29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I call on the Clerk to read petitions.
- Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the fact that there are only 5 Ministers on the Government front bench.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology which has catered for tertiary needs of Melbourne for nearly 100 years is still without any location where students can gather in a social context.
That a properly constituted meeting of students supported the policy of the elected Students’ Representatives Council that Union Facilities should be the First priority of the Institute.
That the S.R.C. formulated a Definitive Plan that is an acceptable constructive and reasonable amendment to the present planning schedule at the Institute.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House ask the Australian Commission on Advanced Education to consider in their 1976-78 Triennium Report an allocation of funds to ensure the provision of Union Facilities at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass, Mr Garrick, Mr Jarman and Mr McKenzie.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government will forthwith do all things necessary to return to the States of the Commonwealth all moneys raised by way of taxes and excise on petroleum products.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Connolly and Dr Edwards.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas uranium found in vast quantities in Australia is the raw material for the nuclear fission reaction,
And whereas presently assured reserves of uranium in Australia represent a potential production of over 540,000 kilograms of Plutonium 239 if utilized in Light Water Reactors overseas,
And whereas the Maximum Permissible Inhalation of Plutonium 239 is 0.00000025 gram,
And whereas Plutonium 239 is one of the most dangerous substances human society has ever created, causing mutations and cancers,
And whereas there are no methods of safely and absolutely confining Plutonium from the biosphere for the requisite quarterof a million years,
And whereas Plutonium coming in contact with the air forms an aerosol cloud of micron-sized particles, its most dangerous form,
And whereas the export of uranium may return to us an import of Plutonium particles dispersed in the global environment via the circulation of the atmosphere,
And whereas there are no sure safeguards against the military use of nuclear fission, and the nuclear proliferation represents a prime environmental threat to all forms of life on the only earth available to us,
And that it is therefore an act of self-preservation to demand a halt to all exports of uranium except for bio-medical uses,
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Coates and Dr Gun.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of certain citizens (electors of the Division of Hume) hereby respectfully showeth.
That citizens of this Division place great value on the sanctity of marriage, and are greatly concerned that under the proposed provisions of The Family Law Bill 1974, a woman who has performed her duties of wife, mother and homemaker in a praiseworthy manner, can nevertheless find herself placed m a most unjust and unfair position, even if an innocent party.
Your petitioners therefore humbly request that greater consideration be given to preventing such positions of injustice from occurring. by Mr Lusher.
To the honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That the Barton Highway is one of the main entrances to the National Capital and that it is used by visitors from many parts of Australia,
That this highway is in a sub-standard and dangerous condition.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to accept responsiblility for the upgrading and maintenance of the Barton Highway as a . main entrance to the National Capital.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Lusher. Petition received.
To the honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That the proposed ‘free’ national health scheme is not free at all and will cost four out of five Australans more than the present scheme.
That the proposed scheme is discriminatory and a further erosion of the civil liberties of Australian citizens, particularly working wives and single persons.
That the proposed scheme is in fact a plan for nationalised medicine which will lead to gross waste and inefficiencies in medical services and will ultimately remove an individual’s right to choose his/her own doctor.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the basic principles of the existing health scheme which functions efficiently and economically.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received. by Mr McLeay Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That whereas it was reported in ‘ Newsweek’, August 26th, page 12, 1974, that the Australian Government agreed to send $225,000 for ‘humanitarian purposes’ to black guerilla movements fighting Rhodesians, South Africans and Portuguese in southern Africa;
And whereas these guerilla movements being members of ZAPU CANU FRELIMO and FROLIZI and other kindred organisations have been guilty of ninety-six documented acts of murder, abduction, mutilation, arson, cattle maiming and rape chiefly against other peaceful Africans between 22nd December, 1972 and 10th May, 1974, in Rhodesia alone;
And abducted 29S people, chiefly school children, from the St Alberts Mission in Rhodesia as reported in the newsmedia;
And whereas these above mentioned and kindred organisations have been guilty of many other barbarous acts of brutality as reported in ‘The Silent War’ by Chris Vermaak and Reg Shaay and the ‘Real case for Rhodesia’ by charlton Chesterton, both books widely read in Australia.
So therefore your petitioners most humbly pray that the Australian Government will cease to support by material and other means those organisations in southern Africa which are guilty of their various acts of terrorism, because such material and other assistance would give the impression of agreement of the Australian people and the Australian Government to the various acts of brutality which have been perpetrated by the organisations concerned.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McLeay
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the proposed Universal Health Scheme is essential to the well being of all Australians, in so far as it will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will hasten to introduce this much needed scheme so that health care services in Australia can begin to function equitably, efficiently, and economically.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Morris. Petition received.
-My question is directed to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that interest rates are not presently one of the items directly included in the consumer price index? If so, will the honourable gentleman consult the Bureau of Statistics to determine whether some provision can be made for the inclusion of interest rates in the consumer price index so that such index will reflect with even greater accuracy the present cost of living to Australian households?
-I think the honourable gentleman will be aware of the difficulty of any index being suitable for all purposes and the regimen of the consumer price index is certainly continuously under review. It now falls within the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Special Minister of State, and not my own but I will take note of this suggestion and pass it on to him.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that this present Australian Government has provided more moneys to Tasmania by way of loans, grants and special subsidies, particularly in the area of shipping, than has any previous Federal Government? Is it also a fact that the Tasmanian Government has acknowledged this generosity by the present Australian Government?
– My Government and the Tasmanian Government are very closely cooperating in all matters for the development of the State. It is statistically irrefutable that Tasmania has received more by way of loan funds and outright grants from my Government than it has from any previous government, and that the proportion of increase has been greater than in the time of any previous government. The honourable member mentions the question of transport. The Australian Government is very much aware of Tasmania’s dependence on one form of surface transport instead of 3 forms of surface transport as all the other States can enjoy. It is for this reason that my Government has commissioned, as a royal commissioner, Mr Nimmo to inquire into all features of sea transport between Tasmania and the mainland. The honourable gentleman will remember- in fact, it was his idea that I undertook that the Australian Government would work to see that the cost of transport by sea between Tasmania and the mainland was no more per ton mile than the cost of transport by various means between the mainland capitals.
