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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- This bill also relates to the Commonwealth's powers in respect of interstate and overseas shipping. Under the Seamen's Compensation Act the Commonwealth provides a scheme of workers' compensation to cover seamen who are engaged on interstate voyages. The bill extends the provisions of the act to cover seamen who are engaged on delivery voyages to or from Australian ports. These voyages are becoming increasingly frequent. I regret that with the approval of the Australian Government a number of ships are still being imported by Australian companies. There is no excuse for that because Australian shipyards can build every kind of ship that is used in our overseas, interstate or intra-state trade.

Mr Bury - At a price.

Mr WHITLAM - At no greater price to the companies, and more promptly than they can secure ships anywhere else. The honorable member for Wentworth should know that the only reason why Australian companies order ships overseas is so that executives of those companies can have an overseas trip. I repeat that Australian shipyards can build any ship that is required in our overseas, interstate or intra-state trade. Furthermore, Australian shipyards could build ships for other countries like New Zealand which economically are closely tied to us or for the migrant traffic. They could build ships also for our use in the Antarctic. At present we are under a large but unrevealed expense each year for the hiring of Danish ships for the Antarctic. Australia is one of the largest trading countries in the world. We build thoroughly satisfactory ships, yet we still import a very great number of ships.

The immediate incident which gave rise to this legislation was the loss of the "Ian Crouch ". This vessel was intended to be one of a fleet of ships operating between South Australian ports and South Australian and Tasmanian ports. The ships which the firm operates could all have been built in Australia, but the " Ian Crouch " was built in Hong Kong and was lost on its delivery voyage. Tt was not a second-hand ship; it was a new ship. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that it is largely due to your own unremitting efforts that this legislation has been introduced. It provides that should an unhappy event such as the loss of the " Ian Crouch " again occur, the bereaved or injured parties will have the same compensation cover as now applies under the act to persons employed on interstate voyages.

While we may expect some diminution of delivery voyages to Australia, for a time there will be quite a number of delivery voyages from Australia. A very large number of Australian coastal ships which become over-age - one-half of Australian shippins is over-age and uneconomic - are sold overseas. In many cases, though not always, they are manned by Australian crews on their delivery voyages. This act will extend the particular form of workers compensation to those crews similarly.

If honorable gentlemen seek to challenge anything I have said hitherto about the age of the Australian coastal shipping fleet, which is gradually being disposed of overseas, or about the capacity of Australian shipyards to build all the ships which are required by Australia in overseas, interstate or intra-state trade, or in Antarctic exploration and the delivery of supplies to Australian teams in the Antarctic, or about our capacity to repair New Zealand ships and to supply the New Zealand shipping market, I invite them to read two reports which have been presented by the Tariff Board in the last four years, and which have been largely ignored by this Government.

The Opposition supports this legislation. We also believe that the Government did the right thing in voluntarily applying the provisions of the Seamen's Compensation Act to the relatives of those who lost thenlives in the " Ian Crouch ". I understand that that is what the Minister said, and that the relatives did, in fact, receive compensation. If I may say so, that was a laudable decision.

Mr Opperman - That was paid by the company, not by the Government.

Mr WHITLAM - The owners themselves did it?

Mr Opperman - Yes.

Mr WHITLAM - Then they did right, and we acknowledge it.

I want to make a few remarks about the general position of workers compensation in Australia. Until the Commonwealth has the powers over industrial matters which, at the 1946 referendum, a majority of the Australian people - but not a majority of the people in a majority of the States - showed that they thought it should have, and which uV all-party committee of this Parliament recommended two years ago that it should have, it is impossible for this Parliament itself to enact a unified workers compensation code for Australia. It would be possible to have such a code, T suppose, if unions were to make a united application to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the making of awards which would cover most forms of workers compensation in Australia.

Workers compensation in Australia is an extraordinarily involved, expensive and inadequate procedure, and the Commonwealth should take some part in modernizing and co-ordinating that procedure. Consider the position in regard to seamen, for instance. Seamen engaged on a voyage between two ports in the same State are covered by the provisions of the workers' compensation legislation of that State. Seamen engaged on a voyage between a port in one State and a port in another State are covered by the provisions of a Commonwealth act - the Seamen's Compensation Act. Seamen employed on any of the ships of the Australian National Line, owned by the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, are covered by another Commonwealth act - the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. We already have two acts dealing with the matter, passed by this Parliament.

There are other compensation acts which this Parliament could pass. We provide different codes in each of the Territories. The Australian Capital Territory has one and the Northern Territory has another. Papua and New Guinea has yet another, with variations for the natives and for the immigrants. We can, and we should, provide a code of workers compensation for employees in interstate air and road transport. I suggested before the last Premiers' Conference that this matter of co-ordinating Australian workers compensation codes should be raised at the conference. A month ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) gave me an answer to a question that I had put on notice asking him whether he had adopted my suggestion. The answer was in the following terms: -

The co-ordination of workers' compensation acts was not discussed by the Premiers' Conference in June, 1960. Provision of compensation for the large majority of employees in Australia is governed by State legislation, and the question of co-ordination is primarily a matter for the States.

