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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I have given this matter serious consideration, and I think that honorable senators had better leave it to be dealt with by regulation. Although these ships are limited to a radius of 400 miles, they go to sea very often, and they are ordinarily engaged in a trade which takes them into tidal rivers, in nearly every one of which there is a more or less dangerous bar. Vessels, at times, run considerable risk of striking these bars, and, in the circumstances, it would not be safe to exempt from this proviso ships engaged in the limited coast-trade. The Minister, before enforcing this provision, would take into consideration the nature of the trade in which a ship is employed. If a ship is employed in what is obviously a dangerous trade, he would be justified in insisting that she should have these double watertight False bottoms. To my own knowledge, there are cases in which the Minister might, with safety, exempt vessels from complying with the provision, but it is much better that we should make the provision here, and leave it to the Minister, by regulation, to meet the circumstances of each case. If we were to accept the amendment, the result might be that ships that ought to be compelled to comply with it would be exempt from what is a very necessary provision in certain circumstances.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [8.21].- I understood Senator Guthrie to say that this provision for water-tight false bottoms was recommended by the Navigation Commission.

Senator Guthrie - No ; I said that evidence was taken by the Navigation Commission as to the necessity for it.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Honorable senators will find the following reference to the matter in the Navigation Commission's report -

The evidence further shows that one of the chief dangers to which modern vessels are exposed is that of collision. While not undervaluing the importance of life-saving appliances, your Commissioners strongly recommend that all ships built after the passing of the proposed Navigation Act shall not be regarded as seaworthy unless divided by properly constructed water-tight compartments.

There is no reference there to water-tight false bottoms. It is all very well for Senator Guthrie to say that evidence was given as to their necessity, but we ought to be guided by the report of the Commissioners, who considered all the evidence. We do not propose to interfere in any way with the provision for water-tight partitions, which are required under the existing law. I assume that every ship at present trading on the coast is supplied with transverse water-tight partitions. In the summary of recommendations by the Royal Commission I find die following -

That all vessels (including ferry steamers) constructed after the passing of the Navigation Bill be fitted with water-tight compartments.

Honorable senators will see that the Royal Commission were clearly of opinion that it is only abstract justice that ships already in commission, or constructed before this Bill becomes law, should not be expected to comply with the additional requirements provided for in this Bill. In the circumstances, I cannot see why the Minister should object to the amendment, though I can understand that he might have some objection to the amendment which I proposed. The amendment now under consideration would carry out the recommendation of the Royal Commission in exempting from this provision vessels already in commission and holding certificates of seaworthiness. The Minister might have some justification for objecting to a proviso exempting from the operation of this clause ships of 500 tons burden, but I hope he will agree to accept the amendment now before the Committee.

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