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Tuesday, 30 November 1976
Page: 2975


Mr HUNT (Gwydir) (Minister for Health)

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to provide for increases in benefits payable under the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act which provides workers ' compensation for employees of the Commonwealth Government and its statutory authorities. This legislation was last amended for this purpose during the 1974 Budget session of the Parliament. Since then there have been significant increases in the cost of living and in the benefits payable under the workers' compensation legislation of most of the States. It is therefore necessary and, indeed, only fair that the benefits under the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act should again be increased.

Compensation for Total Incapacity

Employees who have been injured since 2 November 1972 are entitled to receive weekly compensation payments equal to their normal full sick pay rate during the first 26 weeks of total incapacity for work. For long term cases where total incapacity has exceeded 26 weeks, the compensation is based on fixed weekly rates that are specified in the Act. Under the Bill, the fixed weekly rate for a totally incapacitated employee without dependants will increase from $57 to $80. The additional weekly supplement for a dependent spouse will increase from $15 to $21 and the weekly supplement for each dependent child will increase from $7 to $ 10.

Compensation for Partial Incapacity

A similar increase, from $57 to $80 a week, will also apply to the ceiling which operates in relation to the compensation payable for partial incapacity for work.

Compensation for Death

The Bill also provides for increases in the amounts of compensation payable where an injury results in the death of an employee. The basic lump sum payable to dependants will increase from $20,000 to $25,000. The weekly amount payable in respect of each dependent child of a deceased employee will increase from $7 to $10 and the minimum total amount payable for each child will increase from $700 to $1,000. The maximum amount payable in respect of funeral expenses will increase from $450 to $650.

Compensation for Specified Losses

The lump sums payable under the Act for specified losses will also increase. The maximum lump sum payment for such a loss will increase from $20,000 to $25,000 and the lump sums for the less serious losses will increase in the same proportion. For example, payments for severe and permanent facial disfigurement will increase from $10,000 to $12,500 and compensation for loss of the sense of taste or smell will increase from $2,000 to $2,500.

Other Increases

The maximum amount payable for alterations to buildings or vehicles, or repair or replacement of certain aids and appliances, will go up from $500 to $700.

Provision of Vocational Training

The amendment in clause 5 of the Bill is consequential upon a 1974 amendment to the Social Services Act and requires a detailed explanation. Under section 38 ( I) of the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act, the Commissioner for Compensation is empowered to arrange with the Director-General of Social

Security for compensation cases to undertake rehabilitation vocational training using the rehabilitation service of the Department of Social Security. It is desirable that both compensation and social service beneficiaries undergoing this training be dealt with on a similar basis.

In 1974, section 135D of the Social Services Act was amended to provide a training allowance for social service beneficiaries that equals the weighted average weekly minimum wage appropriate to the person's age. It took the place of the rehabilitation allowance and a smaller training allowance that were payable before 1974. This opportunity is being taken to amend the Compensation Act to take account of the 1 974 amendment to section 135D of the Social Services Act. Because compensation cases undergoing training continue to receive compensation benefits, the amendment provides that the training allowance is an amount (if any), by which the person's normal weekly compensation benefit is less than the weighted average minimum wage appropriate to his age. This will mean that no person receiving compensation payments and undergoing rehabilitation vocational training, will receive less than the person receiving social services benefits undergoing similar training. Both will receive at least the weighted average weekly minimum wage appropriate to their age.

It should be noted that no training allowance is payable where a person undergoing vocational training is receiving a compensation payment equal to or in excess of the weighted average weekly minimum wage. For both compensation and social service beneficiaries undergoing training, a living away from home allowance is also payable where appropriate. It is an amount determined by the Director-General of Social Security that does not exceed 25 per cent of the weighted average weekly minimum wage appropriate to the person's age.

Other Amendments

The opportunity has also been taken to make some other amendments of a relatively minor nature. The first of these, in clause 3 of the Bill, is consequential upon the new form of citation proposed in the Acts Citation Act 1976. The amendment in clause 4 will clarify a provision regarding costs that was inserted in the Act in 1974. The amendment in clause 6 is consequential upon a change in other legislation referred to in the principal Act. The remaining amendments to the principal Act are set out in clause 8 and schedule 2 and are of a formal or technical nature. They are in keeping with current drafting practice and make no changes of substance.

Application of Amendments

The Bill provides that the amendments will come into operation on 1 September 1976. The Bill contains the usual provisions for the increased weekly payments to apply from that date, notwithstanding that the payments relate to an injury sustained before that date. The increased lump sum payments for death and specified losses will also apply from 1 September 1976 in all cases where the death occurs or the loss is suffered after that date, even though the death or the loss may have resulted from an injury sustained before that date. Increases in other benefits will apply in a similar manner.

Cost of Increased Benefits

The total cost of the increased benefits authorised by the Bill is estimated to be $ 1.77m in a full year. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.







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