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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - - I trust that Senator Gould will press his amendment to a division. Whilst admitting the difficulties that the Minister has pointed out with regard to the administration of this clause, and acknowledging the danger which it is desired to combat, I point out that administration by the evidence of informers involves the adoption of a most abominable system. There is in me a dash of the blood of a people who have been cursed by informers. Their name is odious, and any administration which depends for its effectiveness upon their evidence is more or less abominable. The model shipping Acts which we have had before us - those of Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand - contain no such provision. No Government but our own has made this proposal. Has any sufficient reason been given for the introduction of such a discreditable system of administration? As Senator Gould has pointed out, any person under this clause may actually plot to bring about the offence which it is profitable to him to take means to punish. In the administration of Licensing Acts the Departments responsible employ individuals to obtain evidence when the law is believed to be broken. These officers may disguise themselves in the pmsuit of their work ; but no Government in this country has encouraged informers to obtain evidence by granting them part of the penalty imposed. In every city in Australia there are regulations providing against the overcrowding of tramcars. Those regulations are frequently broken, but the law does not encourage informers to give evidence. In all probability the injury done through the overcrowding of trains and tramcars is large as compared with the injury done from the overcrowding of steamers. It is quite true, as the Minister says, that the object is to protect passengers. But surely a passenger who goes on board a river and bay ship which is overcrowded can draw the attention of the proper authorities to that fact. It is rather a strain on our credulity to say that the Department could not make proper provision against the overcrowding of our large steamers. There are many ways by which the Minister could provide for the administration of the clause.

Senator Guthrie - Would the honorable senator have a policeman on every ship?

Senator ST LEDGER - I would rather have that than descend to the abominable system of administration by paid informers. I believe that the ship-owners of Australia will loyally assist the Government in carrying out this provision. The Government can very well afford a little extra money for the employment of officers to exercise vigilance in the administration of the provision. Any course is preferable to this system, which offers a direct incentive to ill-conditioned persons to conceal themselves on board a ship, with a view to securing evidence against the ship-owner and hauling him before the Court, which in itself is a revolting thing to do. In the summer time in Brisbane there are week-end and holiday excursions down the river, which are enjoyed by thousands of persons. Over and over again I have seen officers standing on the wharf and stopping people from going on board, because there was no more accommodation. As far as I could gather, the administration was quite effective. It might have been made thoroughly effective by the appointment of additional officers. The Minister may be thinking of the large seam-ships which leave Sydney and Melbourne carrying hundreds of passengers. Hundreds of persons go on board these ships to bid farewell to their friends, and, even though the ship may be in charge of the most vigilant master, and he may be acting under the instructions of the strictest of owners, it would be possible for an illconditioned officer to make use of this provision in- order to harass the owner. We have nothing but the assertion of the Minister that this is the only way in which, in the administration of the law, we can protect the lives of passengers. He tells us that it is necessary to resort to this abominable system of administration by informers. It is extraordinary that, in connexion with this our first Navigation Act, the Government should propose to adopt a form of administration which is condemned in almost every civilized country. It exists in France, and also in Russia. It involves the employment, for purposes of administration, of what is known as I' agent provocateur. Over and over again the French and Russian systems of administering laws by means of persons whose interest it is. to provoke a breach of the law has been condemned. The most vigilant of ship-owners could have no guarantee that he would not be struck at under this provision, if a single passenger beyond the regulation- number was carried on one of his ships. The ship's officers might be under instructions tq search every nook and corner 'of the ship to see that the regulation with respect to the number of passengers to be carried was strictly observed, and, notwithstanding the fact that their duty was carefully performed, the owner would have no guarantee that he would not be charged with an offence. I have travelled a good deal on the eastern coast of Australia, and I know that great vigilance is shown by ships' officers in this matter. Persons who have no tickets to present have been isolated, and as soon as the vessel has arrived in port have been handed over to the .authorities. I have known that to be done on more than one occasion. When the owners of vessels aire trying to observe the law, they should be encouraged, and should not be left open to an attack of the kind which would be possible under this provision.

Senator Guthrie - What should happen where they do not observe the law?

Senator ST LEDGER - They should be punished, by all means. But we should not endeavour to secure the administration of the law by the employment of informers. Such a system would not be tolerated, I think, in any British community. The large cities of Australia are infested with the worst kind of criminals, as bad, I suppose, as any to be found in any part of the world ; but public opinion would never tolerate a proposal that the administration of the law for the protection of the lives and property of people on land should be through informers, on the French model.; That the Government should think it necessary to resort to such a method of administration for our first merchant shipping law is a mystery which has not yet been explained. I feel so strongly upon the matter that if some amendment of the proviso is not proposed I hope it will be pressed to a division, so that we may be able, at least, to record our dissent.*

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