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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) -This Bill, as the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) said, passed through this place on 2 June. Whilst the Opposition is not opposing the amendments I would like to make a few comments on behalf of the Opposition. The Minister will recall that on the evening that this Bill was debated he had to leave the chamber. I asked him at that time whether the Government would give consideration to the points put by the Opposition. I have heard nothing from the Minister since on that. The Opposition in another place moved an amendment to this Bill to raise the limit of liability from $45,000, as provided in the Bill, to $67,000 and to provide for a biennial adjustment which would be related to average weekly earnings using 1970 as a base. There were very good grounds for moving that amendment. In 1970 when the Act was last amended and the limit was increased from $15,000 to $30,000 the then Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, said in the other place:

As the nominal average weekly earnings of adult males in Australia have approximately doubled since 1955, when the basis for the existing limit was established, the Government proposes that the same change be made in this limit of liability, that is to say an increase from $15,000 to $30,000. This will cost the airlines some $250,000 per annum in additional insurance premiums.

In the previous debate and in the other place the point was made that $45,000 in today's terms would not buy even a comfortable house in Canberra. To limit the liability in regard to relatives and other people who are injured in aircraft accidents to $45,000 is wholly inadequate. In many cases people would be condemned to tragedy and hardship for the rest of their lives particularly the children of families if the breadwinners were involved.

The cost of the increase is something which we sought during the debate. Again, we have heard nothing from the Minister or the Department of Transport on the cost. By our own calculations, which I have checked, the cost of additional insurance to the airline companies to raise the limit of liability from $45,000 to $67,000 would be 5.7c per passenger flight- about half the price of a packet of Juicy Fruit. Surely that is a financial burden that the airlines, considering that Ansett Airlines of Australia showed a profit of $14m just recently, can bear. The impact of serious injury or loss of life in an aircraft accident is severe. I repeat: $45,000 is wholly inadequate. I again ask the Minister and the Parliament to give further consideration to this matter. We do not want to delay the passage of the legislation because an accident could occur at any time before the legislation receives royal assent. For that reason I again ask the Minister to consider the points we have put. We say quite strongly that the limit on compensation should be related to the average weekly earnings of the year 1955 as put forward by the then Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, in 1970. The other point I wanted to make -

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Before the honourable gentleman goes any further I am having a little trouble establishing the relevance of his speech to the clauses that have been amended. I invite him to speak to the clauses that are before the Chair.

Mr MORRIS -Mr Deputy Chairman,I appreciate your guidance and your inquiry, but I was referring specifically to the first part of the Minister's explanatory statement on these amendments .which refers to an increase in the amount of compensation from $30,000 to $45,000.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I do not know whether it is relevant to do so. The matter before the Committee is the amendments sent from the Senate. As I understand it, the Committee should be dealing with the 2 clauses that have been amended.

Mr MORRIS -I submit, with the greatest respect, that if it is relevant for the Minister to introduce these amendments and refer to the increase in compensation surely in any reasonable interpretation I ought to be able to respond.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN-I did not know to which speech of the Minister the honourable member was referring.

Mr MORRIS -Passing on from that point, I want to emphasise, on behalf of the Opposition, that it is a disgrace that these amendments are before the Committee tonight. This Bill went through the House on 2 June. The Senate sat on the evening of 2 June and on 3 June and 4 June. At the time the Opposition understood that the Minister thought it important that this legislation pass through the House before 1 July which was the operative date. What has happened since is what we indicated might happen. There have been aircraft accidents and people have been injured. I do not want to reflect on their personal positions. Surely the people and the families who would have benefited if this legislation had gone through, as I know the Minister wanted it to go through at the time, should not be disadvantaged by the fact that the legislation did not go through the Senate prior to 1 July. On the Opposition's behalf I ask the Minister to do what he can to see that people who have been affected by the late passage of this legislation are in some way compensated or assisted so that they are not disadvantaged as a result of the Senate's delay in not dealing with the legislation. I conclude on the point that if there is to be a continuation of arrogance on the part of this Government surely the people of Australia will take note of the fact.

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