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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 275

Senator CROWLEY(5.41) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I wish to make some comments about the 1983-84 annual report of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation. As it was a matter of interest to me, during the last sittings of the Estimates committees I took up the issue of accident injury, and in particular repetition strain injury, among Commonwealth public servants. I did so because of my interest in occupational health and safety and other matters of health. I found that this report caught my attention. Therefore, I felt I should make some comment about it.

It is interesting that the Office of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation was established under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act. Many of the compensation claims are settled in a fairly straightforward manner by the many officers who are delegated to this task throughout Australia. The first issue with which the report deals is the need perhaps to change the administrative structures of dealing with compensation claims. Currently planning is underway to look at bringing the processing of compensation claims under the direct control of the Commissioner rather than through the 800 or so officers who have this delegated responsibility throughout departments around Australia. Also underway is a joint management review which will make recommendations on more efficient and effective means of administering and achieving the objectives of the Act. I am sure that that review will look at ways in which the time for claims to be heard and dealt with can be shortened. Consequent upon that, there is the increased need for the training and development of officers to improve communications and contact with claimants. I will make a brief comment about that later.

The other point to which the report alludes is the examination of workers' compensation that has been underway throughout many of the States. The comment is made that inquiries have been held or are proceeding in each of the States and Territories, with the exception of Queensland. Some of the States have already made their reports. The report alludes to the significant way in which compensation problems and the whole question of workers' compensation in this country are currently under very extensive review.

The Commonwealth's compensation scheme differs from State and Territory schemes in that there is no requirement for the departments to collect revenue or finance. The payments are made from the departments' normal appropriations. The Commonwealth and the States face enormous difficulties, under their schemes, in administering the Act properly and in addressing the issue of claims, in particular the problems consequent upon human injury and accident. They include rehabilitation, adequate support and health care during the compensation settlement. They also have to deal with the human loss as a result of such injury or accident.

It is interesting to consider the number of claims. Over the last 10 years there has been an increase in the number of claims. The report indicates that there has been an increase from 35,000 cases in 1974-75 to 54,776 cases in 1983-84 with, of course, a consequent increase in expenditure. The graphs indicate that claims and expenditure in the Australian Public Service are not growing exponentially at all. A significant number of people were covered under the Act in 1983-84 and a considerable number of dollars was spent. I do not believe we can rest easily on those results.

Finally, I allude to the paragraph headed 'Cases Arising from Exposure to Ionising Radiation'. The point is made that during the last 12 months two reports have been made to government on the subject-the Kerr report and 'The Indoctrinee Force: A Note on Radiation Levels Experienced by its Members in the Buffalo Series Tests Conducted in 1956 at One Tree and Marcoo at the Maralinga Range, South Australia'. To 30 June 1984, 154 claims for compensation under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act had been lodged. Six claims had been accepted, 81 claims had been denied and three claims had been withdrawn. I think it is quite interesting to note that brief paragraph in the report. I am quite sure that people following with interest the outcome of the Maralinga inquiry and the consequences of the atomic testing will be interested to note that. No doubt the reason for six claims being accepted would be worthy of fuller examination, as would the reasons why 81 claims were denied. I suspect that will be of interest to the people following that case.