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Thursday, 21 November 1912

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I am rather surprised that there is so much opposition to my proposal, unless, of course, honorable senators agree with Edmund Burke that there is nothing that kills thought like a library. I do not suppose for a moment that they will follow Edmund Burke, when he was in a satirical mood, but will rather be inclined to give seamen the same opportunity as every employ^ enjoys on shore, without let or hindrance. The argument of the Minister in regard to the difficulty of fixing upon suitable hours for distributing the books is a very flimsy one, because the authorities can so adjust conditions as to meet the convenience of every seaman. There would not be any difficulty in that regard. Senator Gould said that the library will only be availed of by a mere tithe of the seamen. Even so, I ask him to allow that tithe to be the leaven by which the whole mass may be leavened with intellectual food. I can speak with knowledge of the dull monotony of a seaman's life in the forecastle. Very often language which is not edifying to 'the listener is used. If there were one or two men amongst the crew who were in the habit of reading good books, that " evil " practice would be very much discouraged. By this amendment I am asking for nothing more in the case of seamen than is already provided by many good employers on shore. Large numbers of employers, who take an interest in the intellectual advancement of their employes, provide libraries for their servants, and I dp not see why a ship-owner should not do the same. I am rather surprised to find the Minister opposing the amendment, though I quite understand, the position which he occupies in regard to all amendments of the Bill. He is anxious that it should be preserved in its original outline; but I would ask him to remember the quarter from which he is deriving assistance on this question. He is getting it from a party, some of the members of which have often expressed themselves in an offensive manner concerning the Labour party, alleging want of intellect and of general information concerning modern questions, on account of improper mental equipment. I admit that, to some extent, that is a defect of the labouring class. But when an effort is made to wipe out that blot in the case of seamen, and to enable them to place themselves on an intellectual level with others, I do not understand why it should be opposed by some of those from whom we might have expected support. The sailor has been an object of reproach and persecution in the past because of the perpetuation of a narrow and bitter class prejudice that is nowhere more clearly manifested than on board ship. I remember on one occasion working on a vessel where the master saw his son going f or arc to associate with the sailors and firemen. The master at once said, " Do not go for'ard to those sailors. . .," just as though we were so many lepers. That master was an upstart, and I had the satisfaction of telling him so at a later date. I would with greater confidence confide those whom I hold dearest to the charge of sailors and firemen I have known than to that of many first class passengers, whom I have also known. Whatever may be said about class distinctions, moral distinctions are just as marked aft as they are in the forecastle. Here is one opportunity of wiping away a class distinction, which has been handed down from old times, and honorable senators should welcome the opportunity. In another part of this Bill, we have provided that ships shall carry medicines and surgical appliances, which shall be available to every person on board - passenger or member of the crew. Why not also, in the same fashion, provide a library where every person on board can go and get at his choice. There are provisions in this measure to insure the maintenance of health on board ship. Why also should not means be taken to promote the mental welfare of those on board? When a ship's company are at sea, they are in an entirely different position to any community on shore. They are isolated, and are, so to speak, a community in themselves. The skipper of a ship is armed and clothed with a quasi- judicial power; he can order a person's freedom to be circumscribed ; he can even put a person in irons, and, to a very large extent, he is a law to himself. A ship's company being an isolated community, why should we not do all we can to promote their mental and moral welfare, as well as their physical health? It is true that my amendment is novel, but I do not see why we should not establish our own precedents. Why should we follow the musty precedents established elsewhere? Why should we any longer uphold class distinctions, which have been too long perpetuated? In this matter, at all events, the sailor man should be put on the same level as any person on board ship. If there is to be an aristocracy, let it be a mental one, and do not let us permit clothes to indicate distinctions. I feel satisfied that in this regard we are moving in the right direction, and I claim the support of many members of the Opposition who are inclined to improve the lot of " Jack at sea."

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