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Tuesday, 6 December 1938

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - The Opposition welcomes this bill, and the opportunity to deal with it immediately after the second-reading speech of the Assistant Minister (Mr. Thompson), because, knowing that more than 27 years have clapsed since the principal act dealing with compensation to seamen was passed by this Parliament, it believes that amendments are long overdue.

Mr Holloway - We have been lagging behind other countries.

Mr BEASLEY - As my honorable friend says, whereas progress has been made in other countries in regard, not only to seamen's compensation, but also to workers' compensation generally, the Australian seamen's compensation law has remained unchanged since it was placed on the statute-book in 1911. The Commonwealth even lags behind the Australian States, because the State Parliaments have passed legislation in recent years to modernize their compensation laws in all directions. The Assistant Minister himself showed that amending legislation is necessary when he cited the. fact that tho cost of living has risen since the original act was passed. As rises of the cost of living affect workers ashore, so also do they affect those who go to sea. In 1931 I was pleased to be the Minister who piloted through this House a bill amending the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act. It is interesting to recall that, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was then sitting on this side of the House.

Sir Earle PAGE - Yes, I helped the honorable gentleman with his bill.

Mr BEASLEY - At any rate, if the right honorable gentleman did not help mc very much he at least did not show a great deal of opposition. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take no action in this chamber to reduce to any degree the benefits for seamen which the bill contains. Tho measure has been fully discussed and amended in the Senate. As the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Amendment Act was a milestone on the road of progress, so also will this bill be. Considerable progress has been achieved all over the world in the matter of workers' compensation generally, and I repeat that this bill is long overdue. In fact, it is extraordinary that Parliament - I say " Parliament " - did not act in this matter long ago. I do not think any reason can be advanced to excuse its inaction. There has never been any delayin granting assistance needed by industries, both primary and secondary; indeed, the Opposition has been reasonably generous in permitting Parliament, to deal with them. I hope, therefore, that the Government will keep in mind the very ready response in the way of assistance that has been provided for others when, dealing with this bill, because it is one of particular importance to.a large number of honorable members on this side of the House.

When dealing with a bill of this description the international character of the work carried out by seamen must be borne in mind. Their welfare and advancement have been the subject of long discussions at international conferences of various kinds. In many of the ports, not only in Australia, but also in other countries of the world, if not in most of them, welfare bodies have been set up to provide, entirely without governmental aid, for the entertainment and assistance of seamen whilst they are ashore. Good-intentioned people are induced to engage in this humanitarian work, because they feel that, as seamen by reason of their employment are obliged to remain away from their homes and dependants, some entertainment and attention should be provided for them to compensate in some small degree fdr the loss of their home life. For the same reasons which actuate these people I believe that seamen have a greater claim on the Government and on the community as a whole for assistance to make their lot a more happy one than have some workers ashore whose regular occupations enable them to enjoy the comforts of a home and to lead normal lives.

It is fitting in considering a bill such as that now before us, and before passing on to discuss the principles contained therein, that one should pay tribute to the value of the work of many of these voluntary seamen's welfare organizations, which, as I have said, are to be found, not only in Australia, but also in most of the ports of the world where seamen congregate. I have claimed on behalf of seamen that their work in the interests of various countries from which they come is invaluable. It cannot be really over-stated. In peace time they move from one country to another, acting as emissaries for the country which they represent in keeping open the free flow, of trade and commerce. It is most essential that a country like Australia, which depends on the export of its surplus primary products for its very existence, should have a happy and contented mercantile marine. We have to find markets in other countries for our surplus primary commodities, and to our seamen falls the task of providing their contribution towards the maintenance of the steady flow of trade and commerce upon which our prosperity depends. Therefore, I feel sure that I can appeal successfully to the representatives of the primary producers in this Parliament to have particular regard for the dangers of maritime employment and the need for bringing their compensation laws up to date. In war-time the duties of seamen are confined to maintaining, not only the even flow of trade and commerce, but also the regular transport of troops and war material. Therefore, in the interests of our safety and development we should be prepared to do everything possible to place the welfare of seamen on the best possible basis. I am sure that honorable members will agree with me that the part played by seamen is an important one. When we feel disposed to recognize that fact I think that Ave ought to approach the consideration of anything done in their interests, perhaps more generously than we might feel disposed to view the betterment of the condition of others who are more fortunately placed. I therefore appeal to honorable members to pass the bill into law in i t« present form as soon as possible.

