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Thursday, 11 June 1970


Mr WEBB (Stirling) (2:22 AM) - The Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) in the debate on the Customs Tariff Bill apologised for the late hour at which that debate was brought on and said that he would try to bring on tariff Bills earlier in the session in the future to allow for a fuller debate. The Treasurer (Mr Bury) who is in charge of Commonwealth employees compensation might follow his admirable example. It is noticeable that this debate is always brought on late in the session and usually in the early hours of the morning. This does not allow justice to be done on a matter that is so vital to the interests of over 300,000 Commonwealth employees and also national servicemen militia and men serving in certain sections of the forces.

Having said that, I would like to refer to the Bills now before us. The Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Bill is, of course, to amend the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act pending the establishment of the proposed new code of workers compensation for Commonwealth employees which has already been introduced but which has been further delayed. This delay is one of a long series of delays going back as far as 1964 when the then Prime Minister stated that the amendments to the compensation code submitted by the Opposition 'would be further considered during the forthcoming recess'. In 1967, 3 years after the first promise was made, the Minister assisting the Treasurer at the time in his second reading speech said: ] am happy to be able to inform the House that the Government has now virtually completed its examinations of the many other proposals for amendment of the Act put forward by honourable members and other interested parties in recent years and it is hoped that it will be possible to introduce amending legislation giving effect to the Government's decisions before the end of this session.

On 6th June 1968 the treasurer at that time announced: the Government expected to submit a Bill for a new and revised compensation Act during this cession.

Towards the end of the year a Bill was introduced to amend the rates only and the Minister assisting the Treasurer at the time had this to say:

Honourable members will recall that, in his statement to the House on 6th June 1968, the Treasurer announced that the Government expected to submit a Bill for a new and revised Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act during this session. The drafting of that Bill, which is, by any standards, a major one, is proceeding.

That was the autumn session following the session when the legislation was expected to be introduced. Later in the year the Treasurer said in this Parliament: 1 regret to inform the House that because of a number of unforeseen difficulties which arose during the review of the compensation legislation by a committee of Ministers and later during the drafting stage, it has nol been possible to complete the drafting of a Bill that could be introduced during the pre-en: session of Parliament.

Now, 6 years will have elapsed between the first promise and the performance - that is, if the new code comes down in the forthcoming autumn session. The procrastination that has taken place is to the eternal discredit of this Government. The Treasurer should remember also that the performance falls far short of the promise that was made that a new code would be introduced. This Bril amends some of the rates to bring them up to those contained in the new code that has been withdrawn for the time being. In some respects it provides for higher rates than those in some of the States, but in many respects it falls far short of the State provisions, lt is our view that all workers compensation Acts in Australia should be co-ordinated with the objective of ensuring that uniform benefits and payments are made available to all workers covered by the Acts. I would have thought that in the new code the words by accident' would have been deleted from section 9 (1) of the existing Act, but we find that these words are to remain in the new code. Section 9 of the Act reads:

If personal injury by accident arising out of or in the course of the employment by the Commonwealth is caused to an employee, the employer shall subject to this Act be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the First Schedule of this Act.

The words 'by accident" are outdated. The words 'personal injury arising out of or in the course of employment' appear in the Acts of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. The words 'personal injury by accident' appear in the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act and in other Acts such as the Seamen's Compensation Act, the Northern Territory Compensation Act, the Australian Capital Territory Compensation Act and the Papua-New Guinea Compensation Act. 'Personal injury in the course of employment' are the words that appear in the Tasmanian Act. It is clear that the words 'by accident' have for all practical purposes been deleted from the majority of the other Acts. It is very important to remember that a worker could be injured by radiation or some other means without an actual accident having occurred. Claims could be lost because the facte were such as to make it impossible to prove that something in the nature of an accident occurred. In those circumstances, the burden of proof that there had been an accident could not be discharged. 1 emphasise that point, and I hope that some consideration will be given to it when the Minister is giving further consideration to the new code.

Under the First Schedule of this Bill the weekly rate of compensation for an employee without dependants will be increased to S3 1.80, for a dependent female to $7.70 and for a child to $2.80- making a total of $45.10 a week for a man, his wife and 2 children. 1 ask the Treasurer to consider the case of a worker with a wife and 1 child who may be off duty with a hernia which has been accepted as compensable. With his injury, the period off duty is usually 13 weeks; it is certainly 13 weeks if he is doing arduous work. Let us assume that his salary is the average adult wage of $72.80 a week, which was the average adult wage - for the September quarter of 1969. Since then it has increased but we will not take the highest average wage at this particular stage; we will treat it as though it was $72.80 a week. Under this legislation, this man, his wife and 1 child, would get S42.30 a week, so that over 13 weeks his loss in salary would be $396.50. This loss of earnings could be a tremendous loss for the family unit, particularly for the young married man who has commitments for furniture and maybe the purchase of a home. Hire purchase companies have to be paid, as does the mortgage on the home. A worker injured on duty should receive his average weekly earnings; he should not lose financially.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has adopted the principle that a worker who is deemed to be totally or partially incapacitated for work should be entitled to receive during the period of his incapacity the amount of weekly earnings he would have received but for his injury. There is a justifiable reason for that amount being paid. Why should a worker and his dependants suffer a substantially reduced rate of earnings in the circumstances I have mentioned? The Government not only has the basic responsibility to protect workers against industrial hazards but it also has the responsibility to ensure that when a worker is injured he and his family are justly compensated. The weekly rates provided for in the amending legislation are inadequate to meet the average family needs.

