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Thursday, 24 February 1977

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Before the Minister continues, might I say that I took it for granted that the House gave leave for the continuation of the debate because of the circumstances surrounding it and to allow the Minister to continue. It might be just as well if we record officially that the House granted leave for the continuation of the debate. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr HUNT -I thank the Leader of the Opposition and the House. Investigations have been instituted to develop options for alternatives to the Woodhouse scheme. The Government's objective is to have a joint examination by Commonwealth and State Governments of options that are available, together with an investigation of the implications of establishing a national compensation program. It is becoming increasingly evident that State governments are very concerned at the trends in and the inadequacies of existing compulsory workers compensation and third party insurance systems. The Commonwealth Government is prepared to give full consideration to options to improve the systems. All the States are concerned at the increasing cost of compensation. In Victoria in particular a judicial committee has been appointed to inquire into both workers compensation and compulsory third party insurance, with very extensive terms of reference. The role of the Commonwealth, which appears to be of much interest to the Leader of the Opposition and to the House generally, falls within the terms of reference of the inquiry.

In addition to working with the States to make the systems more efficient financially, the Commonwealth would like to see adequate incomerelated protection for the income earner who is unable to work because of personal injury, irrespective of when or where the injury occurred or whether the injured party was at fault. This, together with improvements in safety and availability of early rehabilitation, is seen as an important adjunct to the Government's industrial relations platform. The present Government regards rehabilitation of the disabled as an essential feature of any compensation program. In its consultations with the States and with other interested bodies on the development of a program, due emphasis has been given to this important matter. The insurers represented by the National Compensation Insurance Industry Committee have expressed particular concern about the provision of adequate rehabilitation services and are willing to assist in their development. The Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service is the largest and most comprehensive vocational rehabilitation service in Australia. It is only one of such services operating on a national basis. Its rehabilitation centres are specially equipped to provide balanced programming for remedial treatment and vocational assessment. In 1975-76 the Commonwealth rehabilitation service program cost $1 1.5m. So far as research is concerned, the National Advisory Council for the Handicapped and the Department of Social Security are conducting or financially assisting research into various aspects of rehabilitation. NACH continues in its role as adviser to the Government on all facets of rehabilitation.

The Government also believes that safety must be a first priority in the development of any compensation program, and the role of safety will continue to be stressed in discussions with the States and other interested groups. The National Compensation Insurance Industry Committee has already indicated that the insurers are vitally interested in fostering improved safety programs in the industrial area. In December last my colleague the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) announced that an office of road safety was to be established. The office will work in close association with the State and Territory road safety authorities and will play a major part in the national determination of priorities for the prevention of accident and injury. The major legislative power with regard to occupational safety in Australia lies with the States, so the Federal Government is limited in what it can do in that regard. Nevertheless, in its own sphere the Commonwealth has demonstrated that it is aware of the need for action by introducing a code of general principles for occupational safety and health in Australian Government employment. It is hoped that legislation broadly along the lines of the code will be introduced into the Territories.

The House may be assured that the Government's interest in safety will be carried into any program for national compensation. In other words, the Government could develop jointly with the States the framework of a Commonwealth-States national compensation program; not a centralised program but a cooperative program utilising the expertise and administrative machinery that exists within the State governments and the private insurance industry. To this end the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) met with Ministers of State governments on 10 May last year for exploratory discussions on whether the States wished to co-operate with the Commonwealth in the joint development of a national compensation plan or whether they would prefer to develop plans separately on a State by State basis. The States reiterated their objections to the Woodhouse scheme but agreed to become involved in joint discussions. The meeting established a Commonwealth-State officers steering committee to undertake a joint examination, including an assessment of the cost of various options for improving the present systems and expanding their coverage.

The committee met for the first time on 23 and 24 June 1976, and it was resolved that the Department of Social Security should prepare working papers for consideration by State officials, which led to the preparation of a comprehensive document. This document sets out what needs to be done by Commonwealth and State governments to achieve the concepts of a national compensation scheme. Working papers which considered in detail aspects of coverage and benefits were circulated to the steering committee members in September last year. The steering committee meeting which was to have been held from 30 September to 1 October last year was deferred pending the conclusion of interdepartmental consultations. At the same time as consultations were being held with the States, discussions took place with the private insurance industry, employer organisations, trade unions, the medical and legal professions, welfare organisations and motorists' organisations. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a list of the organisations which have been contacted.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

The document read as follows-

Organisations which have already been contacted are:

Australian Council of Social Service

Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia

Australian Chamber of Commerce

Australian Retailers' Association

Australian Council of Trade Unions

Australian Insurance Staffs' Federation

Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations

Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations

Australian Medical Association

National Compensation Insurance Industry Committee

Law Council of Australia Compensation Committee

Australian Automobile Association

Royal Australian College of Surgeons

Women's Electoral Lobby

National Council of Women

The National Compensation Insurance Industry Committee continuesto be vitally interested in the development of a national compensation program. It has proposed an option for a scheme involving the Commonwealth, the States and the insurers which could be underwritten by the insurers.

The Law Council of Australia has recently reiterated its interest in being kept informed of developments in the Commonwealth's policy on compensation. The Council's Compensation Law Committee, at the Department's suggestion,

Has undertaken a survey of existing compensation schemes in each State and Territory. The Committee's Report is expected to be completed very shortly. The Committee is also preparing some recommendations concerning compensation schemes.

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