In regard to the international character of seamen's work I feel I may make passing reference to the fact that it has been my privilege to speak for seamen at the International Labour Conference at Geneva. At these conferences special sessions are devoted,- from time to time, to deal with matters concerning the welfare of seamen, not only the question- of compensation for injuries, but also sickness, repatriation and the codification of ship's articles which they are called upon to sign. It is interesting to relate that when the International Labour Organization was first set up under the authority of the League of Nations it was intended that it should tackle the question of determining some means whereby backward countries could be forced to adopt the standards of the more forward ones. In this connexion the question of the welfare of seamen received a special place in its work. The International Labour Organization, realizing that this matter was of great importance, provided special sessions for the discussion of maritime questions alone. In the course of its inquiries questionnaires were sent out to various countries asking for their advice and comments. I recall that the first conference of the International Labour Organization, which was held at Genoa in 1919, sought to arrive at a basis whereby the conditions and welfare of seamen could be determined on a world basis. No matter how much we may feel disposed to criticize the efficacy of the League of Nations to secure the peace of the world, it cannot be denied that its attempt in regard to industrial matters, to bring backward countries up to the level of more advanced countries is of' great value. It will be agreed that where countries which have low-wage standards and, in effect, slave conditions are permitted to compete against others in which better conditions are enjoyed, conflict in regard to trade and markets must continually arise. Consequently any attempt to establish on an international basis a means whereby backward countries could be forced up to the level of mort advanced countries is much to hu applauded. It is interesting, therefore, to note that the International Labour Organization has devoted considerable time and energy to the consideration of tlie conditions under which seamen are called upon to work. In 1926 I had the honour of representing the Australian workers at the ninth session of the International Labour Organization at Geneva. The object of that conference was to codify seamen's articles and to deal with other phases of their occupation. It was a very interesting experience for me to meet representatives of seamen from all parts of the world, all imbued with the common desire for the improvement of the conditions of seamen generally, irrespective of nationality.

Mr Holloway - That was done in the common interests of all countries.

Mr BEASLEY - As my friend the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), who has also represented the workers at Geneva, has reminded me, all countries had a common interest in the endeavours of their representatives. I found it a great pleasure and vastly interesting to mix with the representatives of other countries, and I could not but appreciate their very keen desire to see that the best conditions for seamen should prevail generally throughout the world. I regret to say, however, that the greatest opposition to any betterment of seamen's conditions came from the representatives of the British ship-owners; they were hard to move and were very reluctant even to agree to the removal of many of the penalties which they are capable of imposing on seamen in the event of their not doing just all that is required of them in certain circumstances. The last conference was held in 1936, and again a special session was devoted to the question of maritime affairs, as the result of which much good was done. At that conference Australia was represented by the secretary of the Marine Transport Workers Group in Sydney, Mr. Tudehope, who has had long experience of the seafaring industry.

I conclude my general remarks by saying that seamen generally have a claim to a special place in the affairs of all countries, particularly when the International Labour Organization has devoted so much time and attention to them. I think, in speaking for them in this Parliament, I can justly ask the Parliament to bc as generous as it possibly can in regard to the laws it places on the statute-book in relation to seamen's compensation. The dangers associated with their work cannot be over-stated. Itis true that the hours of labour for seamen are specified in awards, but, after all, those hours are not adhered to in special circumstances. For instance, during adverse weather conditions the seamen are subjected to greater dangers and are called upon to carry out such work as the captain may order irrespective of any hours they may have already laboured. In fact it can be said that seamen are really at work all the time. The laws which prevail in regard to the mercantile marine lay it down that the captain is entirely in charge of the ship and may call upon his crew at any time to carry out duties considered by him to be necessary for the safety and welfare of the ship, its crew and its passengers.

Mr Holloway - The captain is really a king on board his ship.

