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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5310

Senator BELL (12.16 p.m.) —The Australian Democrats welcome this package of seafarers rehabilitation and compensation Bills, as do most people involved with the industry—if not because it is brilliantly comprehensive and implementable, then certainly because it is a blessed relief to see a Bill to replace the Seamen's Compensation Act 1911. The Seamen's Compensation Act 1911, even by its title, leads us to believe that the legislation we have before us today has been long in the waiting and, therefore, is welcomed, as I say, at least with relief.

  The concerns that have been expressed by Senator Panizza regarding details and apparent inconsistencies are concerns which were drawn to the attention, firstly, of the Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, of which I am a member. There were found to be several factors which needed to be addressed. I am satisfied that the Government has made a valiant effort to address those, and the subsequent hearing by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure also addressed some of the concerns that were expressed there. In fact, some of the concerns were ill-founded.

  The Democrats have had represented to them the concerns of employees who would be affected by this and of industry representatives as well. Essentially, the case that has been put to us is connected with this sense of relief that at last legislation has been presented to Parliament to address the inadequacies of the Seamen's Compensation Act 1911.

  Essentially, the case boils down to this: if a Bill is presented to Parliament to address the problems of that compensation Act, even if it is less than perfect it will be acceptable. I must say that I have some sympathy with that particular point of view. To emphasise the slight inadequacies of this legislation now and to refuse it passage on the grounds of those slight inadequacies would frustrate both the employees concerned and the industry itself, so, of course, we would not propose to oppose it on those grounds.

  We would welcome ongoing attention to some of the details which are purported to be problems; and I will not here attempt to offer a solution. I doubt that that is my role, nor would it be capable of implementation at this stage. I have little to add other than to say that the case which was presented to us by the employees who would be affected overwhelmingly persuades us to support the legislation.

  As to the depth of detail that Senator Panizza addressed, I can see merit in some of the claims that he made, but I believe that the criticisms are somewhat overstated. For example, the criticism that the CERC Act does not represent community standards can easily be demonstrated to be overstated by the fact that the administration of the CERC Act in this particular instance is not just a case of handing over without any modification what would apply to public servants operating in Canberra and assuming that that would be relevant to seafarers operating out of Whyalla, for example.

  These assumptions are just a little too easy to make. In fact, they are governed by a Bill—an intensely modified and complicated Bill—which covers almost 80 pages with an explanatory memorandum of some 75 or so pages. It is not just a case of saying that the CERC Act applies to seafarers; there is considerable detail attached to how, when, where and what provisions and what is involved. At one stage there was a suggestion that the rehabilitation requirements, which are welcome and which have a much more modern attitude towards workers' compensation than there has been in the past, were a little more difficult when dealing with seafarers.

  The term `able-bodied seaman' is not a quaint term but in fact a very practical description of what is required to go to sea; persons in wheelchairs or persons who are disabled physically are much harder to rehabilitate for seafaring jobs. That was a complaint which was registered early in the discussion with us. But in fact only a little imagination is required to see or to understand that rehabilitation can mean a lot more than adapting wheelchairs or other devices to help disabled people move about. Rehabilitation also means restructuring jobs and reconsidering what roles a person might perform. Counselling and other activities which help a person return to work of some sort are included in the description of rehabilitation. So even that initial criticism is one which has been addressed and which can be delivered through this Bill. I do not need to take any more time of the chamber to illustrate that the Democrats will be supporting the Bill.