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Thursday, 11 June 1970


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (1:39 AM) - This Bill is a stop gap measure designed to make a short term adjustment to existing rates of compensation pending fuller consideration of the whole field of compensation when the Government's Bill for a completely new Act is debated during the coming Budget session. The Opposition has completed in draft form a full answer to the Government' > Bill lor ,t new A i. and copies of the Opposition's proposal in that form are already in the hands of interested organisations, including the Sec.relary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Replies have been received from the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations. We await a reply from the Secretary of the ACIU. Because this has not yet come to hand we have had to hold over until the Budget session our reply to the Bill. For those reasons the Opposition will not delay the passage of this Bill by lengthy debate, by moving amendments or by calling for divisions.

The Bill now before us does not lend itself to amendment in the way necessary to make it accord with the standards of compensation which thi Opposition wants to implement. Our aim is to give Australian wage and salary earners the best compensation provisions in the world. We believe that they are entitled to it. We believe that we can afford it. For those reasons we state quite clearly and without any qualification that that is the aim of the Australian Labor Party. 1 hope to see the day when the level of compensation in this country will make it unnecessary for any person to be forced into common law action to secure just compensation for the loss of life or limb. The Commonwealth Government is the largest single employer in this country. It employs about 320,000 people. If we add lo that figure those who are employed by employers carrying out Commonwealth contracts, the number of people directly and indirectly affected by what we do in this Parliament in relation to Commonwealth compensation would be about 400.000. The ultimate aim of the Labor Party is to have one compensation Act to cover not only Commonwealth employees but also private employees in all the Territories of the Commonwealth and to cover employees who are engaged in interstate trade and commerce and who could constitutionally be brought within the ambit of an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament. We cannot put that in the proposed Bill for a new Act because the long title of the Bill is too restrictive but. that will be the ultimate aim of a Labor Government.

There was a time when the Commonwealth led the field in workmen's compensation lt had the best workmen's compensation legislation in Australia. State parliaments looked at the Commonwealth for a lead. They can no longer do this because in so many respects the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act is lagging. We look at the States to see in what respects we ought to improve our Act. Un for.tunafely, this Government after 20 years of control of this Parliament is only now picking up those advances in the State legislation. Nearly all the States - and sometimes the Commonwealth will not move until all the States have moved - have increased their rales or liberalised the conditions under which compensation is paid. We ought to resume the position we held previously so that the standard we set can filter down into the various State Acts so that in the end all employees in the Commonwealth will benefit from what we do here.

The great tragedy is that the very reason why the. Government does nol act is that what we do will ultimately set the pattern for what will become the normal standards in the 6 State parliaments. The Government's very excuse for not giving concessions such as 4 weeks annual leave and improved working conditions is that it thinks it ought not lo set standards which employers ultimately will be forced to follow. In the field of compensation the Government feels that it ought not to set standards which may require the wealthy insurance companies and other employers to have to pay more than they are paying now. The Bill provides for many things with which the Opposition is unable to agree. We appreciate the fact that some increases will be made in the weekly payments to widows, children and people who are totally and permanently or totally and temporarily incapacitated. The increases are not enough, but they are better than nothing. They will help to fill the gap between now and when the Bill for a new Act can be dealt with. For that reason and for that reason only the Opposition agrees to the . Bill without formally moving amendments to the various clauses.

The maximum lump, sum payable under the Bill will be $12,000. Depending on the percentage of the total which the scheduled injury carries under the Bill a person will receive a percentage of $12,000. The Opposition would prefer and it is proposing in its model Bill to be considered during the Budget session that the maximum amount should not be a stated, fixed amount which requires alteration by way of amendment to the Act whenever it is necessary to bring it up to date, but should be an amount stated in such terms that, without an amendment, those who are affected by the Act will automatically get the benefit of fluctuations in the cost of living as reflected from time to time in decisions of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. For that reason we propose that the maximum amount should be stated in terms something like1 this: that the amount shall be the minimum weekly wage fixed by the Arbitration Commission from time to time, multiplied by 520, in other words, the equivalent of 1 0 years. This would give, on the presently fixed minimum wage, an amount of money equal to about $22,058 compared with the $12,000 proposed by the Government. This is not as extravagant or generous as it might appear at first blush to those honourable members opposite who are not used to thinking in these terms.

