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Thursday, 21 November 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I move -

That the amendment be agreed to.

There are certain foreign countries entitled, under ancient treaties with Great Britain, to trade on our coast on exactly the same terms and conditions as are accorded to our own and to British ships. To enable us to meet these treaty obligations clause 295 was inserted in the Bill. Under this clause the Governor-General was empowered to exempt such ships from the requirements, imposed generally upon foreign ships, to take out a licence to engage in the coasting trade. This, of course, implied exemption also from the conditions of the licence, viz., payment

Of Australian rates of wages, the carrying Of crews according to our manning scales, and the provision of accommodation as prescribed. A proviso to clause 295 prohibited the exemption of foreign ships in receipt of foreign subsidies. One at least of the nations entitled to trade on our coast under the conditions mentioned pays a subsidy to a line of her ships trading to these ports. This country is Austria. The proviso to clause 295 would, it was thought, operate to prevent exemption being granted in such a case, but it would appear that the Merchant Shipping Act provides specifically for the recognition of these treaty rights " anything in any Colonial legislation notwithstanding." In view of this the proviso in question is clearly ultra vires, as being repugnant to the Imperial provision. This is not all. There is yet another matter of great importance to be considered. There are, apart from these particular nations entitled to national treatment in the coasting trade, a large number of other and much more important nations which, although not entitled by express treaty provision to such concession, are entitled to "most-favoured-nation treatment." Now, if we once exempted ships of those countries with treaties covering the coasting trade, as we would have to do, then we would be overwhelmed with applications from these other nations for a similar concession to their ships. To refuse would inevitably give offence, and in all probability lead to retaliation in the shape of restrictions on British shipping and on our exports to the markets of the countries concerned. There was one way only in which we could meet these difficulties, and that was by imposing on all ships - British, foreign, and Australian alike - all those particular conditions which we desired to have observed by ships trading on our coasts, viz., as to wages, manning scales, accommodation, with a bar against ships in receipt of foreign subsidies. No nation can under any treaty take exception to any requirement imposed on our own and on foreign ships alike. It has been decided, therefore, to recast Part VI. of the Bill to give effect to this. As foreign ships cannot well be dealt with except by a system of licences, all ships will be required to take out a licence before engaging in the coasting trade. We have a precedent for such a requirement in the navigation laws of Canada and United States of America. So far as our own local shipping is concerned there would be very little trouble involved in taking out a licence once in every two or three years. It will be nothing in comparison with the formalities now required to be observed in connexion with the clearance and entry of ships at the beginning and end of every voyage. The second point of difference between the original and the proposed new clause is that under the new proposal the Minister may require security that the conditions of the licence and of Part VI. will be complied with. This is on the lines of a very valuable provision in the Customs Act, and will insure, more particularly in the case of tramp steamers and traders having no owners or responsible representatives in Australia, the recovery of any penalties to which the owners or masters may become liable by reason of contravention of the coasting trade provisions. This will apply more particularly to the case of tramp steamers which may have no owner or representative in the Commonwealth, and on which therefore it would be impossible to force compliance with these conditions, unless we could get something in the nature of a bond before the licence was issued. Those are the reasons why the Government have recast this clause ; and while it attains the same end as the former clause did, it, at the same time, removes any possible objection that we are overriding, or attempting 'to override - for, of course, we could not really override - those treaty obligations which the United Kingdom has entered into in the past. I may add that at the Imperial Conference last year this question of treaty obligations, and of the obligations of the Dominions under treaties, was discussed; and to my knowledge, during the last twelve months, in pursuance of a promise made by the British Prime Minister at that Conference, Great Britain has been seeking to denounce many treaties under which the Dominions, as well as the Mother Country, were bound. In all recent treaties the Dominions have been exempt. The right to take advantage of the provisions of treaties has been provided for each Dominion; but each Dominion has the power to come in, or remain out, as it chooses. But old treaties, which are still in operation, and which apply particularly to navigation and shipping in many cases, refer to the Dominions, and would prevent us from putting the shipping of the countries with which the treaties are made on a different footing to British ships, or our own local ships. However, many of these treaties are in course of being denounced, and we know that it will only be a matter of time when they will cease to operate. The amendment will not interfere with treaty obligations, and will carry out the intentions of the Bill with regard to the coasting trade.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [3.5].- The statement made by the Minister of Defence is very important, and demands consideration by honorable senators in connexion with this amendment. The extent to which foreign ships have the right to participate in our trade, on the same footing as British ships, is a matter of grave importance. To impose restrictive conditions might possibly lead to some amount of friction, and defer the operation of the Bill. If there is a treaty under which a foreign ship belonging to any particular nation is permitted to engage in any particular trade, the question arises whether we have a right to treat that ship differently from a British ship. I admit, of course, that all such matters will have to be dealt with in accordance with treaties themselves. It is questionable whether we have a right to require that on foreign ships the same accommodation shall be provided as on ships registered in Australia, or British ships engaged in our coasting trade. This Bill requires a large amount of space to be provided for seamen and officers.

