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Tuesday, 24 November 1959

Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -

That leave be given to bring in a. bill for an act to amend the Seamen's Compensation Act 1911-1954.

Bill' presented, and read a first time.

Second Reading. Mr. HAROLD HOLT (Higgins- Trea surer) [8.6]. - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Since the Seamen's Compensation Act 1911 came into operation the act has been amended five times, thelast occasion being in 1954. This bill is for the purpose of raising the monetary benefits under that act in. parallel with the increases proposed under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Bill which has just been before this House, it being the practice to maintain the benefits under the two acts at a similar level.

In the matter of compensation, the Commonwealth Government legislates for two sections of; employees, namely, Commonwealth employees, to whom, the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation. Act applies, and seamen engaged in interstate trade who are covered by the Seamen's Compensation Act. Masters, mates, engineers and radio officers, however, are eligible for compensation benefits under their own awards: State Workmen's Compensation Acts cover seamen engaged in intranstate trade.

The weekly and lump sum payments, &c., prescribed by the Seamen's Compensation Act might be grouped into three categories, namely, incapacity payments, death payments and medical expenses, with which I shall- deal in that order. As to incapacity payments, it is proposed that the existing weekly compensation payment of £8 15s. be increased to £10. The additional weekly payment of £2 5s. in respect of a wife will be increased to £2 10s. and the weekly payments in respect of a child from £1 to £1 2s. 6d.

Lump sum payments are prescribed for certain specified injuries, the maximum at present being £2,350. This maximum, which is payable in respect of such cases as loss of sight or of both hands or both feet, will be increased to £3,000, with proportionate increases in the amounts of lump sum payments for other injuries specified in the third schedule to the act.

The maximum amount payable in respect of any one accident is to be raised from £2,350 to £3,000. In cases of total and permanent incapacity, however, this sum will not be the maximum, as in such cases the amount payable is not so limited. Also, in the case of an injury that results in death or in one of the major specified injuries, any weekly payments made are disregarded in determining the amount of the lump sum payments to be made.

The amount of compensation at present payable in death cases is £2,350 if the seaman leaves dependants. This amount is being increased to £3,000. The amount that may be paid in respect of medical expenses is to be raised from £200 to £350. Such payments are additional to compensation and in exceptional cases the Minister may approve payment of a higher amount.

Certain administrative amendments to the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act are also to be made and it is proposed to effect certain corresponding amendments to the Seamen's Compensation Act, together with certain administrative amendments desirable in respect of that act alone. There has always been some doubt regarding the application of the provisions of the act providing for notice of accident and time within which a claim may be made in the case of a claim where the seaman has contracted a disease. An amendment is included in the bill setting out more clearly the requirements which relate to notification and claims in such casse

Another amendment makes provision for the taking of depositions in respect of in- jured seamen at an overseas port in a foreign country before a diplomatic or consular representative of Australia or of the United Kingdom instead of before a British representative as hitherto. Because of the growing complexity of modern medical treatment an amendment is to be made allowing fees payable to medical referees to be determined according to the circumstances with the advice of medical authorities, instead of being prescribed. Also, an amendment is being made to enable a seaman who had lodged a claim for compensation to be required to undergo medical examination as well as a seaman who had given notice of accident or who was in receipt of compensation payments.

The bill includes the usual provisions, as in the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Bill, regarding the application of the higher benefits to cases where the injury, accident or disease occurred or was contracted prior to the date of effect of the new legislation. The bill is recommended for the favorable consideration of all honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Allan Fraser) adjourned.

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