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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1223

Senator COONEY(5.00) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This report is brought forward under section 122 of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 and sets out the statistics that are thereby required. It is perhaps an inadequacy in the Act that other statistics are not required-specifically, the sorts of injuries that are caused to those working for the Commonwealth in the work place provided by the Commonwealth, and their cause. Simply to give statistics as to the number of claims and the amount paid does not really present a basis for making reforms in the work place which may save people from receiving injuries. In the introduction to the report the Commissioner has set out that significant administrative reforms have taken place in the sense that the processing of claims has been centralised so that, as he says, `the time taken to process claims has been reduced and the quality of decisions has improved'. There have been savings in the number of staff required to process the claims. Anything which increases the rapidity with which claims are processed must be welcomed.

I want to comment, perhaps a little adversely, on one part of the report-that is, the statement made by the Commissioner on pages 16 and 17 of the report when he talks about consent decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I think he indicates that he is rather averse to consent decisions. Indeed, the last sentence on page 17 reads:

In my view it should in any event be an exceptional case that required to be resolved by way of a consent order.

That seems to be a somewhat amazing statement.

Senator Michael Baume —It will do some lawyers out of some jobs.

Senator COONEY —Consent orders do lawyers out of costs, and it seems extraordinary that the Commissioner should be suggesting that cases that can be settled at a civil level between the Commonwealth and the victim of an injury should not be solved by a consent order. The parties, surely, are the ones who best know what a case is worth and what should be the result of it-subject, of course, in the proper cases to supervision so that the victim of any particular injury is not badly done by. I say with some feeling that if a legal adviser comes to a suitable out-of-court settlement, the ability of the adviser to see that settlement completed when he is frustrated by a lack of instructions and, perhaps, by the attitude indicated here by the Commissioner makes for protracted litigation and unhappy parties and, indeed, misconceives the idea of what courts should be about. Courts in civil proceedings ought to be used as a last resort when agreement cannot be obtained between the parties. It is perhaps an unhappy situation to see people saying that only in exceptional circumstances should matters be resolved by a consent order. I invite the Commissioner to rethink his approach on that matter, as set out on pages 16 and 17 of the report.

It is interesting to look at the statistics on the number of claims that are made and the expenditure that takes place. I see from looking at the list that the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation had 75 claims, all of which have been met. Indeed, the list of those claims that have been met and those that have not makes interesting reading. I think that the statistics as they now exist are not as comprehensive as they should be. Clearly, this Act is one that is in need of reform. It is an Act which does not give adequate compensation to the victims of injuries after six months. In many instances adequate compensation is not paid at all without make-up pay. I commend the Commissioner for his report, except in the respect that I mentioned. We ought to look forward to comprehensive reforms being made to the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act later in the year.