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Thursday, 7 May 1970

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I wish to raise 2 matters, both of which are of concern and both of which directly affect Commonwealth employees. The first is related to the payment of invalid pensions and the conditions under which invalid pensions are paid to persons who are awaiting settlement by the Commonwealth of claims for workers' compensation. It has been brought to my notice by a specific case that where an invalid pension is paid to a person who has a workers' compensation claim pending, it is not normal for the Commonwealth to seek to recover the moneys paid in the form of an invalid pension, lt is normal for the Commonwealth to seek to recover moneys paid in the form of sickness benefits. In the case drawn to my attention, which involves workers compensation paid to an employee of the Department of the Army, the person concerned sought advice as to whether it would be necessary to repay amounts received by way of invalid pension. He was informed that it was not normal for the Department of Social Services to seek repayment of these amounts. I would imagine that the amounts involved in payment of invalid pension which were not considered recoverable would have been taken into consideration in the final settlement.

Following settlement of the claim by the Commonwealth the Department of Social Services notified the person concerned that he had been illegally paid more than $900 in invalid pension and that this amount was recoverable and would be recovered by reductions in the levels of continuing pension to be paid to him. In other words the payment of $11 a week which that person was entitled to after settlement of the workers compensation claim was to be cancelled until a repayment of $900 had been made to the Department of Social Services. It is my considered opinion that when the Commonwealth settled this claim without pre viously advising the person concerned or his legal advisers that it would seek to recoup the amounts paid in invalid pension, which is not the normal practice in the case of persons in private employment, the Commonwealth acted improperly. I do not argue whether these amounts should or should not be recoverable but 1 contend - I think the House will agree with me - that if a person seeking compensation from a private employer does not have to refund amounts paid in invalid pension it is improper for the Commonwealth to seek repayment in the case of persons seeking workers compensation from it. The situation is that Commonwealth employees are placed at a very serious disadvantage visavis private employees and are in fact discriminated against. T do riot intend to pursue this mat er further at this stage. I hope that the relevant Ministers will examine it to make sure that Commonwealth employees enjoy the same rights in this area as other members of the community.

The other matter I wish to raise is of considerable concern to employees of the Government Aircraft Factories in my electorate. The Minster for Supply (Senator Anderson) has indicated vaguely that proposals exist for rationalisation of the industry. What a beautiful word: It means nothing. But the whispers and rumours going through the industry - they have been going through it for some time - are that the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Government Aircraft Factories will be merged in some way. Employees in the industry, aware of the Government's reputation in matters of this nature, are extremely concerned that any merger will mean that the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation will take over the Government's interest in the Government Aircraft Factories. If this happened there would be a grave risk that employees in the Government Aircraft Factories would find themselves out of jobs, out of the industry and lost to the industry forever. I hope that the Government will give an assurance that if a merger takes place in this industry in the name of rationalisation the Government Aircraft Factories will retain a controlling interest in any merged industry, because it is an industry which at this stage is engaged solely in operations of a defence nature, lt is an industry which can justify its existence only by defence needs. If the Government intends to merge these organisations in any way I ask the Minister to give an absolute assurance to the people engaged in the Government Aircraft Factories that their jobs will be protected. I believe that those jobs can be protected only by the Government's retaining control of the industry.

Over a long period a lot has been said by various Ministers about seeking to maintain this industry but on many occasions opportunities to produce or assemble military or civil aircraft in Australia have been passed up. It is my understanding that when the Friendships were being purchased by Australia the Department of Civil Aviation suggested that it would be economically feasible for the Australian aircraft industry to assemble them, but the Government would not back such a proposal. If I am correct this was a short-sighted policy which has lost to an important industry numerous skilled operatives who cannot be replaced without extensive and long term training programmes.

We do not appear to recognise the need to build up skills over several generations in an industry like the aircraft industry. If periodically those people who have developed skills in the industry are to be wiped out by retrenchment or the up and down nature of employment in the industry over recent years we will not have an industry if and when we require it - heaven forbid that we do - for national defence purposes.

During the last war the Government Aircraft Factories did a magnificent job providing Australia with much needed aircraft. If we were placed in a similar situation again it is the Australian industry which would have to provide the basic maintenance and production facilities necessary to maintain Australia's aircraft needs. The outlook for the future is gloomy if we are continually to white ant the people who have built up skills in the industry over a number of years. It is ridiculous for the Government to retrench people in this industry at every opportunity. The industry at Avalon is currently employing not more than 50% of the people who were employed there 3 years ago. The retention of those skilled operatives is far more important than the money that has been saved by their retrenchment. It would be far better to retain these people in employment than to send millions of dollars down the drain on the Fill.

I hope that the Government will take note of the first matter I have raised this morning because I believe that Commonwealth employees are being viciously discriminated against. I hope that some definite statement of Government policy will be made about the aircraft industry so that people engaged in the industry will have some confidence in the security of their employment.

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