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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2647

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - I call Senator Byrne.

Senator BYRNE -Thank you, Mr Temporary Chairman. The Democratic Labor Party has considered this matter very carefully. When the matter first came before this chamber on the introduction of the original Bill it was referred to a Standing Committee of the Senate, which brought in a report. I and others, including Senator Wright, Senator Durack, Senator James McClelland, had sat in that Committee and considered the matter. It is significant that, following the deliberations of that Committee and the matters to which it drew attention, the matter of the quantum of compensation, the levels and the optima of compensation were reconsidered by the Government. That is most significant, because Senator Wright's proposal here is that this matter should be further considered, and because it has been demonstrated that the action of the Opposition at that stage in asking for consideration by a committee was fruitful and received a response from the Government in that the scales were lowered considerably from what was originally contemplated.

Precisely the same position arises at the present time, because a committee is looking at the whole question involved in compensation to Commonwealth employees, and there is a judicial inquiry. It is therefore quite appropriate that, as the Government has seen fit-

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order! My attention is drawn to standing order 281, which says:

Motions that the question be now put and that the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again and that the Chairman do now leave the Chair shall be moved without discussion and be immediately put and determined, provided that a vote on the question that the question be now put shall require at least 2 1 affirmative votes.

The position is that I would consider a request for leave to speak to this motion, if you wish to continue.

Senator BYRNE - I am indebted to you for the direction from the Chair, and in the circumstances seek your tolerance and ask leave to address myself in terms of this motion and therefore to continue the remarks I have started.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Senator BYRNE - I am indebted to honourable senators. I was pointing out that it is appropriate that, as the reference of this matter to one committee has resulted in the Government looking again at the matter, the deferring of this Bill until the whole matter of compensation comes under the complete judicial scrutiny it is now receiving and a report is presented is extraordinarily logical. I have been concerned that action has been taken in the face of investigations proceeding at the instance of committees of this chamber. We have had it, for example, in relation to the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control, which Committee is still considering the whole subject of the ownership of Australian resources and the mobilisation of Australian capital for committal to national development, but, without reference to that Committee, unfortunately, in any speeches that I have seen by members of the Government substantial legislation has been introduced which purports to go towards that end.

If the Committees we establish are to have any value at all, if they are not merely to make token gestures to investigations of this Parliament, then those committee reports must be considered and given their full weight and value by those who have the responsibility for preparing and introducing legislation. Therefore, if a committee is constituted to look at this whole matter of what we might call national compensation, then it is quite proper that there should be a deferment, provided it is a reasonable deferment and there will not be unduly protracted delay in presenting that report.

I have been disturbed, as I was originally disturbed, at the high level of compensation contemplated in the original Bill. I commend the Government for looking again at the matter with considerable frankness and introducing much lower and acceptable levels, but the fact remains that the levels are extraordinarily high and still quite out of the range of either State Crown authorities to match in relation to their own employees or, as has been said by Senator Wright, private employers to match in relation to industrial employees. It is proper that the Commonwealth, commanding the financial resources of the nation in a major degree, should take the lead. It is quite appropriate that it should give the guidance to the rest of the community in advanced social legislation, but it is not appropriate that, using its financial resources, it should take such a lead as makes it impossible for other elements in the community to follow, and that is what is happening in this case.

If these levels are allowed as they were originally contemplated, or even in this Bill, a vast chasm would be opening which would be virtually unbridgeable, and I do not think time or anything else could bridge it. That would then create a class of individuals in one employ which would be totally privileged against all other sections of the community, and to my mind that would not be a proper use of the financial power which rests in the Commonwealth. We do not wish- certainly I do not wish, nor does my Party- to deprive Commonwealth employees of what might be considered their legitimate claims to compensation within the capacity of the financial resources of their prime employer or in terms of the injuries they suffer, the disabilities to which they are subject or the interruption to their careers. I do not want to do that, and I would oppose any move to do it, but I think I would find myself having to oppose any extravagant provision which might attempt to achieve any of these ends. It is for that reason that I think this Bill could well receive further consideration in the light of the deliberations of the judicial committee now looking at the whole matter, when that Committee's report is presented. I do think that the Minister at the table might indicate to the body inquiring into these matters that the Parliament has now had a Bill before it on two occasions, once deferred and now deferred for a second time, even though amendments were moved. He might indicate to it also that there is parliamentary concern that this matter should receive early attention and that the commitee of inquiry should be asked or invited to attempt to present its report as early as possible. I have no doubt that the Committee is attempting to present its report promptly, but perhaps at the instance of the Minister and in view of the circumstances that body might be able to do a little better and present its report much earlier in the autumn session of the Parliament next year than the month of May as the Minister has intimated is to be the case.

In those circumstances I feel that we are taking the proper course in adjourning the debate on this matter in order to await the outcome of the judicial inquiry at which time the whole of this matter can be explored, the propriety of the levels that should be set can be examined, and the relevance of those levels to other levels of compensation in State and private hands can also be considered. Then a scheme which would find national acceptance and one which would not prove abrasive between the Commonwealth and the States or between the Commonwealth and private employers should be adopted. In those circumstances I think the lead now taken by the Commonwealth in attempting to advance the levels of compensation would then have achieved some worthwhile purpose.

I do not intend to go into the other provisions of the BUI. As far as I can see, there has been no conflict in relation to the other provisions of the Bill. The conflict or confrontation lies purely with the levels of compensation. For example, clause 9 of the BUI proposes a major amendment to the principal Act. It seeks to amend section 30 of the Act by omitting the words: 'the employment in which the employee was so engaged by the Commonwealth shall be deemed to have been a contributing factor to his contraction of the disease' and substituting for those words the words: 'the contracting of the disease shall be deemed to have arisen out of the employment in which the employee was so engaged by the Commonwealth'. The adoption of that amendment to the Act would be a major step forward, and it is a step which would receive my personal commendation. When the Bill finally comes before this chamber for discussion, I hope that that particular proposal will not be disturbed. In the circumstances I support the motion moved by Senator Wright and I trust that it will be accepted by the Government.

Senator DONALDCAMERON (South Australia) by leave- Today we have heard Senator Wright and Senator Byrne put forward precisely the same arguments as they put in April of this year when the Bill was first before the Senate. Since that time the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) has introduced amendments to the Bill which alter the provisions that were opposed by Senator Wright and Senator Byrne previously. Honourable senators will recall that the motion for the deferment of further consideration of the Bill, which was carried by the Senate, was, as an instruction to the Government, in these terms:

That the further consideration of the Bill be deferred until after the general inquiry into National Rehabilitation and Compensation by the Committee under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Woodhouse has reported . . .

Senator Byrnetried to move to that motion an amendment, which was ruled out of order. He later moved a further amendment which was carried. His amendment was to the effect that the Bill be deferred until the first sitting day after 1 September 1973. It is obvious that honourable senators opposite are now attempting to defer the implementation of the benefits contained in this Bill indefinitely. In supporting his amendment Senator Byrne, on 5 June 1973 at page 23 12 of Hansard, is reported as saying:

The object of this amendment is really to assist the passage of the Bill within rational terms. The Government has been given 3 months in which to re-examine the controverted provisions. Surely that is enough time. The Bill will be debated again on the first sitting of the Senate after the first day of September 1973 which will be very shortly after the Parliament assembles following the winter recess. By that time I am sure the Government will be in a position to come forward with some amelioratory provisions which will reduce what could be described as the undue extravagance of certain sections of the working community which is demonstrated in the provisions of this Bill. In those circumstances I commend to the Senate the amendment which I have moved.

Senator Byrne - That is right.

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