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Tuesday, 10 April 1973
Page: 1259

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) - It is interesting to note that the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill 1973 was introduced by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) whereas the Act is administered by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). It is somewhat curious that the Minister for Labour was successful in wresting the introduction of this Bill from the Minister for Social Security. However, I expect that it will be only a matter of time before the Minister for Social Security asserts his authority over the Minister for Labour and takes over from him in this area. Another noteworthy point about the second reading speech of the Minister for Labour is that he actually had something good to say for Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd in relation to safety standards and insurance. It interested me to hear this in view of the continual and often vitriolic criticism by the Minister for Labour of this great Australian company over many years.

It seems to me that it might be appropriate to issue a word of warning to BHP in case the Minister for Labour has in mind something very unpleasant for the company, such as nationalisation of the steel industry in the near future. Employees of the Commonwealth Public Service and its authorities have played a very important role in the development of the infrastructure of the continually expanding economy and development of Australia.

The new compensation arrangements in this Bill will be widely welcomed by the large number of people who will be covered under the Act. My information is that the total number of people involved will be approximately 425,000. This figure covers members of the Commonwealth Public Service, employees of Commonwealth authorities, members of the armed forces and other people covered by such Acts as the Naval Defence Act and the Supply and Development Act.

As Ministers and members of Parliament well know, many members of the Commonwealth Public Service and statutory authorities are called upon to work long hours under continual pressure. They need to possess many fundamental qualities to carry out their duties successfully. Some of the more significant requirements are a highly developed sense of dedication together with ability and sound judgment. They also seem to develop a strong sense of loyalty and exhibit a willingness to help honourable members with detailed information on a wide variety of subjects. Their ability to maintain essential confidentiality is another important feature.

Every member of the House, particularly those in the Australian Country Party and others who represent rural areas, will agree that members of the various Public Service departments stationed in country electorates are most helpful and have made it easier for us to help country people with their problems. There would not be one of us in the Australian Country Party who has not received valuable assistance at various times from such people as the District Telephone Manager and his staff, the District Postal Manager and his staff, the Registrar of Social Services, the Regional Directors of Labour and the Commonwealth electoral officers and the members of their staffs. We in the Country Party hope to see more branches of Public Service departments established in rural areas. We will fight to ensure that the vital facilities of housing and education are provided for public servants stationed in country areas and that high priority is given to the provision of finance in country areas to meet housing and education needs.

I mentioned a few minutes ago the various fundamental qualities that a successful public servant needs. I must say that as far as Canberra employees of the Public Service are concerned I have no doubt that the basic qualities I outlined are being stretched to the limit by the rash of legislation brought about by the Labor Government and also by the ready willingness of senior Ministers of the Labor Government ruthlessly to attempt to shift the blame for a crisis - a crisis either for the Government or for the Minister - on to members of the Public Service. There have been recent major national examples of this. One involved Sir Arthur Tange of the Defence Department and the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) when the Minister was involved in a serious staff problem over a briefing with Lord Carrington, the British Defence Minister. The Minister passed the blame from himself and involved a very senior public servant in Sir Arthur Tange. Of course, we recently have had our attention drawn to a serious matter which concerned the raid by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) on the headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in Canberra and Melbourne.

It would be surprising if the policy of Ministers of passing the buck to public servants when they are in trouble does not greatly increase the number of public servants who will qualify for compensation under a proposed new section 5 (c) of the Act. The proposed new section states that the definition of 'disease': . . includes any physical or mental ailment, disorder, defect or morbid condition, whether of sudden or gradual development, and also includes the aggravation, acceleration or recurrence of any preexisting physical or mental ailment, disorder, defect or morbid condition;

When we consider the number of conditions which could apply to the definition I have just read out it is not hard to visualise the significant decline that will take place in the health of public servants if they are subjected to the unprincipled actions of senior Ministers who arc trying to get out from under by blaming public servants.

