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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2642

Senator BISHOP (South Australia) (Minister for Repatriation) - I take this opportunity to restate the position in connection with this Bill. Honourable senators will be aware that Government amendments to the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1971-72 were introduced into the Senate and given a second reading on 1 1 April 1973. Following debate on 12 April 1973 the Bill was referred, on the motion of Senator Rae, to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. The Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs reported and the debate resumed on 30 May 1973. The Opposition parties raised numerous objections to the Bill, but particularly that the Bill gave excessive benefits to Commonwealth employees when compared to benefits available to employees of State governments and private industry. They also considered it to be premature in view of the general inquiry into national rehabilitation and compensation by the committee under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Woodhouse. After debate in Committee, the Opposition parties secured, on 5 June 1973, a postponement of the debate until the first day of sitting after 1 September 1973.

The Government considered at that time, and still believes, that it had every justification in presenting the Bill in its original form. It was part of the Australian Labor Party's POliCy before the last election, amendments to similar effect had been moved by the Government when in Opposition, and the Government's employees were fully aware of and justifiably expected the original proposals to be implemented. However, in view of the attitude expressed by the Opposition parties the Government, during the winter recess, prepared amendments to the Bill. These have been printed and made available to all honourable senators. The amendments have been prepared in a genuine attempt to ensure passage of the BUI. The Government believes that the amendments now proposed should make the Bill acceptable to all concerned and ensure its speedy passage.

The proposed amendments can be summarised as follows: They provide for 5 changes of substance that with consequential amendments involve 15 amendments and also 6 amendments of a drafting or technical nature. Amendment No. 1 is the first of the drafting or technical amendments. It merely makes the changes that are necessary as a consequence of the change in the citation of the principal Act provided for in the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Bill 1973. These changes require 2 consequential amendments which appear as amendments Nos. 18 and 19. Amendment No. 2 places a ceiling on the amount that can be taken as the average weekly earnings of an employee for the purpose of calculating the weekly compensation payments for incapacity or death after the first 26 weeks of incapacity or following the first 26 weeks after the date of the death. The ceiling proposed is an amount equal to 2.5 times the last quarterly estimate of the seasonally adjusted national average weekly earnings published before the commencement of the week for which the compensation is payable.

Amendment No. 12 relates to the amount of the lump sum payable to certain dependants of a deceased employee upon their re-marriage. Amendments Nos 16 and 17 will restore the right currently provided in the Act for an employee to use his sick leave credits on a proportionate basis in order to receive a sick leave payment of the amount of the difference between the weekly compensation payment and the rate of the sick leave pay. These provisions would have been redundant under the Bill but they now

Will have relevance in cases where the weekly compensation is reduced because of the effects of the proposed ceiling.

Amendment No. 20 inserts a savings clause to ensure that the ceiling will not operate so as to place any employee in a worse position than he would be under the existing Act. Amendments Nos 3 and 4, relating to clause 13, are of a drafting or technical nature and relate to the lump sum payable for the losses specified in proposed new section 39. Amendment No. 5 relates also to clause 13 and is the second of the substantive amendments. It removes an anomaly in relation to the lump sum payable under proposed new section 39 Ibr the loss in the one accident of the thumb and 3 fingers of the one hand.

Amendment No. 6 is the third substantive amendment and it varies the provision relating to the compensation payable for death. The effect of this amendment is to combine subsections (3) and (4) of the new section 43 proposed in the Bill in a manner that will allow the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation to apportion weekly compensation payments between two or more dependants, subject to the total of such payments not exceeding the average weekly earnings of the deceased employee and the amount payable to any one dependant not exceeding 75 per cent of those earnings. This change necessitates the consequential amendments that appear as amendments (7), (8), (9), ( 10) and ( 11)

Amendments (13) and (14) comprise the fourth change of substance and will affect the provisions relating to lump sum redemptions. These amendments will ensure that a lump sum redemption of the liability to pay weekly compensation for partial incapacity for work is not assessed on the basis of the total incapacity rate merely because the employer may not be able to place the employee in some suitable employment at the particular time the redemption is sought.

Amendment (15) is the remaining amendment of substance and it provides for the portion of a superannuation or Defence Forces Retirement Benefit pension that is not attributable to an employee's own contributions to be offset against the weekly compensation otherwise payable in all cases, whether or not the retirement in respect of which the pension is payable resulted from incapacity due to the compensable injury.

Amendment (21) is the last of the amendments of a drafting or technical nature. It merely corrects a drafting error and, at the same time, removes a redundant provision in the schedule to the United States Naval Communication Station (Civilian Employees) Act 1971-1972.

During the previous debates there was an advocacy that these things should be stood over because of the Woodhouse inquiry. The information we have at present is that the Woodhouse inquiry is unlikely to report to the Government before May of next year. So it will be some time after that before its report will be available to the Parliament, either in its original form or as amended. The principle of no loss of pay is, of course, one that has been attacked. At least it has been attacked because of the fact that it would apply to people such as heads of departments. I should point out that since we last discussed the principle of no loss of pay it has become more widespread. The most recent amendments in this regard have been those to the legislature of South Australia, but there have been some further agreements in all of the States. I thought I should restate the intention of the Government in regard to the amendments and I hope that the amendments will receive the consideration of honourable senators to make possible the passing of the Bill.

Senator Mulvihill - Mr Temporary Chairman-

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