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Tuesday, 10 April 1973
Page: 1266

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I too support the Bill. I feel that it will provide much improved benefits in compensation for Commonwealth employees injured in the course of their employment. I welcome the improvements that this Bill provides. I have the very highest regard for Commonwealth employees. I believe that the majority of them are dedicated and perform very useful work in a very wide range of activities throughout the Commonwealth. My only worry is that there are hot enough Commonwealth employees in my own area. As an example I mention that in the largest town in my electorate there is no office of the Department of Social Security. Many other Government departments do not have offices in that town. I believe that there is a need for a decentralisation of administration with the object of providing in country areas benefits that flow from having an office of a department established there. I hope that the Government will give consideration to that aspect of the Commonwealth Public Service, members of which will now enjoy the benefits that this Bill will bring.

I mention as another example that I should like to see more technicians of the Postal Department installing telephones and more automatic telephone exchanges in country areas. These things are vital. I could cite many examples to show how much they are needed. However, I propose to touch for a moment on the remarks made by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). The honourable member said that members of the Opposition were paying lip service to the Bill. Honourable members on this side of the chamber have maintained that we do not oppose the Bill. Does the honourable member suggest that that is paying lip service to it? Surely honourable members on this side of the chamber have a right to draw attention to those aspects of the Bill which we feel need attention.

Some points needing attention have been stated already. Much of the speech made by the honourable member for Melbourne, who spoke for the whole 20 minutes allowed to him, was taken up with a reiteration of the second reading speech by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), although he did mention that he wanted to point out some things to the Minister. However, the Minister was absent from the chamber so the honourable member was unable to point out these things to him. The honourable member referred to the Seamen's Compensation Act and urged the Minister to do something about that. The Minister was absent when those remarks were made and he is not listening now; instead he is talking to another honourable member and has not heard the comments made during this debate. It has been suggested that we are paying lip service to the Bill, but the Minister has not been here to give attention to points made, by honourable members in this debate.

I hope that the Minister will pay some attention when I remind him that a point has been made about the costs of the proposals contained in the Bill. I suggest that this is a point that needs to be considered. In relation to any disbursement of Commonwealth funds for any purpose the Government should give as accurate as possible an estimate of the costs of the proposal. An estimate of costs is absent from the second reading speech on this measure. Apparently no estimate has been made. I should like to emphasise - although what I propose to say may be twisted into a way that is not intended - that a knowledge of the costs involved does not necessarily mean that we would suggest any alteration to the Bill. It is essential that we know the costs of these proposals if we are to debate the measure effectively. We should like to know the total cost of the Government's expenditures so that we can consider the effects that the proposals will have on the economy.

Mr England - Normal business procedure.

Mr CORBETT - As my friend the honourable member for Calare has said, it is normal business procedure. It would have been reasonable for the Government when introducing this Bill to give the Opposition some indication of the estimated cost of the proposals. I feel that the absence of some such indication is a weakness. We on this side of the House make no apology for drawing attention to what should have been done. The Parliament should know the estimated cost of these proposals.

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - Would it make any difference?

Mr CORBETT - Yes, it would make a difference in that one could then look at what should be done in connection with the financing of the overall structure of the economy. The Country Party has been left in the dark by the Government as to the cost of the proposals. We want to know how the scheme will be financed and how the financing of this scheme, in conjunction with all the other Government expenditures, many of which are reckless, will affect the community. We should like to know whether extra taxation will be required or whether some of the benefits that are already available in other spheres will have to be reduced to finance this scheme. The Minister might give attention to those matters.

Will the recipients of the benefits of this proposal have to contribute through further taxation to provide for these benefits? I know that the answer will be no because it would be good politics to say no. The presence of 3 Government supporters listening to this debate shows the tremendous interest that the Government has in this Bill. There are many more Country Party members in the chamber at present than there are members of the Labor Party. I believe that in a Bill so important as this it would have been reasonable to expect the Labor Party to show a little more interest. I hope that the Minister will give some attention to these questions with regard to the financing of the legislation. Will it have the effect of recipients having to contribute more taxation? If not, what effect will it have? How are the proposals to be financed? What is the position with regard to the overall cost structure of this country in relation to all the other expenditures of the Government? I believe that it would be reasonable to assume that in the foreseeable future similar compensation benefits will apply to industry as a whole. The Minister commented on that in his second reading speech. It was a very brief comment, but at least a comment was made. The Minister said that it is only right and proper that there should be a comprehensive compensation code to cover all workers who arc injured. We do not object to that but I point out that this would involve a cost to the community. How is that cost to be mct? The cost of providing this standard of compensation should be taken into consideration when assessing the final cost to the community.

In asking these questions I repeat that I am not suggesting that these standards of compensation should not apply, but I am suggesting that the Government should have given some indication of how this legislation will affect the whole of its economic and taxation policies. An indication should have been given of the extent to which prices might have to be increased by industry if these standards of compensation are to be finally applied to industry. Does the Government expect that industry, and small businessmen in particular, will be able to carry this extra cost when eventually it has to be met, as certainly it will have to be met? Is the Government of the opinion that employees other than Commonwealth employees are not entitled to the same standard of compensation as applies to Commonwealth employees? I agree with the suggestion made by the Minister that the benefits should flow to all industry. If the flow on does occur, someone will have to meet the extra costs. The Minister may care to offer some information on the matters I have raised. Again I stress that I am not suggesting an alteration but simply want to know the answers to the questions I have asked.

I can assure the Minister that many people are concerned about the cost of the Government's very generous proposals. The Government has not been backward in handing out taxpayers' funds. When one considers the costs of many of the proposals, including the 35-hour week, it is obvious that the costs will have to be borne by somebody. It is the total operation of all the Government's proposals that concerns me. I should like to know whether this trend is to continue and, if it does, how it will affect the economy. One of the ways in which the cost of the proposals could be met would be by an increase in prices. The consumers of the goods which are increased in price will, in turn, have to contribute to this bill. Among those contributors will be some who will benefit from the introduction of this legislation.

I should like to know the net benefit to the employees and how much of the benefit will be eroded in different ways. I feel that we should not have had to ask for an explanation on this matter; it is something which the Minister should have explained in his second reading speech. In common with other speakers I welcome the reference to the need for continuing efforts to be made to reduce the number of accidents and to improve the health of the community. I appreciate that reference and I hope that success will be achieved in this direction. I hope that some reduction will be made in the number of cases for which compensation will have to be paid. I believe that every right-thinking person will agree that every endeavour should be made to cope with this matter and the fullest possible research should be carried out to see that the maximum amount of safety is provided. I am sure that the people of Australia would co-operate fully in applying the most effective safety measures available. Any step that can be taken to reduce suffering and to maintain people in gainful employment should be among the highest priorities of the Government and of every member of this Parliament. I am very pleased that the very deserving Commonwealth employees will receive the benefits that are envisaged in this Bill. My only concern is that these benefits may be very seriously eroded if the Government does not adopt a more responsible attitude to the economic state of this country. However, my colleagues on this side of the House welcome and support the Bill.

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