Mr BEASLEY - That is so, and I can quite appreciate in certain circumstances the necessity for clothing him with such high authority. A ship is really a little country of its own and it is necessary that the crew and even the passengers should be subject to the direction of the captain. The risks run by seamen are many and varied; there is no need for me to elaborate them. It may be true that modern methods of transport have resulted in many improvements of the lot of seamen - they have been given better quarters and better food - but the march of time and modern methods have multiplied the dangers associated with their work. After all, every man, irrespective of what he is called upon to do, should be regarded as a human being and as such entitled to the fullest consideration and the best conditions in regard to his employment. For instance, the conversion of most modernliners to the use of oil fuel has added another risk to those already run by seamen, that of contracting dermatitis. Their added dangers in more recent years could be elaborated in many ways. In these days of speed, the shipowner's anxiety to clear the ports in order to save harbour dues and excess charges for tugs after certain hours has resulted in a considerable speeding up of the loading and unloading of vessels, which has added to the dangers of the calling. Whilst it may besaid that some of the risks incurred by seamen in the past no longer exist, others which have taken their place as the result of the introduction of modern methods call for special treatment by way of compensation. Suitable and proper compensation should be provided for sickness, injuries and disease arising out of the changed nature of the seafaring industry. The occupation of these men, which takes them away from their homes and dependants, and gives rise to constant anxiety regarding their welfare, entitles them to further sympathetic consideration.

This measure has been discussed in the Senate at considerable length and a number of amendments proposed. I ask the

Minister to accept them. I frankly state thatI do not want to lose the bill or have it delayed. The seamen's representatives, who have been considering this matter for the last two years, have asked me to express their appreciation of the way in which they have been received by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) and the former Assistant Minister (Mr. Archie' Cameron). I introduced several deputations of seamen to these Ministers, and on other occasions we submitted representations to them in writing. All of the proposals we put forward have been closely investigated by the Government, and the Assistant Minister was good enough to advise me from time to time of the developments that, were taking place, and also to seek the further advice of the maritime unions.

In dealing with this bill, I wish to state that the proposed new section 5 a fixes the amount which shall be paid in regard to medical, surgical and hospital treatment at £25. I ask the Government to raise that amount to £100, and I base my request on the fact that section 11 of the Commonwealth Employees Act 1931 fixes the maximum amount in similar circumstances at £100.

Mr Blackburn - Why fix any limit?

Mr BEASLEY - It would be far better if no limit were fixed, I admit. In any case, even if the limit were fixed at £100, it would not necessarily mean that the full amount would be paid in all cases. It is provided that the matter shall be subject to the direction of the Minister. Section 5 of the New South Wales Workers Compensation Act provides for ambulance, medical,surgical and hospital treatment. It fixes the amount for ambulance services at £2 2s., and the amount for hospital treatment at £25. In most of the other States, 1 understand, a maximum amount payable is also fixed. In Queensland and Victoria, the Workers Compensation Acts provide for better allowances than those in the New South Wales act. Those acts should be considered when we are fixing the amount under this legislation.

Proposed new section 5b relates to compensation for injury or partial incapacity, and the seamen suggest that in the second column of the schedule, after the word "incapacity" first occurring, the words " if a seaman so elects " should be inserted. The proposed new paragraph corresponds with section 12 of the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act 1930, but the corresponding section in the New South Wales act is section 16, and it permits a worker to elect whether he shall take the lump sum provided in the relevant schedule, or weekly payments. The paragraph, as it now reads,limits a seaman's right to compensation to the amount specified in the second column of the third schedule opposite the specification of the injury, less any amount received by the seaman under the first schedule. No case is known which involved the consideration of the question whether a worker covered by section 12 of the Commonwealth A.ct was limited to the amount so specified, even in a case where the weekly payments might, or would have, exceeded the amount so specified. The section is however, open to that construction, and for that reason, and for the purpose of definitely conferring a right of election on a seaman, it is suggested thatthe words mentioned should be added. An anomaly might arise if the section means what it is suggested it does mean in its present form, inasmuch as the seaman might be permanently and totally incapacitated when suffering none of the injuries specified in the first column of the schedule, in which case his right to receive weekly payments would not be exhausted when he received payments aggregating £750. The seaman who was permanently and totally incapacitated by reason of his having sustained one or more of the injuries specified in the first column of the third schedule would be limited to £750.