Mr Nimmo is investigating the situation in Canada where the position has long obtained that the Canadian National Railway is obliged to see that ton mile rates between the various islands in the St Lawrence estuary and the rest of Canada are not greater than those on the mainland. The honourable gentleman will know of the many other instances of what we are doing in other fields. Some concern transport as well as regional development, such as the concentration of transport facilities in an economic way on the north coast of Tasmania to ensure that imports and exports are transported at the minimum cost.
-Has the Deputy Prime Minister been accurately quoted in saying that the Press was engaged in a campaign of endeavouring to destroy the Labor Government? If not, will the honourable gentleman publicly withdraw this disgraceful attack? If so, what evidence has the honourable gentleman that the Press is involved in what, according to the Press reports, is understood to be some form of anti-Government plot? If the honourable gentleman has been accurately reported, are not the comments as reported but a further attempt to find a scapegoat for this Government’s economic policies now that the honourable gentleman and his colleagues can no longer blame the multinationals, the system, profits, and imported inflation?
– The words used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition are not precisely mine, but anyone who looks at the newspapers these days knows that they are not reporting accurately what is occurring and that they have a responsibility to do so. Everyone knows that the newspapers seek out the sensational aspects of anything. Conflict, confrontation, is more attractive to them. They have been doing that, I think unusually so, in recent weeks. One need not be on one side or other of the House to-
– Are they trying to destroy the Labor Government?
-I said that the words used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were not my words, but I do not remove anything of my belief that the Press has not been reporting accurately and fairly. I think that any fair judgment of observation of what the newspapers would do would support me in that view. The honourable gentleman talks about scapegoats. The point I have always made about this is that we live in an economy, the main forces of which are outside the direct or indirect control or influence of the Government. This is an economy that fluctuates. It rises to a high point of boom and invariably it descends. The main causes of that movement are in the economy itself. They are outside the scope of this Parliament and they are purely economic.
– That means it is the system.
-Of course it means that. Secondly, they are international. In the discussion of a matter of public importance in which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition took part the other day, I quoted figures of the inflation rates in other countries and showed that Australia was no different and that-
– You did not mention oil.
– Order! Interjections will cease. The honourable gentleman has asked the question and the Minister is answering it. I will not have an incessant barrage of interjections again today.
– The increase in the cost of oil as a contributor to inflation is greatly exaggerated. It represents only a small proportion of the increases in costs in any country, and the real influence of the cost of oil in inflation is not so much its contribution to costs but the fact that during the course of this year perhaps as much as $90,000m will move from the developed countries to the exporting countries and that money has to find its way back in re-investment. It is the dislocation of the flow of investment, of the investment channels, that has been the most disturbing factor internationally this year. But that is the position. We are part of an international process and it may well be an advantage to the humorous gentleman sitting opposite me to think that all-
– No, he is ludicrous; he is not humorous.
– He is ludicrous from our point of view. It may be of advantage to him to state that inflation has all been caused by the Government, as though the Opposition, if it were the Government, would have some magic solution for an international situation. That is what I said the other day and that is what I say now.
– Has the Minister for Minerals and Energy noted complaints by Mr Hildebrand of Australian Anglo American Ltd concerning the deal entered into between the Petroleum and Minerals Authority and the Wambo Coal Corporation yesterday? Is there any basis for the criticism which this gentleman has made of the Minister?
-I am completely at a loss to understand the concern expressed by Mr Hildebrand of the Australian Anglo American Ltd as to some alleged discourtesy on failure to inform him of the action proposed by the Petroleum and Minerals Authority to acquire a 49 per cent interest in the Wambo Coal Corporation. In point of fact he was notified by telephone at 1 1.50 a.m. yesterday by Mr Sharah of the Department of the Treasury, with whom he has been in contact.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. In view of the Japanese Government’s desire to conclude with Australia a treaty of trade and friendship, and the Australian Government’s preparedness to enter into negotiations towards a conclusion of a Nippon Australian Relations Agreement, will the Prime Minister advise the House whether during the impending visit of the Japanese Prime Minister such a treaty will in fact be concluded? Will he advise the House, further, whether in pursuit of the resources policy which he advocated in his 1972 election campaign there has been consideration in the deliberations towards the conclusion of this agreement concerning the Governments of both countries laying down terms and conditions by which multi-commodities might be guaranteed access from Australia to Japan? In view of the Japanese desire to purchase Australian minerals and their closure of the Japanese market, in particular to Australian beef, will he ensure that in any such discussions there is consideration of the availability of one commodity being balanced by the preparedness to accept others?
– I expect that Mr Tanaka and I shall be discussing the treaty of Nara. We will not, however, be signing it on this occasion. It is a much more wide-ranging treaty than Australia has ever concluded with any other country or Japan has ever concluded with any other country. It will not go into the details of percentages or commodities. It will, of course, state general principles within whose ambit more precise arrangements will be made concerning, among other things, commodities. The honourable gentleman invites me to go further than the treaty of Nara and to mention commodities themselves. Obviously my colleagues and I are hoping to discuss the general terms of trade between Australia and Japan- Japan being our principal customer and we being Japan’s largest customer but one. I would not advocate that there should be some quid pro quo such as ‘You take our meat and we will take your motor cars’, or the like. There is an overall attitude to be reached over the whole range of such matters.
Japan takes twice as much in value from Australia as Australia takes from Japan. The gap has been closing but only slowly. Clearly we each need each other very much indeed. Each is likely to be as important to the other as any other country is to either. I have in mind, naturally, as I said 2 days ago, the position of some of Australia’s primary products. One can understand, as my colleague the Minister for Overseas Trade said yesterday, that there are internal pressures in Japan which make it inevitable for any Japanese government to scrutinise more closely imports of primary products such as wool and meat than it would scrutinise imports of minerals. By the same token there are internal pressures in Australia which make Australia scrutinise some manufacturing imports from Japan more closely than would otherwise be the case in terms of dispassionate logic. Mr Tanaka and I shall clearly be discussing the whole attitude. What we must aim to ensure is that Australian producers and Japanese producers can look forward with some certainty to the market that each has in the other country. My colleagues and I will be pursuing the frank and, I believe, fruitful discussions which we initiated on all these matters with Mr Tanaka and his colleagues a year ago in Tokyo.