As the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) has pointed out, the principle of no reduced income does apply in some of the New South Wales Acts. After a period of incapacity most workers find themselves in considerable debt for some time. It is not uncommon to hear of injured workers having to obtain personal loans from banks and other borrowing sources in order to make ends meet while they are incapacitated for work. I mentioned the case of a worker who was off duty with a hernia and receiving Commonwealth employees compensation. After being off duty for 6 weeks on compensation he went on to his accumulated sick leave for the remainder of the 13 weeks of his incapacitation. He could not afford to stay on the reduced rate provided under the compensation Act. All Workers Compensation Acts already have built in safeguards to ensure that only legitimate claims are met and that compensation payments are made only while the worker is actually incapacitated for work. That is a principle which should be applied and it is supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and by the Australian Labor Party. The honourable member for Hindmarsh pointed out that this provision already appears in some legislation. I do not propose to quote details of that legislation.

I draw attention to the fact that in his second reading speech the Treasurer (Mr Bury) said that the new code would be reintroduced at a later time, suitably varied to take account of the situation that has emerged. He said:

I said that the Government's mind was not closed so far as that Bill was concerned and that we stood prepared to consider on their merits suggestions for amendments during its passage.

I hope that the points already mentioned will be carefully noted and considered before the new code is introduced. I note that in clause 29 of the new code provision is being made for reimbursement of the cost of repairs or replacements of artificial members and aids damaged or destroyed as a result of accident. I draw to the attention of the Treasurer the fact that there is no provision, as there is in the New South Wales Act, to cover the cost of examinations and prescriptions in connection with the repair or replacement of such articles. Nor is there provision for damage to clothing, as there is in the New South Wales and South Australian Acts. 1 note too that in the case of the death of a worker the compensation payable to his children to age 16 or student children to age 21 is higher in New South Wales than is proposed in this new code. In New South Wales the amount for a child in such circumstances is $5 a week. In the proposed new code it is at least a lump sum of $280 or $2.80 a week.

It is true that the amount for a widow will be $12,000 under the new code. In New South Wales the amount is $10,000, but no doubt it will be adjusted before the end of the year when that legislation is being reviewed. But, even taking that into account, the New South Wales Act is better where there are children.

Let me took at a situation which could arise. I take the example of a wife and 3 dependent children aged 6, 10 and 12, and the total amount which is received until the children reach the age of 16 years. Under the New South Wales legislation the total amount payable would be $15,200. Under the new Commonwealth code it would be $14,912. The advantage under the New South Wales Act would be even greater in that example if the children remained at school after reaching 16 years and up to the age. of 21 years. Both the New South Wales Act and the new Commonwealth code arc better in this respect than any other State Acts under which lump sums are payable for a child, ranging from $200 in the case of Victoria to $300 in the case of Queensland. The weekly payments are $5 in the case of New South Wales and $2.80 in the case of the Commonwealth. lt is surprising to see that under clause 42 (1.) of the new code the amount allowed for funeral expenses for a deceased worker remains at $120. The amounts are $160 in New South Wales, $200 in South Australia and $163 in Western Australia. In Victoria reasonable expenses are allowed. In Queensland and Tasmania provision for funeral expenses is included in the amount allowed for medical expenses. The cheapest funeral now would cost at least $160 and cremations would cost very much more. I suggest that the Treasurer should review the maximum of $120 that is provided for funeral expenses in the new code. Surely it is not reasonable to leave the amount allowed for funeral expenses at that very low figure, lt is pleasing to see that compensation will be paid under the new code for loss of power of speech and for facial disfigurement However, we are not satisfied with the amounts that are provided. We would also like to know why no provision is made for toss of sense of smell or taste, as is made in the New South Wales Act under which $600 is allowed, which is little enough. The Treasurer might look at that point.

The Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, which in many respects provides benefits which are below the. standards of benefits provided in some of the Slate legislation, applies also to our national servicemen and to members of our militia and our Regular Army. If these lads are injured or meet their death by accident arising out of their service, they or their dependants, as the case may be, come within the ambit of this Act. That is before (he servicemen go overseas or after they return. They should be covered by the Repatriation Act from the time they enter the Services. It is ridiculous that men training for wars, who are subject to greater dangers than they would meet in their ordinary working life, should come under the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. These men could be training with live ammunition or operating tanks. We ask that this matter be given consideration in future legislation.

Whilst we claim that our national servicemen and members of our militia and our Regular Army should come within the ambit of the Repatriation Act from the time they enter the Services, the fact is that they now come under the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. Consequently it should be the model Act in Australia, if for no other reason than that. It should contain the best possible provisions for our servicemen. It should not be worse in any respect than any of the State Acts. The fact that the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act covers our servicemen is an added reason why the Government should be condemned for delaying the long promised amendments to this Act. Whilst we reluctantly accept the improved benefits to be provided under this Bill - even though they are long delayed - we want to make it clear that we are not satisfied with them and that when the new code is being debated in the next session we will take the opportunity, as the honourable member for Hindmarsh mentioned, to introduce amendments which, if carried, as we hope they will be, will make the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act the best Act in Australia and a model Act for other countries to follow.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.







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