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Wednesday, 25 November 1959


Omit the clause, insert the following clause: - " 4. Section thirteen of the Principal Act is amended -

(a)   by omitting sub-section (1.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: - (1.) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the amount of compensation payable in respect of an injury or injuries caused by any one injury shall not, except as provided by this Section, exceed an amount calculated by multiplying the worker's award rate by two hundred and sixty, but in so calculating that amount any amount by which the worker's award rate exceeds £25 per week shall be disregarded. If no Award rate is applicable, the amount shall be calculated by multiplying the worker's weekly wage at the date of his injury (but disregarding any amount in excess of £25 per week) by two hundred and sixty.' ; and

(b)   by inserting in sub-section (2.) after the words ' results in ' the words ' or materially contributes to.'.".

The clause in the bill provides that the amount of compensation that shall be paid in the cases that we are dealing with shall be increased from £2,350 to £3,000. The proposal that I have submitted on behalf of the Opposition deals with the maximum amount of compensation that should be paid in the case of injuries.

Mr McMahon - This applies only to those who are not permanently and totally incapacitated?

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is so. We are dealing now with the maximum amount that shall be paid to the other types of people. The amendment provides that instead of specifying a flat figure of £3,000, the maximum amount should be expressed in the terms of my amendment. The effect of the second part of the amendment is to provide that where an injury results in, or materially contributes to the death, or the total or permanent incapacity of the employee for work, sub-section (1.) of this section shall not apply to limit the total amount of compensation payable under this act.

Dealing with the first point, I wish to explain, as I indicated at the second-reading stage, that the Opposition believes that it is quite wrong and unjust to fix a flat rate of compensation for a worker irrespective of what his earning capacity was at the time of his injury. We recognize, on the other hand, that there has to be some limit and we have decided upon the limit of £25 as being the figure beyond which the multiplication shall not operate.

Mr Ward - If inflation continues you may have to increase that amount.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is a very serious thought and something that might very well have to be done. There are employees in the Commonwealth Public Service whose salaries amount to perhaps, £60, £70 or £80 a week, and some limit would have to be fixed in their case. We have fixed the limit of £25. If a worker is capable of earning £20 a week and is suddenly incapacitated as the result of an injury at work, surely the maximum amount he is entitled to claim ought to be more than the maximum amount which the worker would be entitled to claim who is earning only £16 a week? By the use of this formula it would never be necessary again to amend the act unless it was desired to alter the formula itself in order to meet increasing costs of living, or inflationary trends, as the honorable member for East

Sydney (Mr. Ward) suggested. It would then be necessary for us to have a look at the maximum of £25 that it is suggested should be fixed.

It will be noticed that the word "accident" has been omitted. Careful attention has been given to this section and it is suggested that " injury " be used instead of the word " accident ". I explained earlier that a person can suffer a serious injury or disability without such injury having been caused by an accident. Similarly, in the second part of the amendment where I seek to alter sub-section (2.) of section 13 in the manner indicated, it is quite possible also that an injury may not result in the death of a person, but may materially contribute to his death. In such cases where it could be proved that although the injury did not cause the death, but materially contributed to it, we believe that ought to establish a ground for a claim for compensation.

Mr. WARD(East Sydney) fi. 40 a.m.].Surely the Government is not so anxious to rush through this important legislation that we are to receive no reply from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) who is at the table. Are we to assume that the Minister does not understand either the bill or the amendment, and is incapable of giving any effective reply to the arguments that have been raised by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron)?

Mr Harold Holt - You are trying to rewrite the act.

Mr WARD - The honorable member for Hindmarsh has submitted a very convincing argument as to why the amendment should be accepted. With him, I believe that the present provisions of the bill cannot be regarded as satisfactory. If the Government has some reason for not accepting the amendment, I think that we are entitled to hear it.

Mr. McMAHON(Lowe - Minister for Labour and National Service) 11.41 a.m.]. - I shall state fairly, clearly, and succinctly the reasons why the Government rejects the proposed amendment. The suggestion that has been advanced by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Cameron) is sheer fantasy. What is the logic behind it?

I have been trying to work out on a piece of paper just what the suggestion means, and I have come to the conclusion that the honorable member has said, in effect, ' Let us give the injured worker five years' wages at £25 a week, which will come to something like £6,500 ". That is the only piece of logic that I can find in the suggestion. The honorable member has given no reason in logic or commonsense as to why his amendment should be accepted. What I have said is a complete answer to the suggestion which should be obvious to the committee without the necessity for the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) to intervene. I do not regard it as one of my functions to attempt to point out to the honorable member that the argument that has been advanced by one of his colleagues has no basis in logic.

Having said that, I think it wise again to point out to the committee that the purpose of this change is to improve the position of the person who will receive a benefit under the amended act. It means that the limit of the total weekly payments to those who are not totally and permanently incapacitated will be raised to £3,000. Other lump sum benefits for specified injuries will be increased proportionately. I would mention also that there is no limit on the amount that may be received by those who are totally and permanently incapacitated. If one listened to the remarks of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), one would be driven to the conclusion that in the overall position, and with the exception of New South Wales, the Commonwealth benefits are more favorable than those received by workers in any State.

We reject the amendment because we believe that the present proposals are fair and just to the person who will receive the benefit. We can see no logical reason for the acceptance of the proposal that has been advanced by the Opposition.

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