Let me remind the Treasurer (Mr Bury) of something that he and his colleagues have long since forgotten. In the' 1911 Seamen's Compensation Act the compensation to a seaman's widow was equal to 3 years' earnings of her late husband. Today the average earnings of a seaman for 3 years would be Si 8,000 as compared with the proposed compensation of $12,000. The $18,000 which was the 1911' standard is only $4,000 less than what the Opposition proposes should be the minimum standard, and yet what we propose is nearly double the amount proposed by the Government. We regret that right up to this moment the Commonwealth Act makes no provision by way of lump sum payments to a person who, through accident, loses the senses of taste or smell. There is no lump sum payment for facial disfigurement, loss of speech, loss of sexual capacity or loss of genital organs. True, these payments are proposed in the Bill for a new Act. It is a regrettable thing that we have had to wait all these years before anything was done in respect of these matters. Another point of objection which the Opposition has to the present legislation - unfortunately, this vice is carried into the proposed new Act - is that the Bill limits the amount that can be received by a person who has been paid weekly amounts of compensation for a given period, to be followed by a lump sum settlement in respect of some loss of limb or faculty. "Mr Cope- What is a faculty?


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A faculty would include your sexual organs, if that is what you are mainly concerned with. You are covered. The Bill provides that all weekly payments made to a person who receives a lump settlement in respect of, say, the loss of 2 legs or an eye or 2 eyes or a leg and an arm shall be deducted from the lump sum payment - that is, if the lump sum payment and the weekly amounts combined exceed $12,000. We object to this. Many of the State Acts make no such deduction. We believe that the lump sum payments fixed under the Act for a specified injury ought to be payable in addition to the weekly compensation paid, pending the final settlement of the lump sum payment. Unfortunately, that is something that we cannot incorporate in this Bill.

We believe also in the principle of no loss of wages during the period of total incapacity, whether permanent or temporary. When I spoke on this matter in 1964, 1 mentioned that even in Bulgaria then the principle of no loss of wages was accepted as normal. In some of the Scandinavian countries the same applied and 1 said then - I have not checked it - that in West Germany the same old position applied. I looked up the 1969 edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' on this matter and I discovered that since then other countries have introduced the principle of no loss of pay during periods of incapacity following an accident at work or following disabilities due to an industrial disease. There are the United Soviet Socialist Republic, Yugoslavia, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Some of those countries that I have named are not rich countries. At least one of them is very poor; yet it can afford to recognise the principle of no loss of pay.

The no loss of pay principle for injured workers is Dot new to the compensation and industrial laws of New South Wales. It is nor new to the standards recognised in some of the other States. Indeed, ever since 1936 the New South Wales legislature has recognised this principle in the enactment of section 124 (1) of the Transport Act and section lOOB(l) of the Government Railways Act. These 2 Acts cover a very substantial segment of the work force in New South Wales. The 2 sections already mentioned provide in effect, that an employee who is incapacitated by an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment so as to be unable to perform the duties of his classification, shall be paid not less than the salary for the time being payable to employees with the same classification and with the same length of service.

The no loss of pay principle has also been introduced by consent of employers to cover employees of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales, the Sydney City Council and the Sydney County Council, which incidentally, is the largest local government employer in Australia, and also workers employed throughout the electricity supply authorities and local government councils of New South Wales. A typical example of the type of benefit introduced by the instrument of an industrial award may be found in clause 16 (b) of the Electricity Commission (Wages Staff) Award. It is known that many employers in private industry also make up an injured worker's compensation payment to his full rate. I know of many employers in South Australia who insure separately and additionally to cover the difference between the maximum amount payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act of South

Australia and the wages which a worker would otherwise be receiving.

The reasoning of the Government in its attitude to this question seems to be quite odd. The Government seems to assume that during his per od of incapacitation a worker eats less, his wife and children can live on less, the rent is less, the electricity supply costs less per unit, the gas company charges less and it does not take as much electricity to heat the bath water or to cook the food. The Government assumes that in some magical way the cost of living of a worker is less during a period of incapacitation than when he is working. If this is not the reasoning, the only other explanation for making a 'person accept less than his normal wages during periods of incapacitation is that the reduction :s a punitive measure imposed upon the worker. Presumably the penalty is imposed because of the assumption that the worker deliberately injured himself, deliberately allowed hrs eyes to be struck out, deliberately allowed one of his limbs to be cut off or, perhaps, deliberately allowed himself io run the risk of death. This is sheer nonsense.