-I direct my question to the Treasurer. I remind the honourable gentleman that I wrote to him some time ago regarding the prohibitive rate of 20 per cent interest being paid by a motel proprietor in the electorate of Macquarie. The borrower has now been advised that the rate of interest is to rise to the unmoral height of 24 per cent. I ask the Treasurer: Is he able to take any action to protect the Australian people from the usurious conduct of such finance houses? Is there any machinery available, such as the Prices Justification Tribunal, that will protect Australian people when they are required to borrow money?
– I am aware of the circumstances that the honourable member has described. I would first point out that some protection does exist in matters of this kind under State legislation relating to the maximum interest rates charged by what can be described as money lenders. There also exists a mechanism within my Department to examine specific cases. I would suggest that the honourable member supply me with details of this case and we will see if relief can be obtained.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labor and Immigration. As I am a guest speaker at a number of school prizegiving nights in the coming month, I ask the Minister what advice should be given to the children who are leaving school about prospects for finding employment early next year.
– I would suggest that they go to the nearest vocational guidance career reference centre. My Department has set up a number of these centres over the last year. Schoolchildren will have the opportunity, almost for the first time in the history of this country, to be interviewed by expert psychologists and vocational guidance experts who will speak to them individually and give them the opportunity to look at visual aid equipment and to read text books on the careers that they might follow. They will have a chance to select the career that they will find most suitable for them. Even if they cannot get the opportunity immediately to go into the job they find from going to these reference centres they are most suited to perform it would be far better for them to wait for just a few weeks to get the job to which they are suited than to rush headlong into a job now that they are not suited for and will resent later on in life.
-Can the Minister for Labor and Immigration inform the House why he has so hurriedly deported recently to the United States a man named Utter?
– I wish the honourable member would first talk to me about these things. If the honourable member had done so I could have told him that I did not hurriedly deport Mr Utter. He was allowed to stay here for many many weeks longer than he should have been allowed to stay. But this was through no fault of mine. Mr Utter was to be deported on my order some many weeks ago but he secured the services of Morgan Ryan & Brock, a Sydney firm of solicitors, to represent him and through their efforts he was able to stay in this country for many weeks while he exploited the opportunities which the legal system of Australia gives to innocent people as well as crooks to stop in the country longer than they should. I want to tell the House and the honourable gentleman that this person is a world-wide crook, a murderer, a thief and a con man.
– I rise on a point of order. Is the Minister entitled to reflect on members of the Opposition in this way?
– Order! No point of order arises.
-This man had been sentenced to life imprisonment for grand larceny, for robbery. He had had a life sentence imposed on him after being convicted of murder in the United States of America. He eventually appealed against the life sentence for murder on the ground that the murder was committed not in the United States but in Switzerland and that the United States Supreme Court or the State court in San Franscisco had no jurisdiction over a murder committed in another country. He did not win the appeal because he proved he did not commit the murder. He won it simply because the United States court had no jurisdiction to convict him of a murder committed in another country. He did murder the woman, for which crime he was found guilty and convicted. She was an elderly married woman who lived in the United States. This man, who was 32 years of age, had convinced her that he had fallen madly in love with her. He persuaded her to .give him power of attorney over her property in the United States and he disposed of it to the extent of over $ lm to his own benefit. He took her to the Continent and conspired with a character in Spain to get rid of her. His associate in Spain backed away from the scheme so he did it himself. He cut the body up into several parts, put it into a suitcase, took it out on a fishing trip and fed it to the sharks. The one part that he could not get into the suitcase was the head and unfortunately for him, the jawbone was discovered by the Swiss police. The gold fillings in the teeth were later identified by the late lady’s dentist as being those of the person who was murdered. He then, not satisfied with this-
-Order! I ask the Minister to make his answer brief.
– It is impossible to be brief when speaking about a man with this sort of career.
– I was hoping you would not go into his good points.
– It is believed that he bribed an official of a gaol in Los Angeles, where he was still bound to serve life imprisonment for grand theft and robbery, to allow him to walk out, as he described it. He then took up an association with another American woman. He went to Mexico, using his cousin’s passport, and went to Geneva where he met a relative of the girl and stole upwards of 2,000,000 francs worth of jewellery and precious stones from her. This is the sort of man the honourable gentleman complains about or appears to be defendingalthough on reflection I think the honourable member complained that I kept the man in Australia too long- I forget. This lady came to Australia and claimed that the man was innocent but she herself left the very same day as the French police opened 2 bank vaults in Switzerland and found hundreds of thousands of francs worth of jewellery which had been stolen and deposited in their names.
-And how many skulls?
-They did not find any skulls at that stage. A piece of the stolen jewellery was found in Sydney; it had been sold to a Sydney jeweller. The lady who was pleading for the man’s innocence left Australia die same day as I learned that the French police had discovered the stolen jewellery in boxes in a bank in his name. Apart from this man’s criminal record, he had no right to come to Australia because he was an illegal migrant. He came here using a passport obtained by misrepresentation. I had every right to deport him and I make no apology for it.
-Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the fact that the Premier of Queensland yesterday announced that an election would be held in that State on 7 December and that amongst other things he said that Queenslanders could register their shock, apprehension and dismay concerning policies of the Federal Government. Will the Prime Minister take an active part in the campaign, whether he is encouraged to do so or not? Will he state clearly his attitude to Federal-State relations? Will he encourage his Treasurer to take part in the campaign and explain how much higher than the rate of 20 per cent of the September quarter he thinks inflation may be in the December quarter? Will he encourage his Minister for Labor to go to Queensland where 30,000 people are now unemployed and tell Queenslanders just how much worse unemployment is likely to get? Will he encourage his Minister for Minerals and Energy to go to Queensland and spell out his policies if he has cleared them with the Cabinet by the time of the Queensland election? Will he ask his Minister for Defence to go to Queensland and state his policy in a defence-conscious State?
-Order! I ask the honourable member for McPherson to put his question.
Mr ERIC ROBINSON Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker. In short, is the Prime Minister prepared to take up the challenge and get all his Ministers and supporters in this place involved in this campaign and accept the judgment of the Queensland people?