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when referring to members of the Public Service in the last few days - and remember that the members of the Public Service whom this Bill concerns have no right on reply - used such despicable words as 'conspiracy', 'withholding of information', 'malevolence', 'inaccuracy', 'incompetence', 'misunderstanding' and 'misinterpretation'. These words are in Hansard for everyone to see. It is pointless for the Prime Minister to deny that he used those words. They are all recorded in Hansard and in the headlines of the national

Press. I have just one example of this. It is a headline from the 'Daily Telegraph' of 4 days ago, which states: 'PM Blames Public Servant For Raid'. This completely supports my comments.

The overall provisions of this Bill constitute a tremendous improvement in the compensation position of Commonwealth employees who, broadly speaking, in the course of their duties are inflicted with death, illness or injury whether or not actually caused by their occupation. Some of the most important proposals that will change the previous situation rather dramatically are, firstly, that an employee's compensation on a pro rata basis will not be limited to 26 weeks but will be available for the rest of his life and, secondly, that a widow no longer will receive a lump sum but will be paid according to her family situation and according to her late husband's pay, with regular incremental increases being taken into consideration. All reasonable people will support the principle that a fair compensation payment should be made in all possible circumstances, and the Australian Country Party unhesitatingly supports this proposition.

No-one would begrudge the most generous possible payment to a widow, particularly if she has children. However, it is extremely difficult for members of the Parliament and the nation to assess the practicality and reasonableness of the proposals contained in this Bill. The reason I say that is that the second reading speech of the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), which is the explanatory speech introducing the Bill, is another of the increasing list of measures which are being brought into the House by the Labor Government and which do not contain cost estimates. It illustrates the worrying irresponsibility of this Government in regard to expenditure. Someone must pay. Many taxpayers, including the members of the Commonwealth authorities covered by this Bill, are expressing concern about who will pay and about when information on the cost of these and other proposals is to be made public. As with other measures, this Bill cannot be viewed in isolation; it cannot be divorced from overall budgetary considerations in spite of the Prime Minister's extraordinary statement in his policy speech that social welfare and social security as a whole no longer would be subject to financial or budgetary considerations.

This Bill will have another side effect which is sure to cause a big headache to members of private business and industry, small and large. There is no doubt that there will be a follow on in other sections of industry. In an article in the 'Financial Review' of 5th March, before this Bill was announced, the writer said:

The Minister for the Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, Mr Kep Enderby, is working on the preparation of ordinances to extend the benefits of the Act to employees privately employed in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory.

This illustrates the point that I made that there will be a follow on in other sections of industry. Thousands of primary producers and small business people could have an unbearable burden placed upn them by workers compensation insurance rates, which are very high even under the present arrangement. Apart from the increasing worry for business people of financing the load there is the inevitable increase in costs to the public. Another alternative to be considered is the possible collapse of the small business structure of Australia. Any substantial weakening of the structure of private enterprise would, of course, materially assist the Labor Government towards its announced and dedicated objective of a socialist state in Australia.

Mr Cohen - If you say that often enough you will start to believe it.

Mr HOLTEN - Members of the Government Party are interjecting in critical fashion, but surely it is reasonable to put forward some of the points that ought to be taken into consideration. It is reasonable to put both sides of an argument. The Country Party will not oppose the passage of this Bill through the House of Representatives because it recognises that many of its provisions are just and justified, particularly those relating to widows. However, the Country Party wants to convey a warning to the people of Australia, particularly those who will benefit from this measure. The warning is that in the long run all of us as taxpayers have to pay and have to face the day of reckoning which must inevitably come as the Labor Party continues to introduce uncosted legislation involving huge and compounding increases in government expenditure.

It is understandable that the beneficiaries of these schemes are experiencing a sense of pleasure and satisfaction in the initial stages of the range of extra benefits. However, we of the Country Party believe that the lon| term effect of the new measures involving Government spending, added to by shorter working hours, could have serious inflationary consequences for the overall standard of living in Australia and the general efficiency and cost structure of our domestic industries across the nation. The ability of industry to compete with imports from other countries and on the export markets must be affected. Whilst we appreciate that improvements in the compensation scheme had to be considered, we feel that it is appropriate for a member of the House to put the other side of the question so that the people may weigh whether the improvements have any significance. They will be able to judge in the future what happens to our cost structure, and that only time will tell.

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