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Wednesday, 30 October 1974
Page: 2148

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) - I speak to the motion for referral of the National Compensation Bill to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. I make it clear that in doing so I am not referring to the second reading speech that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) has just delivered. I say, firstly, that this is a far-reaching, all-embracing piece of social welfare legislation. I think that it needs to be studied very carefully and in great depth. I noted that Senator Everett stated in his motion that he desired referral so that the Committee could study the clauses of the Bill. I take it that in studying the clauses of the Bill the Committee would have to study the Woodhouse report in depth at the same time.

Senator Everett - I would quite agree with that.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - If that is the case, I am pleased to say that I accept that this matter should be referred to the Committee.

Senator Wheeldon - That is the intention of the Government.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -Yes. I take the opportunity of saying that the Minister in handling this Bill has been very good to me as the Opposition spokesman on this matter. He has extended every courtesy to me. He has kept me informed of what he is endeavouring to do and he has explained his next moves. I am very grateful to the Minister for this. He made available to me the opportunity to go to New Zealand- I thank him for that- to study the scheme in operation there. He has made the staff of his Department available to me. I see the Head of the Department and other members of his staff in the premises. Each of them made a contribution in his assistance to me and I thank them for this. I thank the Minister's personal staff who were very good to me and who did everything possible to see that I was fully informed of what was involved in this legislation.

I hope that the Minister will give this Committee sufficient time time to study in depth the clauses of this Bill and the Woodhouse report in detail. I hope also that the Minister will give the Committee sufficient time to take representations and submissions from the people who are interested in compensation in this country. If that is not to be the situation, then the referral of this matter to the Committee will be only a token exercise. If a time limit were imposed on the Committee so that, say, in a month's time it had to make a report to this Senate, the Minister or the Government could be charged with creating a situation in which it could say: 'We have referred the matter to the Committee and the Committee has been compelled to make a report. What else do you want?' This legislation is far more important than that. After listening to the Minister's second reading speech and to Senator Everett's remarks, I think that both of those gentlemen realise the importance of this legislation.

There are few people who could contradict me when I say that there are very grave deficiencies in the current compensation schemes. These deficiencies are well known to all of us- to State Governments, judges, lawyers, employers, employees, union officials and everyone associated with compensation. All of us will admit that. I believe that the deficiencies in the present compensation schemes- we dealt with one of them today, and honourable senators will recall that the 6 States each has a compensation scheme providing varying benefits, varying upper limits and lump sum payments and so on- could be reduced if we had compensation schemes operating not just to and from work and while at work but for 24 hours a day. I believe also that third party insurance compensation schemes would be much more effective if they were made available on a no-fault basis. This is what Woodhouse envisages being incorporated in a new scheme.

Having had the opportunity of looking at the Woodhouse report, I have a number of difficulties with it. However, I would like to say at this stage that I pay tribute to Owen Woodhouse. I have spent a tremendous amount of time with him, through the Minister, endeavouring to understand what he had in mind. I think the man is quite honest and has tried to make a very good attempt at rectifying the position which exists at present. I have a number of problems with his report but before I go on to deal with them I should refer to some of the steps taken by the Minister. The Minister tabled volume 1 of the Woodhouse report in this place on 10 July. He then tabled the second volume on 26 September this year and at the time of tabling it he gave us to understand that there was a further volume to be tabled, an important volume which he called the compendium, which contained all the statistical information. Unfortunately this could not be tabled at the time of the tabling of the second volume because of printing problems. But when he did table it, it was after he had introduced the legislation in the other place. This is a most important volume. It contained all the statistical information and the information that the Committee used in compiling statistics of the cost of funding its scheme.

