WHETHER COMMONWEALTH HAS POWER TO COMPEL FOREIGN VESSELS FISHING IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS TO REPORT AT SPECIFIED PORT
CUSTOMS ACT 1901, ss. 58, 185 : IMMIGRATION RESTRICTION ACT 1901
The Prime Minister desires to be advised whether there is power, under the Customs Act or other Commonwealth legislation, to compel the Malay proas engaged in the trepang fishery to report, on arrival in Australia, at Port Darwin or other specified port of entry.
It appears that the proas clear at Macassar for 'Marega'-the native name of Melville Island, and the name used by the Malays for the north coast of Australia. They leave in December with the N.W. monsoons, and sail past the east end of Timor to Bowen Straits, where they report and are boarded by the Customs officer stationed there, who collects duty on their stores, with the exception of just sufficient to take them back to Macassar.
They then proceed eastward to the fishing grounds, lying between De Courcy Head and the Pellew Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The fishing takes place on the coast of the Northern Territory, within the three-mile limit. The trepang is picked up by the crews in catamarans during low tides, and by dredging the mud flats. They take the trepang on shore to cure and dry it. On the return journey they again pass through Bowen Straits and clear in the usual way, and sail with the S.E. monsoons back to Macassar.
It appears that the proas obtain licenses under The Northern Territory Crown Lands Act 1890 to fish for trepang.
Mr Lockyer, in a report dated 2 August 1904, as to the operation of the Immigration Restriction Act in the Northern Territory, suggests, with a view to putting a stop to the visits of the proas, that they should be forced to report and clear at Port Darwin-presumably by closing the port and station at Bowen Straits; the expectation being that the proas would not be able to make Port Darwin.
I know of nothing in the Customs Act to compel a vessel coming to the shores of Australia to report at a port. Section 185 enables an officer to require a ship 'hovering' within a league of the coast to depart; and section 58 forbids the master of a ship to 'suffer his ship to enter any place other than a port unless from stress of weather or other reasonable cause'. Both these provisions are primarily directed against smuggling-and both apply equally whether the ship has or has not already reported at an Australian port.
In my opinion, there is no power, under the Customs Act or other existing Commonwealth legislation, to compel these proas to report at Port Darwin or other specified port of entry.