– My opinion of the Premier of Queensland is precisely the same as that of the honourable gentleman. The honourable gentleman, as a former leader of the Liberal Party in Queensland, never concealed his very correct opinions on this matter. I have no doubt that the Leader of the Liberal Party in the Queensland Parliament still adheres to the views about the Premier- the outgoing Premier- which he has never made any attempt to conceal. I have no doubt that the people of Queensland will have an unparalleled opportunity to hear in the next few weeks the policies of the Australian Government in as full and factual a form as they have been denied by the manipulation of the Queensland Parliament. I might add that unquestionably I would be better known north, south, east and west in Queensland than any leader of any party in this Parliament. I know the State; I have made it my business throughout my years in this Parliament to become very well acquainted with all the regions and resources of Queensland.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. It deals with the Sydney Stock Exchange. In relation to the millions of dollars revealed to have been made by abuses and crooked practices by certain Sydney stockbrokers and in view of the fact that the recent fines imposed by the exchange are so trivial in comparison, coupled with concealment of the names of the culprits, does the Minister agree that this action amounts to an incitement of persons of that sort to commit further frauds? In view of the derisory nature and the secrecy of the exchange’s actions, will the Minister obtain and table a copy of the report of the exchange? Is it a fact that the fines are simply a benefit payment by firms to the exchange itself so that clients who were exploited by the brokers will receive nothing to recompense them for thenlosses? Is it a fact that the members of the exchange are about to increase their brokerage fees and that the effect of this will be to enable those firms which have been fined to get back from the public the amounts which they have paid? Finally, in view of this behaviour by the Sydney Stock Exchange, which clearly shows that it has failed to regulate itself, is the Minister able to say whether there is a pressing case for the Australian Government to take over the functions of the exchange?
– One can sympathise with the sense of indignation expressed by the honourable member in his question. As far as the AttorneyGeneral is concerned, I am advised that the committee has so far not furnished any report on the matter to the Attorney-General and that the only information the Government has received from the committee has been a copy of the Press statement which was forwarded to the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. I can say, however, that the Chairman of the Sydney Stock Exchange wrote to the Attorney-General last week seeking an appointment at which he will report to the Attorney-General in greater detail on the results of the inquiries carried out by the Stock Exchange following the publication of the Senate Committee’s report on the securities industry. The Attorney-General has in mind making available to honourable members the contents of the report that he receives, subject to proper consideration being given to rights of particular individuals as they might be affected by it and having regard to any court proceedings that may be possible. This will be a matter for consideration on receipt of a report from the Sydney Stock Exchange.
On the question of whether there is a pressing case for the Government to take over the running of the exchange, the position is that the Government does propose to introduce as soon as possible legislation to provide for regulation of the securities industry generally and stock exchanges in particular, and I think that that is recognised as a measure that is long overdue in this country. The proposed legislation is at an advanced stage of preparation and the Attorney-General hopes to be able to introduce it in the course of the present sittings of Parliament.
As to one aspect of the honourable member’s question where he queried the efficacy of the exchanges levying fines on their own members, there is a comment with which I agree written to the secretary of the Sydney exchange by one prominent member of the securities industry. He puts it in these words: ‘It was like fining a member of a football team who maliciously or recklessly injured someone else and then retaining the fine for the team, including the benefit of the member of the team’. Other aspects were raised by the honourable member in his question. I will see that he gets a more detailed answer.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Will the honourable gentleman assure the House that he does not intend to abolish the deductibility of gifts for income tax purposes, as was recommended in the report of the Coombs Task Force? In particular, will he assure the House that he does not intend to abolish the provisions relating to the deductibility of donations for buildings at schools, universities and colleges and that he does not intend to abolish the deductibility of gifts to the great majority of voluntary charitable organisations in the country?
– As a former Treasurer, the right honourable gentleman should realise that no general assurances can be given about tax provisions. All I ask of him is to point to the present Budget in which no change was made in the situation. What happens in the future with any tax provision is a matter open to review from time to time.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. Is it a fact that $2.5m was allocated to all States last financial year for National Estate projects? Is it also a fact that the $585,000 grant to the New South Wales Government for this purpose has not been utilised? What is the reason for that?
-It is true that $2. 5m was allocated in the Budget last year to the National Estate. Recommendations were made on the National Estate by a committee of inquiry into it led by Mr Justice Hope. The recommendations of that committee were accepted by the Australian Government and grants to the amount of $585,000 were made available to the State of New South Wales. To date we have reached no agreement with that State on the National Estate. We have reached agreement with all the other States. It is interesting to note that the Chairman of the National Trust in Victoria has commended the Australian Government for its co-operation with the Victorian Government in preserving the National Estate in that State. I must say that we have received co-operation from all State governments except the New South Wales Government in the preserving of the National Estate, yet Sydney and its surrounds have some of the most historic buildings and unique areas in Australia. The destruction of those buildings is going on continually, but the New South Wales Government has taken no legislative action to preserve the National Estate.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Minerals and Energy. The Minister has advised that a royal commission on petroleum has received representations in regard to the shortage of oil and petroleum products in country areas, and has said that the Government will be examining this aspect of the commission ‘s report as a matter of urgency. Does the Minister agree, though, that this is only one section of the very great problem and the grave difficulties facing Australia with regard to its total supplies of petroleum products? In view of the national shortage, does the Minister consider that the encouragement of oil exploration in Australia is also a matter of urgency so that, if possible, oil can be made available from Australian oil resources to all Australians? If so, will the Minister and the Government take urgent action to provide for conditions in Australia designed to attract those who have the expertise and the risk capital to explore for oil in Australia?
