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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2650

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -by leaveWhenever the Parliament debates matters related to compensation one always has a sympathy for those individuals who may be involved in the matters under debate. Over the years we have had problems relating to sufficient compensation being paid to individuals who are injured in the course of their employment or who are injured at places away from their employment, whether the injury so sustained was due to the conditions of employment of the individual or, as is often the case after years of work in a particular industry, to a disability in the employee's physical condition. There are so many areas of debate in relation to sufficient compensation for people who work for an employer that it is very difficult to decide when responsibility should be left with an employer.

I imagine that it would be the view of this chamber that the greatest possible amount of benefit should be provided to any injured person in the community, whether that person be an employee, an employer or a simple housewife. There should be a level of compensation available, if the community can afford it, that will adequately compensate persons during their lifetimes for some injury or some disadvantage which has been received. They are hopes which we imagine may come to fruition in the future as conditions in society are gradually improved. We all hope that eventually the whole of Australian society will be covered by some compensation scheme. Of course, the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill with which we have been dealing is directed at a certain class of employees and covers, as I understand it, about onethird of the employed population.

The range of salary or benefit which is received by such employees for that employment is quite considerable. One would wish that those who are on a low rate of pay perhaps could be elevated to a rate of pay somewhere in the region of that received by those to whom some high ranking Ministers in the Government have, I believe very unfairly, referred in a financial sense as being the fatter people in the community. Generally, I see such people as carrying a much greater responsibility. Indeed, the top Commonwealth public servants have my greatest admiration for the volume of work they do and the integrity with which they carry out their work. This has been my experience of them. I think that it is completely unfair for the term 'fat cats' to be applied to such people by Ministers, particularly when one considers the background of some of the Labor Government Ministers who are now in this category but who not so long ago were very lowly paid and the brilliance of the contribution they have been able to make during their lifetimes. They have been elevated financially to being among these fat people receiving a salary between $25,000 and $30,000 a year. I think that it is most inconsistent that this objectionable name should have been used in relation to some of our top public servants.

Whatever be their employee status- whether they be highly paid employees or whether they be lowly paid employees- I have regard for the fact that compensation for each should be more at the one level. It should not be struck on a basis of a completely irresponsible level, as was the case with the original Bill when it was introduced into the Parliament. I give credit to the Government that on hearing the arguments of the Opposition parties, particularly in this place, it has made some rearrangement of the Bill. It is quite a detailed matter to attempt to evaluate what the situation will be for anyone who is injured in the course of his or her Commonwealth employment. When this Bill was before the Senate previously, the Senate directed that it be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs.

Our attention has been directed to the supplementary report made on the reference. That supplementary report was made by Senator Byrne, Senator Durack and Senator Wright. One could not but be impressed by the instances which were given of the variations in the benefits to be given under this Bill. I pose the question: Why does such a Bill give benefits to some individuals and deny a benefit to others? The supplementary report indicated that the benefit would not be payable, for instance, to the dependent widow of a war veteran, a state or private employee or self-employed person, to a dependent widow whose bread winner had been killed by fault of the employer, or to the incapacitated war veteran, employee in State or private employment or self-employed person. It has been mentioned, and I take the point greatly to heart, that we are introducing into this matter a lead by the Commonwealth in the granting of enormous benefits to one class of persons in the community. I stated originally that I would wish to see all people covered in some way by the benefits of such a scheme. Why are not all people covered at the present time? Why are not all State Government employees covered at this time? The plain fact is that the community is not in a position to offer that benefit at this time. I think that it is inconsistent that the Commonwealth Government, on behalf of the people of Australia, should offer to one class of people in the community this inordinate benefit in regard to compensation.

I think that recognition must be taken of the effect this could have on the private sector of the community. Supposedly at this time we have all given consideration to the inflationary trend. Our minds are being directed to reports presented by joint parliamentary committees and by Senate committees relating to profits, profit margins and to the cost of goods to the community. In regard to a reference on carpet tiles that came before the Joint Committee on Prices the other day, the point was taken in regard to the margin between wholesale and retail selling prices. Of course, one can say that the private sector will produce the profits that will enable the Government to provide the funds to grant benefits to its employees. That margin of profit will enable industry to pay taxation, whether it be by way of payroll tax, various sales taxes that may be applied, company tax on private or public companies, or the distribution of dividends which are then taxed a second time in the hands of the recipient. Private production gives the Government funds so that it can act on a matter such as this.

The criticism that is levelled at the margin of profit in the handling of particular products, whether they be from the primary sector, the manufacturing sector or the minerals sector, is often unfair. The margin between the cost of production and the sale price is in the main based on what is required by the employee. One has to take into account not only the salary or wage required by the employee but also the provision one has to make for sick leave, public holidays, annual leave, long service leave and, of great importance these days, the burden of workers compensation. Workers compensation is a very substantial commitment for private industry these days. It is a commitment which has to be taken into consideration by anyone going into business. Anyone purchasing goods for re-sale or producing goods for sale has to get them to the position where he is able to sell them. Anyone in business must take into account the impost of workers compensation. I would be willing to bet that nobody on the Government side of the chamber has made any calculation as to what impost workers compensation places on the salary and wages bill of the Government. It is a substantial percentage. If this measure to provide such benefits to a substantial part of the employable Australian community were carried it would lead to higher costs in the community.

The main point raised on the report brought forward concerning the supplementary submission of this reference was that Mr Justice Woodhouse of New Zealand was at present looking into an Australia-wide compensation scheme. The point I wish to make is that I believe it would be very appropriate if further consideration of this legislation were to be deferred. I certainly do not wish to deny the provision of workers compensation to Commonwealth public servants. They are entitled to it. But I believe that the Australian Government's present compensation scheme for its empoyees is as good as one will find in almost any country in the world. It is certainly comparable with anything one will find in private industry in Australia. They are not being denied something which is common throughout the rest of Australia. But this Bill seeks to escalate them into a new bracket. I do not deny that they have a right to be placed in the same bracket as the rest of the employable community. We are awaiting a comprehensive report that may lay down for this or any other Government some basis whereby a contribution can be made to the whole of the Australian community. Again I refer to the fact that one sees many instances in one's lifetime of individuals who are harmed in accidents and who appear to have no claim on anyone in the community for compensation for the disability they have suffered. Housewifes and children are but 2 classes of examples. One can readily bring to mind many examples of how it could be said that by passing this Bill we will be creating an elite in the Australian community. It is not warranted at this moment. I believe that we should wait and that we should seriously consider the implementation of an overall compensation scheme for the whole of the Australian community.

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