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Thursday, 15 December 1983
Page: 3865

Senator MACKLIN —by leave-I refer yet again to a case I have raised in the Parliament on a number of occasions in the past three years. It is the case of Kenneth Dax who was killed aboard HMAS Tobruk. To recap briefly, the Dax family, after a two-year fight with the previous Government and the current Government, was offered an ex gratia payment of $3,500 from the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes. The Dax family felt that this amount is insufficient to meet the costs it has incurred in its lengthy battle with the Government and it has deferred acceptance in the hope that the amount will be reconsidered. Despite the evidence that is now piling up on the Tobruk-the evidence I refer to here is that contained in the two inquiries into Kenneth Dax 's death as well as the evidence given to the previous Parliament's Joint Committee of Public Accounts and to this Parliament's Public Accounts Committee- I believe there has been a continuing reluctance to accept responsibility in this area. The previous Minister for Defence, Mr Sinclair, virtually ignored the pleas from the Dax family and the current Government was also slow to act. The present Minister for defence (Mr Scholes) in a letter dated 9 May refused to consider an ex gratia payment because he said it would 'circumvent the provisions of existing legislation'.

In a previous speech in the Senate in response to that letter I pointed out that that is precisely what an ex gratia payment is all about. The Dax family acknowledged, as I acknowledged, that any payment to them relating to the death of Kenneth Dax was not required by any Federal legislation. I am happy to say that the Minister for Social Security has given an undertaking that the Government is considering bringing in such legislation so that in cases such as this in the future where a person meets an untimely death in a situation that can, in part, be said to be under the responsibility of the Commonwealth, there is legislative compensation. The Government has used the Queensland legislation in this area to work out the amount of money that it believes could rightly be paid. An amount of $3,550 is approximately the amount of money that would be paid in similar circumstances if the matter had fallen under Queensland State Government legislation. I hope the Government has undertaken the exercise that it promised to undertake and that, in the autumn session, there will be legislation which will cover these problems in the future.

I am of the belief that the amount of money profferred by the Government is an insufficient amount. The Government has admitted a moral responsibility by paying compensation in this case. I believe in doing so the amount ought to be set at a reasonable level. The Dax family has suffered much distress as a result of the previous Government's actions in this regard and the inability and the unwillingness of the previous Government to accept a moral responsibility that the current Labor Government has at least accepted. The previous Government was quite willing to make unsolicited payments of over $6,000 to athletes who did not attend the Moscow Olympic Games. Yet after two years it was not willing to compensate the Dax family for the loss of their son under circumstances which I believe were the responsibility of the Commonwealth. The compensation is less than half the amount which was offered to athletes not to attend the Olympic Games.

I think it is time that the current Government moved beyond the position that it has taken, that it settled this matter at a reasonable level once and for all . Justice should be done to Kenneth Dax's parents by offering a reasonable ex gratia payment. In no way could that ex gratia payment be seen as compensation to the Dax family for the loss of their son. It cannot be seen as satisfying, in any way, that particular element; rather it is directed quite specifically and quite directly at the costs that have been involved in their son's untimely death and to the intransigence of the previous Government and the current Government in accepting fully the moral obligations of the Commonwealth. I believe that next year-as I understand will probably be the case-the Public Accounts Committee will be able to table a report on the Tobruk. Yet again I will probably have to raise this issue. I hope-

Senator Georges —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Macklin is referring to a matter that is before the Public Accounts Committee and a matter on which the Public Accounts Committee will report. It has completed its report. I must admit that the Dax matter is very much before the Committee and it will make recommendations. Therefore, I do not think that Senator Macklin ought to anticipate what the Committee will recommend and the comments the Committee will make.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lewis) —Order! Senator Georges, I think you have made your point without raising a point of order. I call Senator Macklin.

Senator MACKLIN —Mr Acting Deputy President, I was not attempting to canvass the decisions or the comments the Committee might make, I was merely suggesting that I will probably be required, the next time the Committee reports, to comment on this matter yet again. I hope in the mean time that the Government may look at this matter so that any further grief and any further injustice to the Dax family will not be committed and that this case may be put aside and settled once and for all.