The fact is that when a worker is in hospital recovering from an industrial injury the cost to the household is greater than normal. The wife and children still have to be fed. In addition, in all cases in which normal family relationships existed, the wife and children would travel to the hospital and back again each day and would have to pay the cost of fares. Fruit and other little things would also have to bc taken to the sick man while he was in hospital. His financial position would not bc much belter when he returned home because friends would come to visit him and his wife would feel obliged to supply them with cups of tea and so on. All in all. the expense is greater and not less when the breadwinner is not working, but the Government has adopted the attitude that such a person should not receive the full amount to which he would normally bc entitled if he were working. The Australian Labor Party will be proposing a Bill which is in line wilh the policy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and of the Labor Party to provide for no loss of wages during periods of incapacitation, so that once again there will be no incentive to become involved in common law actions for damages, which result in tremendous delays and costly litigation, because a person will be regarded as having the right to continue to receive his full normal wage.

The Government proposes to pay the widow of an employee who is killed in the course ot his employment a lump sum of only $12,000 and then to wipe its hands completely of the matter. The Government will not care one iota what becomes of the widow once it has salved its conscience with the payment of $12,000. The Government's attitude typifies the attitude to compensation :n every State in the Commonwealth. It is a careless, slipshod and lazy way of administering justice. To fix an amount of only $12,000 is an unreal and miserly way of assessing the actual loss to a widow of her breadwinner. A lump sum of $12,000 is little enough for an elderly widow without children. It is, however, criminally inadequate for a young widow with small children to feed, clothe, educate and shelter.

Speaking personally, 1 would like to see a widow with dependent children paid a weekly compensation equivalent to the income of her deceased breadwinner for the whole period of her children's dependency and, say, 75% of that amount thereafter until her death. Such weekly payments should be assessed, pf course, at. a figure-


Mr James - What if she remarries?


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I will come to that in a moment. Such weekly payments should be assessed at a figure equal hot only to her late husband's normal earnings but should also include overtime, etc. Even in cases where a widow remarries a sufficient portion of her- original weekly compensation should continue to be payable to her deceased husband's children for the full period of their dependency. For those reasons we reject the concept that a flat lump sum payment of $12,000 is proper compensation to the widow of an employee who dies as a result of an industrial accident or disease. If $12,000 is an adequate sum to pay a wife who is widowed at 60 years of age and who has no dependent children to maintain, it is surely axiomatic that the same amount must be totally inadequate for the mother of 2 or 3 little children who is widowed at 30 years of age. Conversely if SI 2,000 is adequate for a 30 year old widow with dependent children it must be excessive for a 60 year old widow without children. Noone will advocate any proposal that a woman should make a profit from the death of her husband, but no-one I hope will want to see a woman lose from such an event.

We reject the proposition that an employer can properly discharge his responsibility to the widow by merely paying some lump sum and then wiping his hands of the whole matter. There is no formula by which one can determine a lump sum payment of compensation that will guarantee the security of the dependants and will also give due regard to a deceased employee's age, earnings and commitments. We are therefore left with only one way by which we can guarantee that the dependants of such a worker will not be disadvantaged by his death, and that is to pay the dependants weekly compensation of whatever would have been the average weekly earnings of the breadwinner but for his death. As I have already said, the only modification I would make to such a rule is, in the case where there were no dependent children, that the weekly payment could be modified or reduced to, say, 75% of the weekly earnings which the breadwinner would have earned but for his death.

I have mentioned that it may be argued that the adoption of the principle of no loss of earnings is too generous or beyond the capacity of industry. I. can anticipate the pinch penny arguments that will be advanced by Government speakers against such a proposal. They will discover that after the breadwinner's death there would be one fewer mouth to feed, that the widow can save a few grains of sugar or salt or a few specks of pepper when cooking for one fewer person, that there would be a small saving of shoe polish, that there would be a spoonful of jam saved on each meal or perhaps one spread of butter fewer. Then of course it may be possible with care to put fewer tea leaves into the teapot. These miserable little economies will loom large in the parsimonious little minds of those who support the Government. They will neglect the fact that the widow will probably have to employ somebody to cut the lawn, to dig the gardens, attend to household repairs and perhaps repairs to the motor vehicle and the host of other things which her one- time breadwinner used to do on weekends or outside working hours.