– I commend the royal commission for the exhaustive, accurate and impartial analysis that it made in its recently tabled report on the shortage of petrol and distillate in certain of the rural areas of Queensland and New South Wales. The shortages do not arise from any question of oil exploration. It is a matter of mal-distribution. This is a matter that we propose to correct by getting the various supply authorities together to ensure that there is a better co-ordination of supplies and their availability in the respective areas.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the well known Melbourne preacher, the Rev. Gordon Powell, stated in Scots Church last Sunday that the only information about the Broadcasting and Television Bill to reach the public was coming through newspapers which owned the television stations concerned? Is the Prime Minister aware also that Mr Powell sent a copy of the text of his statement to 3 newspapers, that two of them published none of it, and the third, in publishing substantial parts of it, omitted significant paragraphs? Does the Prime Minister agree that this is an example of the very thing which the amendments to the Bill are designed to prevent? Will he assure this House that the facts about the Broadcasting and Television Act are put to the Australian people?
- Mr Powell did write to me about this matter, and I gather that he may have written to other honourable members about it also. It does appear to be an instance where the newspapers which have considerable interests, all of them in radio and television, are selectively reporting matters concerning their conduct of their radio and television licences. The amendments which my colleague, the Minister for the Media, has introduced to the Broadcasting and Television Act are substantially the same as those which were proposed over 3 years ago by our predecessors. At that time Mr Powell wrote to the Acting Postmaster-General, Senator Cotton. In typical fashion, the Liberals spoke about amending the Act but did not proceed to do so.
The general situation is that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has purported to exercise an influence on the media which hold licences to ensure that they give adequate and comprehensive programs including, for instance, a growing attention to Australian programs. But when it comes to the crunch, the Board has not the statutory power to back up its guidelines. The Bill before the Parliament is designed to give statutory back up to the guidelines which the Board without objection has purported hitherto to proclaim.
I am told that not only has Mr Powell expressed himself in support of the amending legislation but also support has come from representatives of a wide cross-section of the Australian community including the Australian Journalists Association, all organisations of employees in the media, members of the Catholic Church organisations and the Christian Television Association. The amendments being made by my Government are those which were proposed by and urged on our predecessors. Those amendments had to wait for a change of government.
-Did the Prime Minister say at a Press conference on Tuesday that no fresh economic measures in the form of a mini Budget would be introduced before Christmas? Did the Deputy Prime Minister state yesterday that there will in fact be new economic measures introduced before Christmas- a clear contradiction of each other? Has Mr Hawke complained that the Labor Government has abondoned its commitment to full employment? Has Mr Hawke issued a statement that the Government would not be returned to office because it has lost the confidence of the Australian people and has he followed this up by issuing a public ultimatum to the Government to take action on the economy before next week? In the face of this ultimatum from Mr Hawke, is the Leader of the
Government- the Prime Minister of the countryprepared to be stood over by the president of the trade union movement? Is this not another reason for the people to regard the Government as not having any capacity whatever for a precise economic policy to get us out of the difficulties we now have?
-The right honourable gentleman invites me to compare reports of what I said at my Press Conference on Tuesday with what my Deputy said at his Press conference when reporting the decisions of the Parliamentary Party yesterday. My colleague was asked whether he supported or anticipated a mini Budget, He discounted any such idea. This may be a matter of semantics, I suppose, to which the right honourable gentleman might like to devote himself, when we have tried to get a more rational and flexible approach to economic legislation which comes before the Parliament. Surely it is absurd these days, when no country can live to itself and moreover when economic events move much more rapidly than used to be the case, to expect that there should be one occasion on the second or third Tuesday of August each year when a government announces all its fiscal and monetary policies, internal and external. It is no longer appropriate and it is absurd to suggest that all one ever does is done on that sole occasion in August or that anything any government does between one August and the next has to be done at one other particular occasion. It is about time the right honourable gentleman grew up and came up to date. He then comes out with the novel suggestion that the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions is standing over me or delivering an ultimatum to me. That will be the day when anybody tries or does either of these things to me. The President of the ACTU is a singularly articulate and effective spokesman for the trade union movement. This movement is a very difficult body to lead in Australia because there are about 300 unions in Australia and only about one third of them belongs to the ACTU. It is absurd to suggest that, except every 2 years when there is a conference of the ACTU, or every few months when there is a meeting of its executive, the President of the ACTU should say nothing. As I said, he is a very effective and articulate spokesman for the trade union movement in Australia. Last weekend my Deputy, the Treasurer and I spoke with Mr Hawke, Mr Souter and Mr Jolly -
– I was there.
– Of course you were there. We will be meeting again next weekend. As a result of such quite frequent consultations between us there is a very good chance that we shall be able to secure in Australia the cooperation of employee organisations in general in restraining the cost inflation by which we are beset. Mr Hawke is effective in this and we are effective in it also in a way of which there would be no prospect under any other regime. The fact is that it is possible for the leaders of the trade union movement in Australia and the leaders of the present Australian Government to have informed, full, frank, friendly and fruitful consultations.
-Has the Minister for Social Security noted a newspaper comment attributed to a Mr Gross, a full time commissioner of the Hospitals and Health Services Commission, criticising the Government’s universal health insurance program? Is there any substance in this criticism?
-I did notice a comment which referred to an article in a serious journal, ‘Search’, of the Australia-New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. It pretty much canvasses issues which are well known to those who are involved in the discussion on how costs should be contained, the division of health services and how the quality of health services ought to be improved. Nonetheless the article does have some interest if for no other reason- I can think of no other reason- than for the way in which it is studded on nearly every second line with source references for the ideas which are expressed. In fact I rather feel that one must commend the writer of the article for the way he has been able to present such a wide range of other people’s views in such a short and light article in such a serious journal. This will, no doubt, be of some help to him later as an exercise in developing his own ideas.
The only criticism that I can see that he makes is a highly qualified one. He said:
The national health insurance plan could be cost inflationary in one area . . . there are very good reasons to believe that the usage of ambulatory care will rise by as much as 10 per cent over the existing levels.
Rather curiously this is one area where he does not give a footnote source for the ideas he is presenting. In any case he gives no evidence to justify this rather generalised assertion. What he is asserting is contrary to the evidence from experience in countries such as Canada where universal health insurance has been introduced. If his criticism were to be correct- I do not accept it is- it would be a severe indictment of the deficiencies of the present system of health insurance because the implications are that the present system is reaching nowhere nearly enough people and that there is extensive unmet medical care need in the community.
