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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - I join with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and honorable members who sit on the back benches on the -Government side in a plea for the streamlining of the methods of workers' compensation. .1 know that when we speak of Commonwealth jurisdiction, we are moving into a big field covering all States; but in debating a measure such as this, we have an opportunity to put points of view that normally does not .come our way.

The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) referred to the case of the crew -of the " Ian Crouch ", which was lost. I cannot accept for a moment the statement , that when the crew was taken on by the company, the normal procedure of covering the employees for workers' compensation was not followed. A weakness has emerged from this sad incident disclosing a lack of coverage under the legislation since 1911. That is why I join the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in asking, as forcibly as I can, for a complete review of the methods we have been following, and for the streamlining of Commonwealth workers' compensation.

The incident to which I have referred throws up the realities of workers' compensation. No matter how you try to cover workers in industry, you find something happening which has not been covered by compensation. Every dme we use the word " compensation " we should think of what it means. It means that an injury, or something worse, has happened to a worker somewhere in Australian industry. The last thing the shipping company anticipated was the loss of the " Ian Crouch Similarly, in every walk of industry we find things happening which were not expected to happen. They occur despite .all safety measures.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has asked for compensation provisions to be streamlined as far as possible. In that connexion, it is pertinent to say to the Government and to the Minister for Shipping and Transport that it is -time we streamlined the Seamen's Compensation Act. Although this act has been amended four times since 1949, the measure has never been consolidated, and I suggest that the Minister give attention to that matter as soon as possible. The consolidation of a measure such as the Seamen's Compensation Act is important and in the case of this .act, it is long .overdue. In his secondreading speech, the Minister said that the loss of .the " Ian Crouch " - . . brought to light for the first time the fact .that in some circumstances, Australian seamen serving in ships engaged on delivery voyages to or from Australia were not covered by the Seamen's Compensation Act.

My .first .thought in that connexion is that there have been a great number of delivery voyages around the Australian coast from various countries, but this peculiar incident is the first since 1911. that has revealed a weakness in the act. The method of curing this weakness obviously caused the draftsmen a great deal of concern. An analysis of the method that has been adopted indicates that seamen have been covered to the maximum extent possible on delivery voyages from the time of engagement until their return, irrespective of whether they bring a ship back or take a ship away and return. It is important to keep in mind the 1953 amendment which reveals the importance of consolidating the act. We want to bring the relevant provisions into one act immediately so that they can be clearly followed. Any accident to an individual that might have occurred on the return voyage of the " Ian Crouch " would not have been fully covered unless the new section and the old section of the act are read conjointly. That underlines the importance of the consolidation of this act at the earliest possible moment.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition drew attention to the need for the consolidation of Commonwealth compensation legislation. In the last amendment to the Seamen's Compensation Act we brought the schedule rates into line with those in the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act. It may well be that the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act, whilst not as liberal in some respects as some State acts, could well form the basis for a uniform act.

The Seamen's Compensation Act itself underlines the possibility of uniformity. It matters not, under this act, whether a seaman is engaged in Sydney to go to Hong Kong or in Adelaide to go to Hobart; the one act covers his compensation wherever he goes. After all, he is working under a federal award. If we can have a compensation act which covers all seamen who are working under federal awards - we all agree that they are entitled to the maximum coverage because of their occupation - surely, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said, it would not be an insurmountable task to achieve uniformity with respect to all employees working under federal awards throughout Australia. The example has been set in this act and the amendments proposed to it.

Finally, although I know that this is a matter which finally will have to be considered, possibly, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), I put it to the Minister for Shipping and Transport that even if it takes him twelve months, he should devote himself to the streamlining of compensation procedure in order to eliminate long waiting periods. A person who would give reliable evidence concerning an accident which happened a week or two ago might be at a loss to recall the details of an accident - even a fatal accident - that occurred in September, 1959. Procedures should be streamlined for two reasons: First, they should be streamlined to facilitate a better evaluation of evidence. Secondly, they should be streamlined in order to satisfy as early as possible the claims of the dependants of somebody who has been injured or killed. These two factors are so important that if the Minister found the answer to the problem of shortening procedures he would be rendering a humane service to those who seek compensation. Indeed, he would be rendering a service for which he would be long remembered.

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