They will forget that the weekly payments of principal and interest on the home which her late husband contracted to purchase must still go on. They will see nothing wrong with interrupting a child's schooling at the secondary level when the aim of the dead father was to give him the advantage of a tertiary education. They will see no justification for a widow and her children indulging in such extravagances as going to the pictures, to the theatre or for a holiday or in buying toys at Christmas time. They will reject car ownership for a widow as an indefensible example of extravagance or ostentation. If a car was only partly paid for at the time of the breadwinner's death they would expect her to accept repossession as a normal consequence. They will overlook the fact that the widow will remain a taxpayer, just as her late husband was a taxpayer, and that the rate of taxation for the widow will be higher than it would have been for her husband prior to his death. Once we honour our obligations in this matter there will come to all of us, as Australians the satisfaction that we belong to a society which refuses to shirk the responsibility which a rich and highly developed community surely owes to the dependants of people whose lives are cut short in the course of their employment.

The cost would not be as great as we may be told later in this debate that it would be. The proposal I have outlined would almost double the benefits, because the average weekly wage in Australia today is nearly double the amount which is proposed in the Bill. The amount of $22,000 which we fix as the basis for deciding lump sum payments is nearly double the amount of $12,000 proposed by the Government. So let us assume that we doubled the proposed amount. The total cost annually to the Commonwealth then would be no more than an extra $3,316,000.


Mr James - It is peanuts.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I thank the honourable gentleman for that sage remark. It is not a great amount to be paid by a country which is spending the amount we spend on things like the Fill, and in view of other enormous expenditures we incur without so much as blinking an eye. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table setting out the amounts paid by the Commonwealth as compensation in the last 10 years.

 

It is clear from the table that if the total cost were doubled it would amount to only a little more than an extra $3m. I wish now to deal with seamen's compensation. I said earlier in my remarks that the amount provided in the Bill is about $6,000 less than if the 1911 Act were still in operation. Three years earnings for a seaman at today's average rate would be, I am assured, $18,000, compared to the amount of $12,000 that is now proposed. The amount of $12,000 payable both under the Seamen's Compensation Bill and the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Bill represents a 20% increase on the previous amount of $10,000; but the weekly rates for compensation which are proposed represent an increase of only 8.8% .

It seems to me to be rather odd that the Government should justify such a small weekly increase when it is recognising the need to increase by 20% the maximum amount and the lump sum for specified injury and for the death of a breadwinner. The Government seems to have recognised its own shortcomings by the fact that it agreed to take out for a seaman employed on the 'Jeparit' separate compensation for an amount of $15,400 over and above the existing sum of $10,000, making a total of $25,400. It is true that the principal reason for that action was that the 'Jeparit' was sailing to a war zone. That is a good enough reason to distinguish between the rates payable on the 'Jeparit' and on other ships. Nonetheless the Government has grudgingly, no doubt, recognised the need for a higher amount.

Once again the Labor Party complains about the delays which have occurred on the part of the Government in bringing down improved Commonwealth employees compensation provisions. The demand for a better Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act started many years ago. The Labor Party had a special committee which used to meet every week and sometimes twice a week to hammer out a model Bill1. This was away back in 1956 or 1957. We were never afforded the opportunity to present that Bill and that is why we welcome the opportunity which will be opened to us in the Budget session to bring down what we regard as a model Bill in answer to the Government's Bill. 1 place on record some examples of the procrastination which has typified the Government's handling of this matter. Mr Paul Munro the Secretary of the Council' of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations has informed me that he wrote to the then Treasurer, now the Minister for External Affairs (Mr McMahon), on 12th August 1969 complaining that the Act was outdated. He pointed out that it contained real bias against industrial justice. Three years before that Mr Munro and, I understand, representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions but certainly representatives of the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations met representatives of the Government and urged them to do something about compensation and to treat it as an urgent matter.

In that letter of 12th August 1969 Mr Munro reminded the Treasurer that the Government had given repeated assurances that the review of compensation legislation expected by the spokesman to be put into effect since the Budget session of 1965, would be introduced, in the near future. He reminded the Treasurer that he had already stated:

Further delays of this kind cannot be justified; having regard to the history of vacillation and postponement in relation to the legislation, failure to enact the badly needed changes in the life of this Parliament would amount to disgraceful neglect by this Government of the just claims of injured Commonwealth employees.

On 28th August 1969 Treasurer McMahon replied to Mr Paul Munro:

I had every intention of introducing the legislation in this Budget session..... but this is nol possible because of the general election.

Both the basic and transitional legislation will be lengthy and intricate. The delay has not been due to vacillation but to -the drafting problems experienced in the Parliamentary Draftman's office.