This compendium contained all the information which the Committee had compiled after over 15 months of work and two or three trips overseas by members of the Committee to get this statistical information. Yet the Government saw fit to provide this information after the Bill had been introduced in the other place and Opposition members had to debate the Bill without having had any time in which to substantiate the satistical information contained in the report. That is one of my criticisms. Leaving the Minister's actions aside, I go to some of the points in the report that worry me. Woodhouse talked about the funding of the scheme- the Minister has just made mention of it- and suggested a levy on employers of 2 per cent of wages paid by them, a levy of 2 per cent on the taxable earnings of self-employed people, plus a levy of 10c a gallon on petrol and dieseline. In his second reading speech the Minister said that the Government would like the Treasury to look at alternative methods to the 10c per gallon levy on dieseline and petrol. What are the alternative methods? The Minister has referred this question to the Treasury and to his Department to examine, but we are to discuss this Bill, it having been discussed already in the other place, knowing that the Government is not in favour of the suggested levy, yet not knowing what the Government is in favour of.

In his second reading speech the Minister said that there will be a running down of the insurance industry before the Government commences operations, and that the Government, through the Treasury if I remember correctly, would discuss this matter with the general insurance industry. But we are told nothing of where the discussions may lead us or what is to be the outcome, and we do not know at this stage what the objections of the insurance industry are. So I believe that the Committee should have this opportunity to study these points I have raised. Earlier I made mention of the fact that we have 7 compensation schemes operating in Australia at the present time, with six of them conducted by the State Governments. I have seen no announcement about what the Government intends to do or what negotiations there are between the State and the Australian governments on this matter. I recognise that if the Commonwealth scheme comes into operation it will take precedence over the State schemes. In fact the State schemes will fold up. I have been in touch with some of the States and I know their reactions to this proposal. I also know that the States are not enjoying the best of the situation in regard to their present compensation schemes. Some of the States, like the insurance industry, are finding difficulty in managing their present compensation schemes. I believe that the Senate should know the reaction of the States to this legislation.

I should also like to know what is the reaction of the insurance industry. Like the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation I have had the opportunity to meet representatives of the insurance industry. I am sure that the Minister and anyone interested in compensation and third party insurance can tell us that the insurance industry is a quite divided industry. It contains a number of sections and none of them are in agreement. I thought that the farmers were bad enough but I have found that the insurance industry is a little worse. Representatives of the insurance industry have come to me and told me that they have an alternative scheme to put to the Minister. I think they have probably skirted around it. They have skirted around it with me but they have not put anything substantive to me. I believe that they should put something substantive and that they should have the opportunity of talking to the Committee about their views, about what proposals they have and about what should be done from the point of view of general insurance. I have also talked to members of the legal profession.

Senator Durack - They are all in agreement.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -They are all in agreement all right. They are in agreement one way. I believe that they have some points that should be expressed to the Committee. I do not say that I agree with the submission that they put forward but I believe it is a submission that should be heard by the Committee. I see my friend Senator James McClelland sitting over there. Tonight he is a great ally of mine. I am talking about the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Bill. I think that Senator James McClelland will recall that when this Bill was before the House last year Senator Rae and I made certain submissions to the effect that the Government should wait before doing anything about that legislation until the Woodhouse report came out. Senator James McClelland said to me and to the Senate: 'You cannot possibly do that because the Woodhouse report is going to take at least 5 years before it comes out'. If Senator James McClelland wants confirmation of that I will read into Hansard what he said on that occasion. But I do not think it is necessary.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I accept your assurances but I would like to hear my ipsissima verba.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I suggest that he has a look at Hansard of 5 June 1973 at pages 2307 and 2308. He will see that he went to great lengths to explain to the Senate that the Woodhouse report would take some years. He even referred to the New Zealand situation. I mean to go on and talk about New Zealand. In that country it took some 6 years from the time the royal commission was appointed in 1966, under the chairmanship of the same gentleman to whom we are referring here- Mr Justice Woodhouse- until the Bill was presented. The royal commission reported in 1967. In 1969, following that report the Government ordered a White Paper to be prepared on the report of the commission. After that White Paper had been discussed the Government set up a parliamentary select committee which reported on the matter in 1 970. Working parties studied the draft Bill drawn up by the select committee, and the legislation was presented late in 1971. 1 think Senator Everett- or was it the Minister- referred to the fact that the Bill was introduced by the National Party.

Senator Wheeldon - Yes, I did.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - It was the Minister.

