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Wednesday, 26 June 2002
Page: 4381


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (9:41 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill makes a number of minor and technical amendments to Commonwealth workers compensation legislation.

Workplace health and safety is an important responsibility of the Commonwealth, and promotion of injury prevention and good occupational health and safety practice is a key focus of this government. The Commonwealth is responsible for two workers compensation and occupational health and safety schemes. The purpose of this bill is to make amendments which will support the effective operation of both schemes.

The Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 established the seafarers rehabilitation, compensation and occupational health and safety scheme, known as the Seacare scheme. This scheme is administered by the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority. Operational support for the Seacare Authority is currently provided by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 establish a workers compensation and occupational health and safety scheme for Commonwealth employees generally. Comcare provides operational support for the Commonwealth employees scheme.

The purpose of the main amendments in the bill is to relocate administrative and operational support for the Seacare scheme from the department to Comcare. Comcare is the major provider of occupational health and safety advice and expertise to the Commonwealth, while Seacare provides a specialist service to the small industry specific scheme for seafarers. These amendments will therefore provide the Seacare Authority with the benefit of Comcare's skills and expertise. But the Seacare scheme will continue to remain autonomous.

The amendments will require Comcare to provide assistance to the Seacare Authority in the form of secretarial and other resources, including staff, to enable Seacare to undertake its responsibilities to seafarers. The bill also proposes related technical amendments, including changes in relation to delegations under the seafarers act.

Consequential amendments to reflect that the Seacare scheme will be administered by Comcare are also proposed to the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Collection Act 1992.

Some other minor amendments to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act are also included in this bill.

One amendment, for instance, will remove the requirement for ministerial approval of contracts involving the payment or receipt by Comcare of an amount exceeding $500,000. The government considers that this requirement is no longer necessary.

Another amendment corrects a drafting error which occurred as a result of amendments to the act last year. The amendment will restore the original intention of those amendments—that is, that the Chief of the Defence Force may delegate his or her powers and functions as a rehabilitation authority under the act in the same way as the principal officer of a department may delegate his or her powers.

I should also foreshadow that I anticipate introducing amendments to this bill in the spring sittings, to make some further technical and minor amendments to legislation in my portfolio. I commend the bill to the House, and I present a copy of the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cox) adjourned.