-For the information of honourable members I table the exchange of correspondence between the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Assistance to Industries and the Industries Assistance Commission on the Commission’s report on the passenger motor industry. I also table 2 reports which my Department sought from Martec Pty Ltd on specialised aspects of the Australian motor vehicle industry. Copies of the exchange of correspondence have already been circulated- 2 days ago. As bulk copies of the Martec report are not yet available I have lodged 2 copies in the Parliamentary Library.
– Pursuant to section 23 of the Cities Commission Act 1972-73 I present for the information of honourable members the second annual report of the Cities Commission for the period 1 July 1973 to 30 June 1974.
– For the information of honourable members I present the second annual report of the Australian Shippers Council for the year ended 30 June 1974.
-Pursuant to section 30 of the Canberra College of Advanced Education Act 1967-70 I present for the information of honourable members the report of the Council of the Canberra College of Advanced Education for the year 1 January 1 973 to 31 December 1973.
-For the information of honourable members I present a statement entitled ‘Australian Defence Estimates 1974-75’ together with the memorandum of arrangments between the United States and Australia on the patrol frigates.
– I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. The statement which the Minister for Defence has just tabled is one which is entitled a statement. He has referred to it as a statement.
On page 1282 of Hansard, during his Budget Speech, the Treasurer referred to a more detailed statement on defence matters being made in this Parliament. I therefore ask the Minister for Defence, through you Mr Speaker, whether this is the statement which he intends to make in the Parliament or does he intend to make a statement in the Parliament at a later time? Why is the statement being made by tabling it rather than the statement being made in the normal course to which the Opposition might have a chance to reply?
– The answer to the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party is yes, this is the statement that I had proposed to make in the House of Representatives. I have tabled it now so that honourable members will have the opportunity either to reply to it or to add to it during the Estimates debates. It has been tabled in plenty of time for that to be done. I think the honourable member is well aware that during this session the procedure has been that statements prepared by Ministers and relating to thenown departments have been tabled and not read in the Parliament. I understand that is the arrangement that has been made between the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) and the Opposition.
– It certainly has not been made with any approval of the Opposition whatsoever.
-Then I accept that no arrangement had been made. So far as I am concerned, this arrangement has applied, and Ministers have tabled ministerial statements.
That grievances be noted.
-At the outset, Mr Speaker, I want to congratulate you on the superb quip you made during question time. It is rather difficult these days to inject some humour into our proceedings, particularly with the dark clouds that are hanging over the Government of this nation. If the people of Australia could individually air their grievances this morning I am sure that the issues of unemployment and inflation would be to the forefront. I believe that what I have to say in this grievance debate is echoed by the Australian people. It is not my aim to indulge in destructive criticism. I shall endeavour to be constructive and let the Australian people judge. I believe if there were an election this Saturday or even in the next few months this Government would go. I am sure that the Government of Queensland will be returned with a resounding victory in the election in a few weeks time in spite of any comments that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made this morning during question time. He would be rejected, just as the Australian Labor Party in Queensland will be rejected.
I believe there is a great risk in Australians accepting high levels of unemployment and inflation and the economic crisis. This Government has shown that it will continue to prop up our society with massive handouts of social security benefits. There is a danger that we may become accustomed to this situation. I want to address my remarks primarily to the housewife because she is the one who particularly feels the high costs of goods and services. Unemployment means a lesser flow of capital into the home, and perhaps one could say a very drastic reduction if the breadwinner is on a high income. It is the woman of the household who appears to suffer most.
There is a lack of confidence by Australians and particularly business people in this country. It is not a case of painting a gloomy picture. Australians are sensible, down to earth people. They do not panic at the drop of a hat. They are noted for their calmness and their coolness and they are not airy-fairy or fickle. They exhibit a tremendous amount of common sense and native cunning under pressure. They do not become panicstricken when confronted with a formidable task, problem, enemy of foe. They quickly recognise the task or the problem and they rally very readily against the enemy. But Australians like a fair go. They do not want to be deceived, and this applies equally to the woman as to the man of the home. The Australian loves a yarn but when the time has come to be serious he wants everyone to come clean. Then the reliable and dogged Australian wants the cards on the table. The Prime Minister and his socialist Government did not reveal to the Australian people what the true facts were when the election was held in May of this year. The Australians- yes, you and I- have been deceived. Three weeks after the elections the facts began to emerge- inflation was getting worse and unemployment was rising. ‘Unemployment’ is a word that is hard to find in the Labor Party dictionary. ‘Full employment for all’, the Labor Party promised. Let us place our feet firmly on the ground. We have massive unemployment. That means people without work, without pride, without dignity and without purpose. Two hundred thousand people are wondering whether stability will return to Australia, to this great nation, this land of plenty as we know it.
I want to examine the reasons for unemployment One reason is the economic crisis, the credit squeeze. Business cannot obtain sufficient liquid funds to expand or to replace equipment so the boss puts off staff. There is a lack of overseas investment and interest in Australia. This Government demands that banks deposit 33 Vi per cent of their funds with the Reserve Bank of Australia with no interest on it. This has stopped the flow of essential capital into the economy and prevented the re-structuring expansion which is necessary to take up a growing work force. The result is that less people are being employed. Another reason for unemployment is union demands for excessive wage rises. In simple terms, the worker prices himself out of a job. Wages and overheads increase and the boss has to rationalise his operations. He has to cut back here and there and reorganise his business. To stay in business he must put off some staff. There is a lack of confidence in the stability of the Government. If a person has $500, $1,000 or $2,000 to invest he looks for low risk investment. He wants the capital to be safe. People in business are reluctant to expand. The result is that less people are employed. Another reason for unemployment is productivity which keeps falling off. I refer to the output by office workers, shop assistants and vehicle drivers. This means that today we have commerce and industry producing less. The result is more costly goods and services. Exports earn us less. There is less money in circulation resulting in less jobs.
I will outline remedies to overcome unemployment. I believe that the credit squeeze must be eased by this Government immediately. We must have a controlled inflow of overseas capital. Union demands for wages must be curtailed. Private enterprise must be encouraged to expand. Productivity must be increased, and this is up to every individual Australian. Protection must be afforded to some Australian industries. Even our dour Treasurer (Mr Crean) accepts the point that high inflation will destroy our society and our way of living if it is left unchecked. Repeatedly the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has expressed a 6-point plan to combat inflation. In the beginning the opponents scoffed at him. The economists and the academics slated his policy. He has stuck to it and I admire him for it. I do not hear the same cries from the critics today.
