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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2924

Senator WOODS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services)(1.05 p.m.) —I table a supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill. For the information of honourable senators, this memorandum was circulated in the chamber on 22 August 1996. I seek leave to move the government amendments together.

Leave granted.

Senator WOODS —I move:

(1)   Clause 2, page 1 (line 8), omit "This", substitute "Subject to subsection (2), this".

(2)   Clause 2, page 1 (after line 9), at the end of the clause, add:

   (2)   Item 4 of Schedule 1 is taken to have commenced immediately after the commencement of the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995 .

(3)   Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 22), after item 8, insert:

8A After subsection 23(5)


   (5A)   If:

      (a)   the judgment or settlement was made before the commencement of Division 2A; and

      (b)   notice of the judgment or settlement had already been given under subsection (1) before that commencement;

      the notifiable person may, within 28 days after that commencement, give to the Commission a further notice in writing that contains all of the information and other matters that a notice under subsection (1) is required to contain under this section (as in force after that commencement).

(4)   Schedule 1, item 12, page 5 (lines 10 and 11), omit ", before the judgment or settlement is made,".

(5)   Schedule 1, item 12, page 5 (after line 21), at the end of section 33A, add:

   (3)   The notice must be given to the compensable person:

      (a)   if the judgment or settlement was made after the commencement of this Division—before the judgment or settlement was made; or

      (b)   if the judgment or settlement was made before that commencement—before the advance payment in question is made and, in any case, within 28 days after that commencement.

(6)   Schedule 1, item 12, page 6 (lines 7 and 8), omit subsection (3), substitute:

   (3)   The advance payment must be made:

      (a)   if the judgment or settlement was made after the commencement of this Division—within 28 days after the judgment or settlement was made; or

      (b)   if the judgment or settlement was made before that commencement—within 28 days after that commencement.

These amendments are designed to immediately clear the backlog of cases. Senator Neal has referred to the retrospectivity involved and this is one of the issues in which there is an element of retrospectivity. There is hardship going on, and it is being experienced by a number of people who are compensable.

Since the bill was introduced, much work has been undertaken in ensuring a more efficient and equitable system, and the further amendments improve the bill even more. These improvements are achieved by making the advanced payment process available to all cases, right back to the commencement of the original act on 1 February this year, rather than from the date of the passage of this bill. Since this backlog is quite significant, this will mean a significant benefit to a large number of people.

I would also like to give some assurances about recovery of debts by the Commonwealth, where the amount owing to the Commonwealth is greater than 10 per cent of the advanced payment and where the compensation payer makes an advance payment to the HIC. The settlement of any additional moneys owed to the Commonwealth is negotiated between the HIC and the person. There are a number of steps in that process which I think will allow a sensitive approach to that recovery. If there is disagreement after that process, there is a right of appeal to the AAT, and it is binding on both parties.

The question of 10 per cent might be an issue. Let me address that briefly. There may be a substantial number of cases where the amount owing to the Commonwealth is more than the 10 per cent advance payment—that is, that the figure which has been chosen is not the correct figure. By way of a disallowable instrument, the minister can determine a higher percentage. That would ensure that, in most cases, the amount held by the Commonwealth would cover the debt and not place an additional burden on the person. Of course, if it goes the other way and the average amount owing to the Commonwealth is less than 10 per cent, the regulations allow the minister to decrease the advance payment percentage to be held. I think that is a very fair and appropriate method which allows flexibility and a commonsense approach.

Amendments agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.