Clause 8 reads -

The first schedule to the principal act is amended -

(a)   by omitting clause (1.) and inserting in its stead the following clause:- " (1.) The amount of compensation under this act shall be -

(a)   where death results from the in jury -

(i)   if the seaman leaves any dependants wholly dependent upon his earnings, a sum equal to his earnings in the employment of the same employer during the four years next preceding the injury, or the sum of four hundred pounds, whichever of those sums is the larger, but not exceeding in any case seven hundred and fifty pounds:

The amount of £7 50 mentioned in clause 1 of the first schedule is a decided improvement on the amount at present payable where death results from injuries, but more beneficial provisions are to be found in the State acts. The New South Wales act provides for a lump sum of £800, and £25 in respect of each dependent child under sixteen years of age. We suggest that at least £25 should be added to the lump sum in respect of each dependent child under sixteen years of age, even if the lump sum is not increased to £800.

The bill states that an amount of £25 shall be provided for funeral expenses. Originally, the Government had intended to pay £30, but this was reduced to £25. This point, I know, involves consideration of the question of what is a reasonable amount, but the seamen feel that at least £30 should be allowed.

Clause 9 includes a schedule describing various diseases for which compensation is payable, and I direct the attention of the Minister to " dermatitis, produced by oil or grease, or dust or caustic or corrosive liquids ". We want the Government to eliminate those qualifications. I have looked up the disease in the Encyclopaedia Medica, and, while I hesitate to put forward my views on such matters in the presence of the Minister for Commerce, who belongs to the medical profession. I point out that, according to the encyclopaedia, while dermatitis does arise largely from the causes mentioned in the bill, it is not confined to those causes. If the clause is allowed to stand in its present form the argument may arise as to whether a seaman suffering from dermatitis contracted the disease from any of the causes specified. Some seamen, it is true, may be engaged in handling the liquids mentioned, but others, who do not come directly in contact with them, may also contract the disease. The seamen have interviewed Dr. Charles Badham, of the Board of Health, in regard to the incidence of crude oil to dermatitis among seamen engaged among oil burners, and they were furnished with references to certain medical treatises brought under the notice of Chief Judge Dethridge, who was considering whether a provision should be included in a new award dealing with dermatitis. In Hover and Hayhurst, on Industrial Health, the following appears: -

The utmost care should be taken to secure efficient removal of concentrated petroleum vapors from tanks and stills by means of compressed air, steam or oxygen. Careful supervision of the work, impermeable gloves, personal cleanliness by means of frequent ablutions of the hands, shower baths and change of clothing upon cessation of work are indicated. Suspension of toxic symptoms should be insisted upon.

It goes on to say -

Petroleum as a fluid has a direct action on the skin, and persons engaged in filling barrels, emptying retorts and handling of paraffins and other residues, are liable to develop obstinate inflammatory conditions of the skin, petroleum and paraffin itch, also pimples, pastilles, 'boils, and warty growths.

This matter has been discussed at great length before the courts, and it appears to me that a good deal of attention has been paid to it in the arguments advanced by the legal advisers of the seamen. I am afraid that if the limitation in regard to dermatitis proposed by the bill is adopted a number of men who may become affected will be denied the benefits of compensation. In the Senate, the party of which I am a member was anxious to have included in the measure as compensatable all diseases' arising from the occupations followed, but that chamber resolved that the only two diseases which could be accepted were pneumonia and pleurisy. Apparently, honorable senators were prepared to accept the principle that seamen because of the nature of their employment, become victims of those diseases to a greater degree than do men who are employed ashore. It will be admitted that if men can obtain medical attention immediately they become victims of influenza, or contract a bad cold, the likelihood of pneumonia or pleurisy developing can be minimized, if not absolutely avoided, whereas the conditions under which the men employed on sea-going vessels work preclude them from the opportunity to procure that early attention which is necessary, and are thus more susceptible to the danger of contracting pneumonia or pleurisy than are men who are employed ashore. It may be argued, from the Government side of the House, that this is a departure in connexion with workmen's compensation legislation. Even though I have to admit that it is, I feel that there are special circumstances which justify it.

Mr Holloway - Hear, hear!