Senator Guthrie - Not very much.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I am speaking comparatively.

Senator Guthrie - What is 20 cubic feet?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The extra amount of space required for a large number of men may make a great difference in the carrying capacity of the ship. Nearly all ships have their accommodation already provided, according to the scale laid down by their own nation. To compel compliance with this measure would mean compelling many ships to make important structural alterations which would involve considerable expenditure.

Senator Guthrie - Is the honorable senator barracking for the foreigner against British shipping?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - No, I am not. I am barracking for fair play and the observation of treaty rights. I do not desire to involve Great Britain in difficulties in consequence of our legislation, and I do not want the British Government to have to withhold their assent to this Bill. I want to do what is possible and practicable.

Senator Needham - The British Government would not refuse to assent to anything like this.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It will refuse to assent to anything that interferes with treaties. I want honorable senators to realize that they cannot run the world as they see fit. Australia is a portion of the British Empire, and cannot do anything to interfere with rights that have been conceded by Great Britain to other nations. The British Government have denounced many treaties, and we should not be interfered with in connexion . with any of those that do not apply to the Dominions. I wish honorable senators to realize that they need to be wary in this matter, and should not lay down rules which may be found to be in conflict with treaty rights already conceded by Great Britain to the subjects of other countries. It should be remembered that the trade on our coasts is a bagatelle compared with the total shipping trade which Great Britain has to protect .

Senator Needham - Our trade will not always be a bagatelle.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- I am aware of that, but it will always represent a small proportion of the trade done in British bottoms throughout the world.

Senator Lynch - If we were to agree to the honorable senator's proposal, we might as well hand over our coasting trade to foreigners.

Senator Guthrie - That is exactly the honorable senator's argument.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It is not my argument. I have already expressed my sympathy with the creation of a great Australian mercantile marine, and my readiness to give the people engaged in our own coasting trade advantages which we are not prepared to give to outsiders.

Senator Findley - What is the use of sympathy? Sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I am merely saying that it is unwise for honorable senators to agree to provisions which may have the effect of wrecking the Bill. Is the Minister of Defence prepared to give the Committee an assurance that the clause as recast will not in any way interfere with treaty obligations to which Great Britain is committed to-day? We should not pass legislation which may bring about friction between Great Britain and foreign nations, and possibly lead to reprisals against British shipping on the part of foreign nations.

Senator Pearce - The clause as recast, and as it now appears before the Committee, was submitted to the Board of Trade, and no exception was taken to it.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD.- If the Minister had given the Committee that information in the first instance, he would have saved a lot of our time.

Senator Needham - The Minister said so when he was speaking.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - No; what he said was that, so far as he knew, the clause would not interfere with treaty obligations. We have now been informed that the clause, as recast, has been submitted to the Board of Trade, and no exception has been taken to it. We may assume, therefore, that the Board of Trade is satisfied that it will not abrogate Imperial treaties, and as I am satisfied with the Minister's assurance, I am prepared to withdraw any opposition to the clause.

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