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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1873

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) -I move

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to provide for increases in benefits payable under the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act 1971-1973 which provides workers' compensation for employees of the Australian Government and its statutory authorities. Before outlining the provisions of the Bill I should mention that the Bill would not be necessary but for the Senate's failure to pass the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill 1973. That Bill was passed without opposition by the House of

Representatives in April 1973 but its consideration was deferred on several occasions by the Opposition parties in the Senate and it eventually lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued last February. Because of the attitude of the Senate and also because of the Government's intention to introduce a national compensation scheme, as evidenced by the National Compensation Bill 1974 introduced into the House of Representatives on 3 October 1974 by the Honourable L. F. Bowen, Special Minister of State, the Government decided not to persevere with the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill. However, as was announced at that time, it is proposed that the national compensation scheme should be introduced in stages, with the first stage not expected to come into operation until 1 July 1976. Because of this and also because there have been significant increases in the cost of living and in the benefits payable under State workers' compensation legislation since the rates of compensation for Australian Government employees were last increased in November 1972, it is now necessary and indeed, only equitable, for the rates payable under the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act to be increased.

Compensation for total incapacity

The Act already provides for employees injured on or after 2 November 1972 to receive a weekly compensation payment equal to their normal full sick pay rate during the first 26 weeks of total incapacity for work. However, for long term cases, where the injury was sustained prior to 2 November 1972, and for cases where the injury was sustained on or after that date and total incapacity has exceeded 26 weeks, the compensation is based on fixed weekly rates specified in the Act. The Bill provides for these rates to be increased. Under the Bill, the weekly compensation for a totally incapacitated employee without dependants will be increased from $43 to $57. The additional weekly supplement for a dependent spouse will be increased from $11 to $15 and the weekly supplement for each dependent child will be increased from $5 to $7.

Compensation for partial incapacity

In accordance with the increase in the basic weekly rate for a single employee, the maximum amount of compensation generally payable to a partially incapacitated employee will be increased from $43 to $57 a week.

Compensation for death

The Bill also provides for increases in the amounts of compensation payable where an injury results in the death of an employee. The basic lump sum payable to dependants will be increased from $14,500 to $20,000. The weekly amount payable in respect of each dependent child of a deceased employee will increase from $5 to $7 and the minimum total amount payable for each child will be increased from $500 to $700. The maximum amount payable in respect of funeral expenses will be increased from $300 to $450.

Compensation for specified losses

The lump sums payable under the Act for specified losses will also be increased. The maximum lump sum payment for the more serious scheduled losses will be increased from $14,500 to $20,000 and there will be proportionate increases in lump sum payments for the less serious losses. Payments for loss of the capacity to engage in sexual intercourse and severe and permanent facial disfigurement will increase from $7,250 to $10,000 and compensation for loss of the sense of taste or smell will be increased from $1,450 to $2,000.

Other increases

The maximum amount payable for alterations to buildings or vehicles, or repair or replacement of certain aids and appliances will go up from $350 to $500. Finally, the amount of additional compensation payable where an employee requires the constant help or attendance of another person will be increased from $9 to $14 a week.

Minor amendments

The opportunity has been taken to make some minor amendments, some of a drafting nature and others to correct errors or anomalies, in what is comparatively new legislation. The first of these amendments will ensure that a 'prescribed Court', as defined in the Act, will include the County Court in the State of Victoria. Consequent upon the enactment of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, the Bill will amend the provisions in the Act relating to salary and allowances for the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation and the Compensation Tribunal.

At present, a claimant cannot recover any costs he incurs in connection with a request to the Commissioner for reconsideration of a determination. However, a claimant is entitled to costs if after he has instituted proceedings before a compensation tribunal or a prescribed court, the Commissioner, on his own motion, reconsiders and varies or revokes the determination and thereby renders the proceedings before the tribunal or court abortive. Under a new provision contained in the Bill the Australian Government will be liable to reimburse any costs reasonably incurred by a claimant in relation to a determination which is varied or revoked by another determination as a result of a request to the Commissioner for a reconsideration; such a liability will be imposed when the second determination is more favourable to the claimant or, if it is less favourable to the claimant, when he was not the party who made the request for reconsideration of the first determination.

The Bill contains some amendments to the provisions in the Act relating to the calculation of an employee's average weekly earnings to remove some anomalies which have come to notice. Some amendments of a consequential nature are also included because of the enactment of the Defence Forces Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973. These amend the provisions under which the portion of a superannuation pension not attributable to the employee's contributions is taken into account when determining the weekly compensation payable for total or partial incapacity for work.

Amendment of other Act

Honourable senators may also care to note that the Bill provides for amendments to the Schedule to the United States Naval Communication Station (Civilian Employees) Act 1971-1973. This Act is a companion piece of legislation which extends the terms of the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act to civilian employees employed by the United States Navy in connection with the naval communication station. The amendments to the Schedule are necessary to apply the amendments to the principal Act to these employees.

Application of amendments

The intention is that the amending legislation will come into operation on the day on which it receives the royal assent and the Bill provides for the increased weekly payments to apply on and from that date, notwithstanding that the payments relate to an injury sustained before that date. The increased lump sum payments for death and specified losses will apply on and from the date of commencement of the amending Act in all cases where the death occurs or the loss is suffered on or after that date, even though the death or the loss may have resulted from an injury sustained before that date. Increases in other benefits will apply in a similar manner.

Cost of increased benefits

The total cost of the increases to which I have referred is estimated to be $700,000 for the remainder of this financial year and $1.2m for a full year. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator DrakeBrockman) adjourned.

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