Mr BEASLEY - I believe the honorable member will agree that men who sail the seven seas are subject to all sorts of sudden climatic changes and other conditions which call for special treatment.

In this connexion, I cite a case which came before the courts for the purpose of establishing whether or not pneumonia could be regarded as an injury " by accident ". In a communication that I have "received, an interesting passage reads as follows : -

Pneumonia lias already been held by the High Court of Australia to be an injury by accident within the meaning of that well known expression to be found in 'all Compensation acts in existence. The case in which it was so held was in the case of McGuire v. The Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, reported in 27 C.L.R. 570. This case was one in which the worker, who was in his usual good health when he commenced work at 8 o'clock on a winter's morning, after working throughout the day and the ensuing night, developed cold shivers at C.30 a.m. the following morning and went home and to bed; the following day he developed pneumonia and was laid up for some time. The case first caine before the District Court in Sydney and then proceeded on appeal to the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the High Court of Australia.

Prom the judgment of Knox, C.J., the facts above-mentioned are quoted, and it is also stated that, " the workman had some eighteen months' previously suffered an injury to his elbow; pneumonic organism attacked the injured spot, an operation on the elbow was performed, and his arm is now so useless as to render the workman, for the present, totally incapacitated from work." The question .was. whether or not, on the facts stated, personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment was caused to the workman.

It was stated that the workman suffered injury in the course of his employment, but the question for consideration by the courts was whether he had suffered injury by accident in the course o"f his employment. The High Court reviewed many cases and finally decided that, in the particular circumstances of the case, injury by accident had been sustained. Isaacs and Rich J. J., at page 590, said this: " The long hours of work had apparently so reduced the man's powers of resistance that lie wds unable to withstand the effects of the cold air. Of the suddenness and unexpectedness of the attack, there can he no question. Ko finding to the contrary could stand. There was no gradual development of injury as would take place, for instance, in lead poisoning in some trades, and which precluded compliance with section 0 (2). No one could contend that the result that occurred is the inevitable, or is even to be expected as a usual, occurrence. In our view, on the facts as found by the learned District Court Judge, there was necessarily, on a proper construction of the act, ' injury by accident ' ".

Gavan Duffy and Starke JJ., said, " In this case we find that the facts found by the Arbitrator do in point of law constitute an injury by accident within the meaning of the statute. The combination of circumstances and the results arc so unexpected and unlooked for from the workman's point of view that they may properly be described .as accidental. The learned Arbitrator was of opinion that he was precluded in point of law by certain cases, from holding that the occurrence was accidental, and in this we think he was in error. This court should, therefore, declare that tlie appellant is entitled to compensation in accordance with the earnings of the workman agreed upon by the parties."

The position is, therefore, that the High Court has determined that where the nature of the workman's employment contributes to pneumonia, he is entitled to compensation in accordance with the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Statutes. There should be no doubt, we think, that the nature of a seaman's employment renders him liable to develop pneumonia, or pleurisy. Exposure to clements, emerging from hot stoke-holds into a cold atmosphere, and such like, place him in a position frequently in which he is likely to develop either of these two diseases.

The inclusion of pneumonia and pleurisy in the schedule of occupational diseases in respect of which compensation is to bo provided for docs not, we suggest, impose any additional liability on employers so long as it is clear that the illness was contracted in the service of the ship.

That concludes my summary of the position. Although in another place we failed to secure the inclusion of all diseases arising from a man's occupation, we are particularly anxious that pneumonia and pleurisy should he retained. I hope that the Minister will not, feel that they should not he included because to include them would be a departure in comparison with other compensation acts. The decision of the High Court is evidence of the feeling of the courts in regard to this matter. I put it that the circumstances governing the employment _ of seamen are not to be considered as parallel with the conditions that prevail generally in respect of men who work in other industries. I trust that, perhaps next year, the Government will give those of us who are deeply interested in the matter an opportunity further toreview the act. I repeat that 27 years have elapsed since it was last dealt with. Even though the Government be unwilling to accept at the moment the amendments I have forecast, I hope that my suggestions will receive consideration in the not very distant future. I echo the wish expressed by the Minister in his concluding remarks for the speedy passage of the measure so that seamen may be given something for which they have been waiting for many long years.

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