How does the average family man fare in this inflationary trend? Those in the middle income groups- that is, the battlers- are the people that this Government has let down. It has sold them out. How many of them yearn for the return of a Liberal-Country Party Government? Yesterday the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr Cairns) accused the Press of setting out deliberately to destroy the Government. What a laugh this is. The Government, not the Press is responsible for its actions and failures. I would have thought that in the past this Government had more than its fair share of kind treatment from the Press.
Let me return to the housewife and the effects of price increases. In this morning’s news we heard reports that a 2 lb loaf of bread in New South Wales would be 4c dearer from today. A 2 lb loaf of bread has risen 10c in 5 months from 31c to 41c, an increase of 32 per cent. We also heard that the cost of Holden and Chrysler vehicles will increase by 3 per cent. A Kingswood will now cost an additional $122. 1 admit that in 195 1 we had inflation at a fairly high level but at that time we had a Liberal Party government and there was confidence on the part of the people in the ability of the Government to trade itself out of hard times. This Government has neither. I suggest that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) should stay at home and that he should curb his insatiable desire and the desire of his Government for reform.
Let us look at some of these other prices that have increased so dramatically. In 1972 a person could buy bacon at about 45c per lb. Today it costs about 79c. These are the things that a housewife has to put up with. Formerly 1 lb of beef cost an average of 75c. It is now $1.30 or $1.40. A 16 oz can of soup in those days cost 18c but now the housewife has to pay 27c. This country has many ills. High unemployment and inflation are, in my opinion, two of the worst ills. I suggest to this Government that it accepts this diagnosis which is obvious and that it be positive and treat the complaints.
– I rise to speak in this grievance debate on a matter of national significance. It is not my intention to take up much of the time of this House with what I am about to say. It is, in fact, a speech that I wish I did not have to make. Regrettably I must say these things to expose a shabby and sordid racket in which certain people are growing fat on the difficulties of the people in Doveton- a housing commission area in my electorate of Holt. It is a racket, a confidence game in the worst sense of the expression, in which repacious land sharks are buying up homes from working people at relatively low prices and re-selling them in a matter of weeks at profits of up to 50 per cent and more. This is not the worst feature of this despicable activity. The conditions on which they sell the houses are so severe that unless the buyers can produce many thousands of dollars within 5 years, the racketeers will be able to repossess their houses, or force them to sign another contract on even worse terms. All the money the buyers have paid out will not meet the impossibly inflated interest rates. At the end of the first 5-year contract they could be tossed into the street as the vendors sell up their furniture, their car, their goods and chattels to pay the enormous sums which will still be owing.
If any people in Australia can be said to be living and working on the average wage, it is the vast majority of the people of Doveton. Yet, it is these very people- the most vulnerable and deprived in the community- who have become the target for these profiteering, mendacious and despicable exploiters. My inquiries lead me to believe that this is a nationwide racket. I have documentary evidence to prove that this sordid business is flourishing in the most economically deprived area of my electorate. In the history of this nation, when the people have been called upon to face times of crisis, the Australian characteristic of a fair go for all has come to the fore. Everyone in the community has been willing to bear the burdens of deprivation and hardship equally. This has been the determining factor which has been our main weapon in fighting our way through critical periods- whether it has been war or depression, or the national tragedies of flood and fire. It is this symbol of mateship which distinguishes Australians as a unique breed of people, whose splendid record of share and share alike, of coming to the help, without question, of neighbours and friends in trouble, which has earned for us the high reputation we hold as a truly democratic people.
It is with considerable sadness I have to say that as we face the international evils of inflation and unemployment there are those within our community who are turning people’s hardships to their own mean advantage. They are people who are white-anting our national characteristic of fair play, with a contemptible and callous disregard for the sufferings and difficulties of others. These racketeers have battened on to the most vulnerable sections of our community to promote their immensely profitable quest for a fast buck- or in this case, for a fast hundred thousand bucks or more. This racket has grown out of the real and desperate need of families of working people for decent and adequate housing. My electorate of Holt, as the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) who is sitting at the table would know, is experiencing an unprecedented population explosion. It is among the most rapidly growing areas in Australia. This boom has made housing in all forms- from emergency overnight accommodation to longterm home buying- by far the most acute need in the electorate.
Recognising the urgency and magnitude of this demand, these predatory profiteers have moved into the Doveton area. They have chosen as their prey people who are in debt or who need money in a hurry and will accept a price below market value to effect a quick cash sale of their home. At the other end of this racket are those people who are so desperately in need of housing that they will agree to terms so stringent as to be impossible to fulfil merely so they can have a roof over their heads. I have a table showing the sales and resales of properties in the Doveton area. I seek leave to have this table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
– I thank the House. This table gives details of the transactions with the names and addresses of those involved. Honourable members will be able to see how impossible and unreasonable the terms of these contracts have been made. To give but one example I quote the case of a Housing Commission home which was bought by B. M. and S. Pty Ltd on 4 April 1974 for $16,500 cash and resold on 19 June 1974 for $24,000 net-a profit of $7,500 in 2 months. But the worst feature of this transaction was the terms. The deposit was $2,450 and repayments were $45 a week. The interest rate was 10% per cent and the balance was due in 5 years. A simple calculation shows that over the 5 years the buyer would pay a total of $1 1,700 and in that time the principal would be reduced by at the most only a few hundred dollars.
There are 3 companies involved and thennames are listed in these documents. They are F. and J. Rose Properties Pty Ltd, B. M. and S. Pry Ltd, and Canns Building Pty Ltd. One would hope that the Commissioner of Taxation will take the opportunity to investigate fully the activities of the companies responsible for this profiteering. I have had a company search made of the 3 companies. It is of interest that the 3 directors of one of the firms- B. M. and S. Pty Ltdinclude Boris Kappel. I assume that he is the same person who operates a real estate business in Dandenong under that name. This is an issue which transcends Party politics. It is an issue which must sicken every member of this Parliament.
