senator Stewart's fears in regard to men finding ships unseaworthy. First, I direct attention to an amendment with which we shall deal hereafter, numbered 91 in the schedule. We propose to omit clause 212 of the Bill, and to insert a new clause, the first portion of which declares that any person who sends a. ship to sea in an unseaworthy state shall be guilty of an indictable offence. Sub-clause 3 lays it down that -

A prosecution under this section shall not be instituted except by the consent of the AttorneyGeneral.

Sub-clause 4, to which I direct Senator Stewart's particular attention if he will give up reading the Bulletin for a moment, provides that -

Nothing in this section shall subject the owner or master of a ship to any liability bv reason of the ship being sent or taken to sea in an unseaworthy state where, owing to special circumstances, the sending of the ship to sea in that state was reasonable and justifiable.

Furthermore, proposed new clause 21 2a provides that -

If a British ship is unseaworthy a seaman or apprentice belonging to her shall not be deemed to have committed a breach of his agreement by reason of his having refused to sail in her while she is unseaworthy; and any seaman or apprentice so refusing may claim his discharge unless the ship is made seaworthy within a. reasonable time.

So far, therefore, as concerns a seaman's reason for refusing to go to sea because he considers the vessel unseaworthy, there is a clear remedy. As regards the other point, what is the position? A seaman in Great

Britain who joins a ship coming to Australia enters into a contract that he will work the ship to this country and back.

Senator Guthrie - For certain considerations, which are not always fulfilled.

Senator PEARCE - The consideration as far as concerns a British ship cannot be dealt with in this Bill because it relates to a British, not an Australian agreement. When that seaman comes to Australia Senator Stewart says that, attracted by high wages here, he may wish to break his agreement. Senator Stewart surely does not suggest that we should, in our law, lay down conditions to enable a seaman to break an agreement into which he has entered. If the honorable senator does not suggest that, our law is sufficient, because it provides that if the seaman does break his agreement he shall be liable to a penalty. The contention of the Department of Trade and Customs, on the advice of the Royal Commission, strengthened by evidence tendered at Newcastle, and by the knowledge of what the present practice is, is that this practice of desertion, and refusing to go to sea at the last moment, plays into the hands -of crimps in regard to foreign-going ships. It was proved before the Royal Commission that these. crimps watch foreign ships particularly, and that is why they do a lucrative trade in supplying substitutes at the last moment. Whilst it is true that there is a penalty upon a seaman who breaks his agreement under such circumstances, at the same time that very practice has led to crimping, which is against the best interests of the seamen themselves.

Senator Guthrie - And the provision lias sent a whole lot of sailors to gaol.

Senator PEARCE - What has? This provision has not yet been in operation.

Senator Guthrie - But there is a similar provision in the Imperial Act.

Senator Clemons - That is bad, but it is not worse than placing sailors in the hands of crimps.

Senator PEARCE - The existing practice gives the crimps opportunities. The clause simply provides that when an agreement is made it is to be carried out.

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