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Monday, 6 December 1976


Mr HUNT (Gwydir) (Minister for Health) - in reply- I thank the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) and the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) for their contribution to this debate. They raised points on the indexation or automatic adjustments of payments of compensation benefits. The Department of Social Security has been authorised to investigate the question of automatic adjustments of compensation benefits. A number of options are available to the Government to achieve this, and they are currently under consideration. The honourable member for Grey has been very interested in this matter, as I well know. I have taken a note of the points he raised. I will convey them to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). He also made a point that I think is worthy of some consideration, and that is the question of the time that people have to wait for lump sum compensation, particularly wives of deceased Commonwealth employees. This matter of concern is one that I will also convey to the Minister.

In respect of the question of retrospectivity, it has been consistent Government policy in recent years that compensation increases should not be made retrospective. The previous Government also adopted this policy. It should be mentioned that in 1954 the new rates of compensation under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act were introduced into Parliament on 9 April 1954, and provision was made for them to apply retrospectively to 1 January 1954. On that occasion the Government had given an undertaking to introduce the amendments in 1953, but introduction of the legislation had been delayed because of the sudden ending of the parliamentary session in 1953. However, on that occasion the Government was returned to office following the election. It is relevant that the precedent was set 22 years ago, and successive governments since that time have not regarded themselves as being bound by it. The increase now being made is retrospective to 1 September 1976.

The honourable member for Canberra raised a point to which I think I should reply, and that is

This Bill brings the Seamen's Compensation Act into line with the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Act in 3 important areas. Firstly, clause 3 removes the $1,000 limit on medical benefits. Secondly, clause 6 removes from the Act the time limit on proceeding for damages. Thirdly, clause 8 sub-clause (1) introduces benefits for student children aged 16 to 21 years. The Department of Social Security will shortly be opening discussions with interested parties in the shipping industry on the question of reviewing the Seamen's Compensation Act with a view to extending the compensation code for Commonwealth employees to seamen.

I think those are the main points that need to be answered. I thank once again the honourable member for Canberra, the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) and the honourable member for Grey for the interest that they have shown in this matter. I will convey to the Minister for Social Security the points that the honourable member for Grey raised most recently in this debate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.







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