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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 276

Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE(5.45) —I take this opportunity to make some brief comments on the report of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation. I, too, noted the number of people who had been dealt with in the past year. As someone who administered the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act for five years, I took interest in the growth over recent years in employees' compensation in the Commonwealth Government. Over the years there have been a number of ways in which these figures have been examined, but they all point to a significant cost to the Government as a result of employees' compensation throughout the Australian Public Service.

This leads me to say that there is a great deal of interest in employees' compensation, as was said by the preceding speaker, Senator Crowley, all around Australia. In particular, there is a very solid interest in Victoria at the moment with the proposal of the Victorian Government regarding workers' compensation. The proposal of the Cain Government with regard to workers' compensation has alarmed a number of people in that State. It has alarmed those who look to a diversity of workers' compensation programs to cover their particular needs. The Government's proposal virtually to nationalise workers' compensation through the State Government Insurance Office, thereby depriving employees of the opportunity to go before the courts to test their claims, and to give workers access to workers' compensation, which system has developed over a number of years, is of great concern in that State. I am aware that there is concern of a political kind as we go into the State election next Saturday. This sort of concern has been developed fairly strongly in recent weeks by the insurance companies, but also enormous concern has been expressed by the legal people in that State because they are aware of the withdrawal of rights which people presently enjoy. There is enormous concern by those people who may at some time in the future require to be covered by workers' compensation.

On my understanding of the proposal of the Victorian Government, it seems to be just a recycling of the Whitlam Government's proposal for a national compensation scheme, a scheme which was dealt with by the Senate in 1974-75. It was exposed through a Senate committee that the Woodhouse scheme which was to be introduced by the Whitlam Government was not to be tolerated, particularly by the trade union movement. I have been surprised that there has not been more public comment by the trade union movement in Victoria in recent weeks as the Cain Government's proposal came to be understood as one that was similar to that proposed as a national compensation scheme by the Whitlam Government in 1974-75. At present, people have access to the courts to test their claim and to seek remedies and employers have various types of insurance to cover their risks or the particular needs of their employees. There is concern that this provision is to be withdrawn.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Order! The time allotted for the consideration of Government papers has now expired.