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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2651

Senator BISHOP (South Australia) (Minister for Repatriation) - by leave- The Government opposes the deferment of further consideration of this legislation because it believes that it has responded to the criticism by the Opposition and to the points which were made by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs in its report. The Government regards the amendments it has introduced as being reasonable. If the Opposition thinks that they are still too extravagant- I refer in particular to the average weekly earnings ceiling of $279- it would seem to me to have been reasonable for the Opposition in the period since April to have suggested a lower figure. The Government does not see the need for any deferment. It thinks that there has been sufficient time to enable the Opposition to bring forward any additional alterations it wishes to make to what the Government has proposed.

The Government has brought forward certain amendments on the basis of movements in some States. As I mentioned earlier, it is now fairly general in industry, particularly in New South Wales, and in the public service in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania for a worker on workers compensation to get his average weekly earnings. While there is a statutory limit a worker does get his average weekly earnings.

Senator Wright - I suggest he does not get anything like $279 a week.

Senator BISHOP -The only limitation is a statutory one whereby the amount cannot exceed, I think, $27,000. But a worker who was getting $200 before an injury would get $200 when he is off work because of an injury. That is what I have been told is the position. I will stand corrected, but I understand that that is the position.

There has always been an uneven movement in Australia in workers compensation generally. We have become used in this Parliament to having to adjust the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Act every couple of years. Why do we adjust it? Often because the States have moved ahead of us. Honourable senators will be aware that that happened when the Act was amended in 1971. At that time the Commonwealth's workers compensation legislation, together with that of South Australia, was the best in Australia. Since that time it has been improved by the addition of the principle of almost full pay for 26 weeks. What has happened in the meantime? Certain arguments have been put by Senator Webster, for example, and the Opposition generally. They might well have made the same comments when the Government of which they were supporters brought in an earlier Bill. We of the Australian Labor Party commended the Government of the time for its actions. That legislation was long overdue. There had been some delay over the years in adjusting the rates. For as long as I can remember, the State and Commonwealth governments have always done this. I was a member of a South Australian advisory committee on this subject for many years. It was a committee that was set up by the Playford Government. That committee used to pick the eyes out of the legislation in the other States and attempt to get South Australia to adopt the same principles. There have been complaints by Senator Wright about, for example, the loss of a faculty. That has been provided for in the South Australian legislation for many years. If a particular injury, irrespective of whether it is a major or minor injury, is not contained in the Schedule to the Commonwealth legislation it means that a Commonwealth officer is penalised not only because there is no such provision but also, as has been pointed out, in respect to average weekly earnings. There is no ceiling in South Australia. At the present time a Commonwealth officer is penalised to the extent of the lump sum payments and in respect to the funeral benefits, which have gone up to $500 in South Australia.

That has been the pattern of workers compensation in Australia. It may be argued that there should be a different method of determining workers compensation. Personally I cannot see the present situation changing. Although honourable senators opposite have argued that the inquiry by Mr Justice Woodhouse ought to be able to provide a new system of compensation for every person, which is what the inquiry has set out to do, I think honourable senators opposite will realise, without my bleating about it, that even if the committee of inquiry were to report by March or May of next year there would be a lot of complications involved. If, for example, the committee of inquiry were to bring in a set of compensation tables for everybody in the community, including those who are not employed, it would mean that the Government would have to consider its impact on the legislation in the States. I think I would be guessing accurately if I were to guess that it would take 2 years to give legislative shape to this sort of thing. The New Zealand inquiry started in 1966. While the principles have been set out they have not yet been written into the law. It is true that by adopting the principle of weekly payments for widows we are breaking new ground. We are relating to our no loss of pay principle the principle that a widow ought to get the same wage as she got when her spouse was alive. At any rate, I just bring to the attention of honourable senators that International Labour Organisation Convention 120, in fact, states that principle. It affirms the payment of a lump sum only when countries may have trouble, legislatively or administratively, in providing a weekly sum. So I do not think that deferment of this Bill until Mr Justice Woodhouse 's inquiry has been completed really meets the situation. I would have expected- and

I condemn the Opposition for not having done it- that if the Opposition did not agree with our ceiling it would have recommended an alternative ceiling which it considered to be more reasonable. The Government would have considered that proposition. For those reasons, the Government opposes the motion for deferment.

Question put:

That the Committee reports progress and asks leave to sit again.

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