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Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 433

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Smith) - Just briefly in the5 minutes remaining for this debate today I think it is worth while pointing out that although notice was given 12 months ago that this Bill would be introduced the best this Parliament can do for debate on the Bill is to provide this very limited period of time. This should clearly demonstrate the sort of priorities we give in this Parliament to matters of such major importance as this National Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill. The Opposition is fully appreciative of the reply given by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt).

We welcome the fact that at least some continuing work is being done in this field. The Government seems to overlook the fact that an enormous amount of work was done by the 2 gentlemen who prepared the report- His Honour Mr Justice Woodhouse and His Honour Mr Justice Meares, two very distinguished judicial identities. Mr Justice Woodhouse was closely associated with the compensation scheme in New Zealand. That scheme is working quite effectively and well. His Honour Mr Justice Meares is a most experienced advocate and is very dedicated to the concept of rehabilitation. He has a lot of knowledge in this area. Although they were able to take evidence from all over Australia and produce a report which we presented to the Parliament it got waylaidin a Senate committee which basically said that it supported it but it could see some problems in certain fringe areas. The sad fact is that in a parliament of this nature we cannot even produce compensation legislation covering members of parliament. If a member of parliament is injured he has to rely on some ex gratia payment. So it follows does it not, in view of that position, that we would have very little worry about the problems of other people.

The tragedy of the situation is- and this is well known to lawyers- that it has become a lottery of chance as to whether a person gets compensation. If a person is injured while driving his car to or from work on a Monday he is covered. But if he is injured on the weekend he is not covered. An enormous number of people are excluded from workers' compensation schemes. These people include casual workers, people employed in the fishing industry and domestic servants. An enormous number of people with dreadful disabilities are not covered for compensation. Of course the Government picks up the tab through the Department of Social Security. It is always interesting when honourable members talk about joint Commonwealth-State consultations. I wonder whether any work will be done in relation to the number of people who having been compensated under these outmoded and cumbersome schemes that operate in the States have expended their money and are now a burden on the Social Security payroll. Because these people who suffered permanent disabilities were unable to live on the money which was awarded to them they are now on the Social Security payroll. They are being subsidised by the taxpayers.

The Opposition welcomes the fact that the Government feels that it ought to have further consultations. But honourable members can see the malaise that seeps through this concept in the sense that while there was an initial meeting perhaps in May of last year we really have not seen very much progress yet. We will not see it while there is this interminable argument about an injured person's legal rights in the States and whether the Commonwealth is intruding. Is it not about time that we had a look at Australia as Australians? Does it matter what a person's legal rights are? If in fact a person isseriously injured and cannot carry on in his work why should he not be entitled to compensation Under a national scheme of compensation? The farmer on the land who is self-employed gets nothing if he is injured in a tractor accident. It is an indictment on anybody who says he represents the rural interests that nothing has been done in this area. A young child who is injured gets very little compensation. It is cheaper in our society to kill a person than it is to maim a person. This is the sort of legalism we have at the present time. The Woodhouse-Meares concept did away with that. It did away with a fault concept. If we could do away with just arguing about who is to blame we would save $20m in New South Wales. How silly it is.

If honourable members look at the statistics they will see that not one State compensation fund is viable or can expect to be viable. It is confidently anticipated that State governments will have to bear the whole of the responsibility in motor vehicle insurance and workers compensation insurance because no private sector of the community can afford to take the risks that will be involved. Consider the enormous losses last year in New South Wales in the field of third party motor vehicle insurance. Over and above the premiums the loss was $49m. Admittedly this was reduced to $8m because of investment procedures but that merely meant that payment of compensation to those people who were injured was delayed for some time. Somebody had to sustain them in the meantime. Look at the tragic circumstance outlined in the Canberra Times today concerning a 19-year-old man who is now a quadraplegic. He got an enormous sum of money, but if he dies that money will go to somebody else- perhaps a member of his family. The concept is not right.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The time allotted for precedence to General Business has expired. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting day.

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