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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 9162


Mr RANDALL (10:08 AM) —It is my pleasure to speak today on the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2002, as it relates to further refinement and reform in an area of industrial relations which brings greater efficiency to the workplace. The main purpose of this bill is to effect a statutory transfer of operational responsibility for the Seacare Authority from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations to Comcare. There are three reasons for these new arrangements. First, there are sound operational and governance reasons for these decisions, in that the location of the Seacare Authority with Comcare will avoid potential conflicts of interest that occur from time to time within this department where officers who provide secretariat support for the authority also provide policy advice to the government on the Seacare scheme.

Second, the current arrangements are considered to be inefficient, given that a small departmental secretariat is attempting to support a small industry scheme when Comcare has the staff and expertise across the full range of workers compensation and occupational health and safety issues. That expertise should serve to reduce costs for both the government and the employers in the Seacare scheme.

Third, there are natural synergies between the Comcare and Seacare schemes. Both are industry based schemes and the core business of each is injury prevention and the administration of OH&S, compensation and rehabilitation programs. Comcare already supports the Seacare scheme in relation to, firstly, the conduct of the internal review function on compensation decisions under the seafarers act; secondly, approval of rehabilitation providers; and, thirdly, the provision of impairment policy and assessment guidance for medical practitioners used in assessing injured seafarers.

The minister has provided an assurance that the Seacare scheme will continue to be separate and autonomous. The Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority considered that there would be advantages to the authority and the industry in the new co-location with Comcare. The new administrative arrangements involving Comcare actually took effect on 1 July this year. However, the statutory scheme, which still refers to the department, has not yet been amended. The major purpose of this bill is to update the legislation to reflect these administrative changes.

Back to the amendments. I will just give some background to this legislation. The background is that there are a number of Commonwealth statutes relating to occupational health and safety, workers compensation and rehabilitation. However, in terms of workplace legislation there are two major Commonwealth schemes. The first relates to Commonwealth employees and the second covers seafarers, and this is the subject of the amendments of this proposed bill. In relation to Commonwealth employees, the object of the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 is preventative in nature and includes securing the health, safety and welfare of Commonwealth employees and employees of Commonwealth authorities.

Commonwealth workers injured in the course of their employment are provided with workers compensation benefits and rehabilitation programs under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, the SRC Act. Among other things, the act establishes a Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission, the SRCC. The commission has 10 members who meet at least three times per year. It carries out regulatory functions under the SRC Act, such as providing advice to the minister, producing guidelines for determination of Comcare premiums and issuing policy guidelines.

The committee also has functions under the OH&S (Commonwealth Employment) Act. For example, it is required to ensure that statutory obligations are complied with, provides ministerial advice, advises employers and employees about occupational health and safety, collects and analyses occupational health and safety information, formulates occupational health and safety policies and strategies and accredits courses.

Underpinning both statutory schemes is Comcare. Comcare was established under the SRC Act. Its functions include managing workers compensation claims made by Commonwealth employees. Importantly, too, it provides administrative support for both the SRC Act and the OH&S (Commonwealth Employees) Act. For example, Comcare has a statutory duty to supply secretariat services, assistance and staff to the SRCC, which has neither its own staff nor its own budget.

The seafarers scheme is the second of the two. The Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992, the seafarers act, is part of a Commonwealth legislative scheme covering occupational health, workers compensation and rehabilitation for certain seafarers. The seafarers act is concerned with workers compensation and rehabilitation. It applies to seafarers or trainees employed on prescribed ships engaging in intraterritorial, interstate and overseas trade or commerce.

The Commonwealth occupational health and safety statute relevant to the maritime industry is the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993, otherwise known as the maritime industry act. It is designed to address the causes of workplace accidents and thus reduce workplace injury. A major element in this act is a consultative framework to enable ship operators and maritime industry workers to cooperate in developing a safer working environment and better work practices, and the duties of care to be observed by all who work onboard ships and in offshore industry and mobile units, such as drilling rigs.

The complementary relationship between the seafarers act and the maritime industry act is underscored by the fact that the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority, better known as the Seacare Authority, which is established under the seafarers act, also has responsibilities under the maritime industry act. Under the seafarers act, the authority's functions include monitoring the operations of the act, promoting high standards of claims management and effective rehabilitation procedures, cooperating with other bodies to reduce the incidence of work related injuries, formulating occupational health and safety policies, accrediting occupational health and safety courses and, again, providing advice to the minister. Additional functions conferred on the authority by the maritime industry act include ensuring that statutory obligations imposed by the act are complied with, advising operators and employees on occupational health and safety matters, collecting and reporting on information relating to occupational health and safety and, again, formulating policies and advising the minister.

Like the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission, the Seacare Authority is a part-time body which does not employ its own staff. It has seven members and its costs have to be met through the budget of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has provided policy and administrative and secretariat support to the Seacare Authority. The appropriation for the administration of the seafarers act in the department's portfolio budget statements 2002-03 is $202,000. From the date that the proposed amendments come into effect, the appropriation will be transferred to Comcare.

The opposition spokesman has referred to some additional amendments, of which I will also make some brief mention. There is a proposed series of miscellaneous amendments to the bill. I go to the effect of these amendments. The first amendment includes moves to modernise the National Labour Consultative Council Act 1977 to ensure its relevance and durability by renaming the `National Labour Consultative Council' the `National Workplace Relations Consultative Council', updating the purpose and membership provisions, clarifying the travelling allowance provisions and enabling regulations to be made for the purposes of the act. The second amendment clarifies the intention that an ex-Australian Defence Force member—an ex-ADF member—be able to be appointed to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal while being a member of the Reserves. It also clarifies the scope of the acting member provisions and removes sexist language, which the member for Barton referred to.

The third amendment corrects unintended and unforeseen consequences arising from the enactment of the Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001. The next amendment amends the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 and the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to transfer to the Remuneration Tribunal the power to determine rates of travelling allowance for travel within Australia by presidential members and commissioners of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, better known as `the commission'. The rates are currently prescribed by the AIRC under the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

A further amendment allows the commission to deal with applications for orders for equal remuneration during a bargaining period. The next amendment allows the full bench or the president of the commission to deal with certain applications arising outside the context of an industrial dispute. A further amendment requires the rules of the commission to allow for electronic lodgment of applications under part 6B of the Workplace Relations Act, including applications for certification of agreements. The second last amendment requires the president of the commission to provide information and documents as specified in regulations to the minister. The final amendment I wish to refer to makes other clarifications and corrects a number of minor typographical and drafting errors.

I am pleased to speak on this uncontentious bill because it does what is intended. It is supported, as we know, by the opposition in that it streamlines and makes more efficient the operation of the seafarers scheme and will result in increased budgetary and working efficiency. I commend the bill and the amendments to the House.