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Tuesday, 30 November 1976

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) (Minister for Health) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to increase the rates and amounts of compensation payable under the Seamen's Compensation Act to seamen and their dependants. The Bill will ensure that the monetary rates payable under the Act are kept in line with those contained in the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1976. I should mention, however, that the proposed amendments will not involve any cost to the Commonwealth Government as payments under the Seamen's Compensation Act are the responsibility of the shipowners.

Increased Compensation

Under clause 7 of the Bill the weekly compensation for total incapacity for work is to be increased from $57 to $80 for a seaman without dependants. The additional weekly supplement for the dependent wife will be increased from $ 1 5 to $2 1 and for each dependent child from $7 to $10. The ceiling which applies in certain circumstances in relation to the weekly payment for partial incapacity is to be increased from $57 to $80. In addition to the increases in weekly incapacity payments, the Bill provides for the lump sum death benefit, to which the lump sum benefits for specified injuries and maximum compensation are related, to be increased from $20,000 to $25,000. The weekly payment in respect of each dependent child of a deceased seaman will be increased from $7 to $10 and the maximum payable in respect of funeral costs will be increased from $450 to $650.

Other Amendments

Clause 3 removes the limit of $1,000 on the amount of compensation payable in respect of medical and ambulance services. This limit currently applies unless, in the opinion of the Minister, the exceptional circumstances of any case warrant payment of an amount in excess of $1,000. The same limit also applied in relation to Commonwealth Government employees but it was dispensed with in 1971 because the practical effect of the limit was to constitute a point of review and never a ceiling on the amounts paid. Similar considerations apply so far as the Seamen's Compensation Act is concerned and this is the reason for this amendment.

Clause 6 of the Bill removes a restrictive provision contained in sub-section 10A(2) of the Act. The existing provision prevents a seaman, or his dependants in the case of his death, from proceeding against the employer to recover damages unless the proceedings are commenced within 12 months of the date of receipt of the first payment of compensation. The effect of this amendment will be that the ordinary time limits relating to actions for damages will apply. This has been the practice in relation to Commonwealth Government employees since 1971, and the Government considers that seamen should be placed in the same position.

Clause 7, in addition to providing for some of the increases in benefits already mentioned, also includes provisions relating to the weekly payments in respect of dependent children in both death and incapacity cases. Under these amendments such payments will be made in respect of children aged between 16 and 21 years who are full time students not ordinarily in employment. This will bring the Seamen's Compensation Act into line with the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act and the workers' compensation legislation of the States. The opportunity has also been taken to make some minor amendments of a formal or technical nature in keeping with current drafting practice. These amendments make no changes of substance.

Application of Amendments

The amending legislation is intended to come into operation on 1 September 1976. The Bill follows past practice in providing for the increased weekly payments to apply from that date, notwithstanding that the payments relate to an injury sustained or disease contracted before that date. Likewise, the increased lump sum payments for death and specified injuries will also apply from 1 September 1976 in all cases where the death occurs or the final degree of injury becomes assessable after that date, even though the death or the specified injury may have resulted from an injury sustained or disease contracted before that date. Increases in other benefits will apply in a similar manner. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.

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