Senator Poyser - It was in his second reading speech.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I did not listen to his second reading speech because I knew what would be in it. The legislation was introduced by the National Party, and the Labor Party, when it came into office, added the nonearner section to the legsilation. So both parties in New Zealand had a bite of the cherry. There was great uniformity between the 2 parties in New Zealand on this matter. I look at Senator Durack, at Senator James McClelland and at a few more like them -

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will you wake Senator Webster?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -He is listening with his eyes closed. There are one of two other points about which I am concerned. When I went to New Zealand I talked to the officials there. I recall that when the legislation went through the Parliament an offer was made to the insurance industry to take over the agency for the commission. The insurance industry had put up proposals to the New Zealand Government opposing such legislation. When this offer was made the industry had to about face and think very deeply about whether it should take over the agency. But in the meantime the Government made an offer to the State Insurance Office and it quickly accepted the agency. The situation that worries me is that the State Insurance Office immediately went out and bought, hired or rented office space- I do not know the correct terminology and perhaps the Minister's officers will be able to tell him- in every regional centre throughout New Zealand in order to set up offices.

I notice from looking through the Bill that the secretary of the Department of Compensation is to be given the discretion to do what he believes is right in this situation. I wonder how far he will go. I questioned the Minister and his departmental officials about advertisements that have already appeared in the newspapers throughout Australia seeking staff and senior officers for this new department. When I suggested that the legislation might not go through this House I was told that the staff could be used quite easily in other places. I do not doubt that for one minute but I am afraid that there might be a great build up of staff. I am a little concerned at this, particularly when I read tonight in some papers provided to me, arising out of the questioning of the Estimates Committee, that in one place $25,000 will be spent on typewriters. Another line shows that an additional $12,500 will be spent on more typewriters. A lot of people must be going to use those typewriters or they must be pretty dear to purchase. These are some of the things that worry me.

As I said today in relation to the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Bill, when legislation was introduced in 1973 the Senate delayed it so that it could be examined further. The legislation was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for examination and then the Senate debated the matter further. Today we debated legislation in this place which the Minister decided not to pursue in 1973. 1 believe it is well worth that extra time in examining legislation in this place, particularly when one recalls the Trade Practices Bill which was introduced into the Senate and then, because of the proroguing of the Parliament, it disappeared from the notice paper. When next introduced into the Senate it contained 109 amendments put there by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy). Surely that is good reason, for extra examination of legislation which comes through this place. I see the Attorney-General in this place. I recall to him that after the Bill disappeared from the notice paper for the second time because of the double dissolution of Parliament and when he brought it back for final debate, he had added another 24 amendments to it. That bears out the suggestion that we should take legislation of this sort carefully and examine it in depth and in detail.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - This Minister is just as reasonable.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I agree with Senator James McClelland that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation is just as reasonable. He has referred this legislation to the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee. I am only saying that I hope the Committee will have an opportunity to examine the legislation in detail and in depth. My other concern is the common law aspect. This is a very important matter. I am not a lawyer. I am sometimes called a bush lawyer. I am told by my legal friends that in matters of common law where one sues some 80 per cent of cases are settled out of court. How are they settled out of court? I am told that they are settled out of court because of the vast experience of lawyers who believe that they know what the court will say. I smile. A lawyer can do that, but if we refer this matter to a commission the commissioners cannot do that. Why? I would like the Committee to have a look at that aspect. On the other hand I am quite sure that there must be people who, if they have cases settled by the Commission, do not always get satisfaction.

Perhaps they should have the opportunity of endeavouring to get satisfaction through common law. I do not know whether I am right or wrong. Perhaps the Minister can have the commissioner deciding in the main, but if one does not believe that he is getting satisfaction through the commission then he can take his case to common law. Is anything wrong with that? Mr Justice Woodhouse says that it is not necessary. I am not sure whether it is necessary but I hope that this Senate Committee made up of lawyers will have a look at this point to see whether we cannot have the 2 aspects running side by side.

Senator Georges - For a person who was not going to make the kind of speech one makes in a second reading debate the honourable senator is not going too badly, is he?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -I am not making that kind of speech. I am giving some guidance to the Committee. When I make a speech in a second reading debate Senator Georges will know it. I am only indicating to the Committee what I believe should be done. I think I have been on the Government's side tonight most of the way.

The PRESIDENT - Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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