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Monday, 6 December 1976
Page: 3353


Mr WALLIS -It might pay us to recall what those amounts have been. For over 2 years now the amount has been $57 for an employee, $15 for the wife and $7 for each dependent child. This legislation was proposed by the Labor Government last year. Therefore these people have had to wait an extra 12 months before receiving an increase. In money terms this means that possibly they have lost more than $1,000 over the last 12 months. Whilst we appreciate that such people get full pay for the first 6 months, there are a lot of people in receipt of compensation for injuries which last a long time, people with back injuries and so forth who are off work for considerable periods. These people have been badly treated because the Government has taken so long to introduce this legislation. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) made an announcement in about July that this legislation would be introduced, but here we are in the middle of December and the legislation is only now before the House. People have had to wait all that time to receive their increase. We know that payments will be made retrospective to 1 September, but these people who have been receiving long term compensation have been unjustly treated for a considerable period because of the lack of action on the part of the present Government.

The present Commonwealth Compensation Act is way behind some of the more advanced State Acts in the rates at present applying in the field of compensation. I know a number of people who are on long term compensation and who have responsibilities. The amounts they have been receiving have not allowed them to live decently and the result has been that their wives have had to take a job. Of course, once a wife takes a job she is no longer a dependant. This means that the allowance for the wife drops away and the compensation recipient loses some of the benefit.

There is another point which should be raised. Payments to people in receipt of compensation should be indexed. As I mentioned earlier, we have been waiting 2 years for these amounts to be adjusted. In that time wages have been indexed, although I cannot tell the House off-hand the total percentage increases involved. Yet payments to people in receipt of compensation have stood still. This indicates the need for compensation payments to be indexed so that at least they retain their value. It appears that we have to wait 12 months before any government makes adjustments. Why should this be so? Social security payments have been indexed and tied to the consumer price index. Let us compare the case of a person on compensation with that of a person off work on sick pay. If an indexation rise takes place the increase is added to the sick pay, but that is not the case with a compensation payment. Therefore there is a strong argument for compensation payments to beindexed as other payments are.

I happen to represent the majority of employees of an Australian Government instrumentality, the Australian National Railways. The work of most of these employees makes them more accident prone than many other Commonwealth workers. The great majority of the people I refer to are manual workers. They are tradesmen such as drivers, fettlers, shunters and guards. These people are more likely to have accidents than people in other classifications. We would probably find that in that instrumentality the percentage of people involved in accidents is higher than in other government departments. Consider employees engaged in shunting operations on the railway. They are accident prone because of the nature of the work. One little mistake and a leg or an arm has gone, and so forth. People engaged in track maintenance, track construction and so forth, and heavy lifting are more accident prone because of the heavy nature of the work.

Another anomaly I want to mention relates to lump sum payments. The amount paid is the amount applying at the time of a person's death. In many cases when a person dies on the job as the result of an accident the compensation claim is disputed. It may take a couple of years for the claim to be settled. If and when the claim is settled, often after an appeal has been heard, the rate paid is the rate that applied at the time the accident happened. One particular group wrote to me about a case that it was fighting and perhaps I should quote from the letter. It states:

For some time now we have been concerned about the anomalous situation whereby lump sum compensation payments are paid at the rate applying at the time of injury or death rather than the rate applying at the time when payments are actually made. To illustrate the enormity of the anomaly, I set down the changes in the lump sum payments for death since 1972 -

2.1 1.72- $14,500

16.11.74-$20.000

1.9.76-$25,000

My Association has been assisting a deceased member's widow- with 3 dependent children- with her legal representation after her husband died in November 1973. The loss in real money terms is significant and has exacerbated the

Seamen's Compensation Bill6 December 1976 REPRESENTATIVES 3353 hardship which she has experienced, Le., assuming she is successful she will only receive $14,300 at a time when the benefit is being updated to $25,000.

I have been involved in another case in which the husband was killed in circumstances such that the commissioner did not feel inclined to pay at the time. The widow subsequently appealed and I understand she won her appeal. Although this happened over 18 months ago, if the appeal is upheld the widow will be paid at the rate which applied then and not at the current rate. She will be paid $20,000 instead of $25,000. Let us consider the anomaly applying in that case. That woman was living in a home provided by the Australian National Railways. When her husband died she was required to vacate that home. She was not thrown out of it on to the street but when she was asked to vacate the home she did so immediately and went to live in a caravan with her children. If she had been paid out immediately or not long after the accident, possibly she would have had a fair part of the purchase price of a home but now, 18 months or so later, she will be paid at the lower rate of $20,000, and will be in a less favourable position to try to settle her financial affairs.

There is one other point that I would like to make about Commonwealth compensation. I realise that the facilities of the Department of Social Security are made available to people for rehabilitation, but I think the Department should go a bit further. On many occasions people who sustain a major injury such as the loss of a leg and so forth cannot carry on thennormal work. In lots of cases they finish up in lower paid jobs. Although they may receive a lump sum payment in the form of compensation, that payment really does not compensate them for the loss. I feel that something should be done to rehabilitate these people not only physically but also educationally so that persons who had been injured and who had lost the ability to earn the money that they were earning in their former occupation can be given some educational assistance, as well as compensation, to allow them to upgrade their education so they can be retrained for other work.

I feel that this is very belated legislation. It is not the Government's credit that it has taken so long to introduce the legislation. I remember asking a question on this matter of the Minister for Health, representing the Minister for Social Security, when the session started, because I was personally involved with a number of people on long term compensation. They had been in receipt of $57 a week for a man and the smaller amount for the dependants. Whilst we are not opposing the legislation, I feel that the points I have raised should be taken into consideration. Some attempt should be made to index the compensation payments. Further consideration should be given to the amount that is paid in the case of the death of an employee and there is a bit of a delay in the payment of the compensation. I think it should be paid at the rate applying at the time of payment and not at the rate applying when the unfortunate accident happened.







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