It is true that the large majority of the employees in Australia are covered, as to workers compensation, by State acts; but surely it is begging the question to say that co-ordination in this respect is primarily a matter for the States. Wherever there has been co-ordination of legislation in Australia it has been at the instance of the Commonwealth. I cannot recollect any legislation which the States have coordinated by their own efforts. The States in Australia have egregiously failed to follow the lead given by the American States for many years. Whether it is in the field of industrial legislation, health legislation, traffic legislation or company legislation - to take instances in recent years - in every case co-ordination has been at the instance of the Commonwealth.

It is unsatisfactory that there should he more than a score of workers compensation codes in Australia. The liabilities of employers as well as the rights of employees and their relatives vary according to the side of a State border or a Territory border on which one is injured or bereaved. This position constantly occurs along the border between New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. There are a great number of people who work in Canberra and live in Queanbeyan. If such people are killed on the way to or from work the rights of their relatives depend on the side of the border on which the fatality occurred. The same thing arises in regard to people who live in Wodonga and work in Albury, and in regard to people who live in Tweed Heads and work on the Gold Coast. The amount of compensation and the right to compensation, the method of proving a case to the tribunals before which the applicant appears, vary between State and State, between State and Territory, and between Territory and Territory.

Furthermore, there is no way of coordinating the law in these matters. A year ago the Opposition instigated a great number of amendments - with very little fruit, I confess - to the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act and the Seamen's Compensation Act when they were before this House. Those amendments were prompted by the four or so decisions in this field given by the High Court over a period of twelve months before that. But we now find that the eligibility of employees and their relatives for compensation varies more to-day than for some years past. Legislation in the States concerning heart cases, as they are generally referred to, differs greatly between one State and another.

There is also one other matter that we should d'o something about - the coordination of our procedures. If one is dissatisfied with the initial determination under the Seamen's Compensation Act or under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, one appeals to a State court of district or local court status. The position arises, therefore, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, that appeals on workers compensation go to tribunals which do not otherwise ever determine matters of workers compensation. In New South Wales and Victoria at least, and maybe in the other

States - I do not know - there are tribunals which specialize in the determination of workers compensation matters under the State acts. It would be appropriate to provide in the Commonwealth acts that where there is dissatisfaction with a determination under the two Commonwealth acts the appeal should be made, not to a court which no longer hears such matters, but to a court which specializes in them. I think one could say, with respect, that the Workers Compensation Commission in New South Wales and the corresponding tribunal in Victoria comprise judges who are more expert in medical matters and the other matters which arise under workers compensation laws than are any other judges in the Commonwealth. Yet they cannot hear these matters which arise under the Commonwealth compensation acts. The position of appeals under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act is thoroughly unsatisfactory. Opposition members have frequently asked questions on this subject and so also have Government supporters. It is impossible to defeat the delays in the Treasury. There may be many bureaucratic delays in the Commonwealth Public Service about which we d'o not know, but there are a great many of our fellow citizens who are constantly reminded of, and suffer from, delays in the Commonwealth Treasury because of these procedures in the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. I have known many cases where delays in making a decision have extended up to twelve months or more.

Mr Howson - Or longer than that.

Mr WHITLAM - I know of many cases that have tak.-.n twelve months, and 1 know some that have taken twice as long. The difficulty in this procedure is that delegates of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation - and I think, speaking from memory, there are about 200 - can ask for one lot of information after another. There is no time limit with which they have to comply. They do not have to give reasons and there is no procedure by which an applicant can be heard by them. These faceless tribunals can take their time about making decisions and there is no way of speeding them up except by approaching a member of Parliament.

I hope that the Minister who is new to his portfolio and is taking a great interest in the various matters that come into his portfolio - and I should like to encourage him to bring more and more matters into it - will do something when the act is next amended in a greater number of ways to see that the determination of matters under this act is brought either to a State court which specializes in these matters or to the Commonwealth Industrial Court. The latter would be an appropriate solution.

The Commonwealth Industrial Court now comprises - and I make no secret of my view on this matter - gentlemen who have had a very considerable experience in industrial matters I believe the present members of the Commonwealth Industrial Court would spend their time more fruitfully and more happily in determining matters of real industrial significance, such as workers' compensation appeals, than some of the matters we have given to them. It is frequently said about this court that it is a court cf pains and penalties. That is not the court's fault; it is this Parliament's fault because we have given the court that job to perform. But we should .give the judges some other work for which their talents admirably equip .them, .and from which a great many people .engaged in interstate trade or Commonwealth employment would get more satisfaction and more speedy justice and be more satisfied they were receiving justice than is possible under the present procedures.

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