On 1st September 1969 Mr Munro wrote to the Public Service Board requesting the Board to consult with the Treasurer on the long delay in submitting the Bill to the Parliament. On 3rd September 1969 Mr Munro again wrote to the then AttorneyGeneral, now the Minister for Education and Science (Mr N. H. Bowen) asking that he consider the order of priorities to enable the Draftsman's attention to be given to the Compensation Bill. On 1 2th September 1969 the Attorney-General replied to Mr Munro and stated, amongst other things:

The preparation of new compensation legislation is a formidable task that requires considerable care and research on the part of the Draftsman and cannot be completed quickly.

On 20th November 1969 Mr Munro wrote to the present Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) advising him of the previous correspondence with his -predecessor. He stated that the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations: . . was deeply distressed that the manifest inadequacies of the Commonweallth Employees Compensation Act have continued for such a long period despite our frequent efforts to secure change.

To the extern that disadvantages may flow from faulty drafting, these are far outweighed by disadvantages and gross injustice which result and have resulted for years from the continuation of the existing anachronistic legislation.

On the same day Mr Munro again wrote to the Treasurer and enclosed a copy of his letter to the Attorney-General. On 28th November the Treasurer wrote to Mr Munro advising him as follows:

This legislation is being pushed forward at quickly as practicable, but as you know it represents a truly mammoth task of drafting. But it will be introduced in the autumn session.

On 9th December 1969 Mr Munro again wrote to the Treasurer expressing the hope that his promise would prove more reliable than previous promises dating back to as early as 1967, as on 19th October 1967 the Senate was told that the Bill would be introduced early in the next session. Mr Munro concluded his letter by asking that the Bill be circulated in advance of the session so as to assure its passage during the autumn session or that consideration be given to giving retrospective effect to those provisions of the Bill which the Government in June 1968 promised to include in the new Bill.

This time Mr Munro sent to the Attorney-General a copy of his letter to the Treasurer. On 16th December 1969 the Attorney-General wrote to Mr Munro stating that he shared his concern at the length of time taken in the preparation of the Bill and repeating the Treasurer's assurance that considerable progress had been made. The CCPSO has made a comprehensive list of amendments, and ACSPA and many individual unions and lawyers practising in the field of workmen's compensation have done likewise. I expect that in due course the Australian Council of Trade Unions will make submissions, as I said earlier. The Opposition has been working on the question of workmen's compensation for well over 12 years. In 1964 I was assured by the Government through Mr Holt, who was then Treasurer, that the Government would be prepared to give earnest consideration to the propositions we then put forward and, because this promise was made, we decided not to press to a division the various amendments we then moved in the Committee stage. On 11th November 1964 I said, as reported in Hansard, the following: 1 have had a talk with the Treasurer on this subject and I understand from him that he is not unfavourably disposed to the suggestion that earnest and serious consideration should be given to the Opposition's proposals.

What 1 complain about is that the Government did not let the Opposition see a copy of this Bill for a new Act until a fortnight, I think it was, after the session commenced when, according to the Government's print number at the bottom of the Bill, it had been completed last year. This was not the sort of Bill that should have been treated as a kind of political football. It should have been treated in much the same way as the present Chief Justice when AttorneyGeneral treated the Matrimonial Causes Bill, the Marriage Act, the restricted trade practices legislation and the copyright legislation. They were not regarded by Sir Garfield Barwick as matters that ought to become the butt of political argument, and it was for this reason that he very properly circulated the Bills so that both sides of this

House could have a proper opportunity to study them. Perhaps it is not fair to expect the Opposition or those who are advising it on this matter to be able to do in 9 weeks that which the Government has taken 9 years to do. After all, the Secretary and President of the ACTU are both extremely busy men. They have nowhere near the number of staff that they should have. Certainly they have nothing like the staff and facilities that a Minister of the Crown has at his disposal.

It is not fair to expect the ACTU in 9 weeks to consider and thoroughly understand a Bill that took the Government 9 years to draft. However, I hope and I feel confident and certain that the ACTU will be able to complete its consideration of this Bill now that it is in draft form and is before the officers of the ACTU. They will not have to start from scratch and build something up, consider it and then go through the process again. They have before them something that has already been prepared in draft form. They have only to check that draft, consider it and then let the Opposition know what they think about it. After that is done we will, of course, confer with the officers of the ACTU and consider their views. I hope, therefore, that no impediment will be forthcoming which would prevent this matter being finalised in the spring session of the Parliament. I am hoping that the Government, when it is considering its Bill for a new Act, will be willing to give reasonable consideration to the various amendments that we will be proposing. We know the Government will not agree to all of them but I hope it will agree to most of them. .







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