Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 25 November 1959

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Labour and National Service) (12:53 PM) . It should be said at the beginning that the Commonwealth Government, when dealing with legislation of this kind, acts in the most generous way that it can, taking into consideration all of the circumstances associated with the legislation; in other words, it considers how much benefit it can pay to the employee and what burden will be imposed on the Australian taxpayer. I have said that we deal with the question in the most sensitive way, and I am certain that we deal with it also in a most comprehensive way. There is a special Cabinet committee, of which I happen to be a member, and which is presided over by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House that the most loving care was given not only to this act but also to the associated acts, the Superannuation Act and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act.

Mr Ward - How can you give loving care to an act?

Mr McMAHON - The other acts associated with the one now under consideration were carefully looked at in order to ensure, as far as practicable, that anomalies were eliminated and justice, done to the employee. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) need not giggle his head off and make a silly ass of himself. This matter is quite serious.

Secondly, I would like to meet the criticisms that have been voiced to the effect that these bills have been introduced in the dying hours of the session. I think it is fair to say that if it had been practicable to introduce these measures earlier that would have been done. But the Government, the Crown Law officers, and the Treasury officials have worked on these bills diligently for at least the last four months. They have been supported, to the best of their abilities, by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and members of the Cabinet committee. The real truth of the matter is that these measures have been introduced because their purpose is to give increased benefits to Crown employees, whether they are defence personnel or whether they are covered by the Superannuation Act or the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, and we wanted to permit the granting of the benefits as soon as possible. The criticism that the bills have been introduced in the dying hours of the session is therefore, I think, a little absurd.

My friend, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), criticized the principles of this measure on two grounds. He claimed that one of the reasons why the employee did not get the equivalent of his remuneration prior to his illness or injury was that in the Government's view if this were given it might be an inducement to the employee to malinger. The honorable member made a second statement to the effect that perhaps the medical profession was not trusted. Both of these statements are incorrect. In other words, neither of the statements, in terms of principle, is true. The real question that the Commonwealth asks when it is deciding on increased benefits is: What is fair to the employee himself? That is the guiding principle. We do not think of any precise mathematical formula. We do not think in terms of a fixed and rigid relationship to the man's salary. We look at all the benefits of the act as they affect a particular employee and ensure, as far as we can, as a Government, that justice is done to the employee and that he is treated fairly. I think this answers the objections, from the point of view of principle, that were raised by the honorable member for Hindmarsh.

The honorable member also asked whether special compensation could be given, not so much because an injured person might lose his salary or wages, but because of the kind of injury that he suffered. A particular kind of injury to a person's face might lead to disfigurement, or damage to the vocal cords, or some other particular disablement. It would not mean normally that the person affected would lose the capacity to earn money in the future, or would lose the capacity to progress in whatever employment he might have undertaken. To that suggestion I say again that while we give these matters the closest and most careful consideration, and while we deal with them always on a sympathetic basis, this proposition would mean introducing a new principle, and at the present time it is not thought appropriate to introduce a new principle. The real principle - and I regard it as a fair one - is that justice to the employee must be done. That is the criterion that has been adopted in this case.

Let me comment on some of the main arguments. First, the honorable member for Hindmarsh dealt with Bulgaria. Let me point out that it is quite clearly no use extracting one particular item from the whole of the law of Bulgaria and suggesting that it should apply to Australia, without considering comparisons of wage rates and all the laws relating to compensation and superannuation of employees. In other words, if you are to have a comparison, it must be on a fairly wide and general scale and cannot be limited to one particular feature of the law of another country.

The honorable member's suggestion about research and safety is one that the Department of Labour and National Service is constantly considering, and I hope to be able to announce quite soon that a research scholarship will be established to discover further facts on which we can act in the future. That is a worthwhile suggestion, and I thank the honorable gentleman for it.

My friend from Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) claimed that, in respect of superannuation and compensation, the Commonwealth was falling behind the States not only in the model of the legislation, but also in the payments that were made. That error, I am glad, to say, was corrected by the honorable member's colleague and friend, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr.

Whitlam), who gave the comparisons between the Commonwealth and the States. The comparisons made by the honorable member for Werriwa are correct and, consequently, the criticism of the honorable member for Bendigo is incorrect. If we look at it broadly, the true picture that emerges is this: From a comparison of the various figures relating to the Commonwealth and the States, the figures for the Commonwealth are better than those for all the States except New South Wales. If an analysis is made, this will be seen to be so. I do not want to go over all the figures. They have been presented by the honorable gentleman from Werriwa and they are accurate. Those who heard them will come to the conclusion that not only is the bill now before the House an improvement on existing legislation, but it keeps the Commonwealth to the front in terms of model legislation and the amount of compensation that is paid. I think, Sir, that that is enough to reject the arguments put by the honorable gentleman from Bendigo.

The next matter with which I would deal concerns delays. The Treasury officials deal with this matter administratively well and efficiently. They would be the first to admit that it is not always practicable to have perfection and that delays in such matters as this are sometimes inevitable. But they are constantly attempting to improve the procedures and the administration. An examination to-day would show that they are up to date and that many improvements have been made in the course of recent months. If the honorable gentleman from Werriwa were to inquire from the Treasury officials, he would be pleasantly - I nearly used the word " surprised " but it would be incorrect to use that word, even at this hour - he would be happy to find that they have been making conscientious efforts to reduce delay, and that they have been successful.

Lastly, I shall deal with the question of rejections. This has been fairly effectively dealt with at page 2886 of " Hansard " of 18th November, 1959, in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Werriwa. If the number of rejections and the number of appeals are examined, the conclusion is reached that the department is acting reasonably and fairly. The number of rejections in relation to the number of applications is comparatively small, and the number that are successful on appeal would certainly be less than SO per cent, of the number of appeals that are lodged.

For those reasons, I support my colleague, the Treasurer, who has asked me to handle this bill for him. This subject is dealt with on the basis that it applies to human beings and that we must be sensitive in this sense: We must be prepared to give the persons concerned the fairest deal that is practicable. We believe that this is done. As one who has been pretty closely associated with the Treasury in the preparation of this legislation and in trying to find out the facts that lie behind it, I am prepared to pay my compliments to the Treasury officials not only for the detailed way that they have explained the bill to us but also for the genuine spirit they have in trying to see that the legislation is administered with sympathy and to the benefit of Commonwealth employees.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to

Clause 3 (Medical Benefits).

Suggest corrections