We face the problem of inflation. It is true that honourable members opposite do not agree with the solutions this Government is implementing to cure this international ailment. They have their own solutions which they believe would be more effective than ours. This does not in any way reflect upon the sincerity and honesty of purpose of all members of this Parliament to find a way out of this economic nightmare. It cannot be denied that whatever our Party or political affiliations we are all striving honestly in our own ways to return to economic stability. The people whom I have described to honourable members are defeating the efforts of us all to do this. I commend all honourable members to inquire in thenelectorates to see whether they can discover any sign of rackets similar to the one I have described. It is possible that this sort of activity is confined to my electorate. But this is not likely. If this practice is widespread, let us all kill this lethal virus of avaricious profiteering now before it becomes a national epidemic which aggravates the sickness of inflation to such a degree that it could mean death to any hope of return to a healthy economy.
-The honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow), who has just resumed his seat, has identified a problem, but he has failed miserably to draw the attention of this House to the cause of the problem. The cause of the problem is inflationdomestic inflation caused by the socialist Labor Government of Australia. The honourable member talked loosely and glibly about international inflation. But Australia is one country which is in the strongest position to insulate itself from the rigours, stresses and strains of international inflation. Yet this socialist Government has failed to identify the causes of the problem in this country and in fact has fuelled the fires of inflation and stagflation.
I want to join with my colleague the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) in identifying the problem of inflation and stagflation not only as it affects the governments of this country but as it affects the average man and woman. The honourable member for Holt said that people are making profits out of the difficulties of those who cannot afford to retain their homes. In many cases these people have to sell their homes. But why are so many people in such a difficult position? The Labor Party promised during its 1972 election campaign to reduce interest rates from 7 per cent or 6Vi per cent to a lower figure. What has happened? Under the management of the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson), who is sitting at the table, the interest rate on ordinary building society or savings bank housing loans has escalated, doubled and risen to between 1 1 per cent and 12 per cent.
– It is supposed to be a low interest Party.
– As my colleague the honourable member for Boothby points out, it is supposed to be a low interest Party. The increase in the rate of interest has forced every family buying a home to look at their budgets and to ask themselves whether they can afford to continue to pay for their home. In many instances people are faced with the tragic decision of having to sell their homes. But when they seek to sell their homes they find that, because of the credit squeeze which the Government itself has confessed it induced, the buyer either is unable to obtain a loan or if he can obtain a loan he is not able to afford the repayments. As a consequence the person wishing to sell the home has to discount his selling price and sell at a deflated figure. This is a problem that is faced by many young Australian families. I hope that the time will come in the not too distant future when both young and old families who are buying homes will be able to feel confident that they will be able to continue to meet the obligations of that purchase. I refer not only to the obligation of repaying the principal and interest but also to the obligation of meeting the rates and taxes that are payable on a house.
Rates and taxes have been dramatically increased in my electorate due to the inflated land values brought about by this Government’s economic mismanagement. I receive letters day after day from people who have worked hard to buy or build a home. I had a letter the other day from a man whose income is just over $100 a week and who with his wife worked and struggled to build their dream home. In the last 12 months the interest commitment on their loan has risen as a consequence of interest rates being nearly doubled. In the last few weeks he has received notices for the payment of rates and taxes- water rates, council rates and land taxeswhich have taken his commitment to over $600 a year. He is a man who built his dream home- the home that was to be his castle, that was to give him security. Now he must ask himself whether he can afford to continue to retain that home into which he and his wife and family put so much effort.
This Government has brought about his distress. This Government is the Government that caused the increase in interest rates. It is this Government that has caused an inflation rate that has brought about the necessity for local government councils to increase their rates or to increase valuations. It is this Government that has taken away from the home owner the concession of deducting total payments of municipal rates and taxes from his taxable income, so that he is now being hit in all directions. The man’s wife, when she goes to the local supermarket to buy the week-end food, looks at the prices and finds that they too are rising. In this morning’s newspaper we see that a loaf of bread is now to cost 41c and that the price has risen over a very short period by 10c. I forecast that under the economic policies of this Government and the Budget, which was so ill conceived, a loaf of bread costing 41c today will within 12 months cost 55c. Whilst this Government remains in office, the cost of living and the consumer price index will continue to rise. I find support for that forecast in an assessment of a group in the Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University. In a recent publication the Institute stated:
Thus the likely train of events in the immediate term is towards a period of ‘stagflation’ combining a stagnation in the growth of output (and an increase in unemployment to 150,000-170,000) with a rise in the price level of at least 15 per cent in 1974 -
But we know that for the current quarter the rise in the cost of living is running at an annual rate of 20 per cent and there will almost certainly be a rise of 20 per cent in the cost of living in the financial year 1974-75. The Institute further stated:
What the inflation rate will reach in the longer term during 1975 will depend in large measure on the course of wage settlements in the next 6 months or so, especially for large groups currently seeking to reopen their awards.
Yet the Government claims that it has a policy. We also read in this morning’s Press that the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) thinks that before the end of the year a package of economic measures will be introduced. That is a confession that the Government has introduced no economic measures designed to reduce inflation and to prevent rapid escalation in unemployment. The Premier of South Australia, when imposing vicious tax measures on petrol and other items, gave as his reason for the need to increase those taxes the direct and deliberate refusal of the Commonwealth Govt to accept a co-ordinated policy to contain inflation. A Labor Premier made that statement. He is the Premier of as State whose policies this Labor Government in Canberra has so often praised. This Labor Government is being condemned yet again by the Premier of South Australia for its lack of policies and its inability to deal with the economic crisis that faces this country. My concern is for every family in the country which is facing the prospect of rapidly rising costs of living and a high risk of increasing unemployment.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) reminds me of a dog I used to go rabbiting with. He could point really well but he could never catch anything. When the honourable member was pointing to all the problems we have in the economy today he reminded me of the situation in 1961 when the Government of the day introduced a lot of monetary pressures of the same sort as this Government is indulging in. But the difference between the Government in 1961 and the present Government is, of course, that the present Government is moving to assist local government for the first time in this country; it is moving to assist people to meet their home interest charges; it is moving in new and imaginative ways to assist people who are unemployed; it is more concerned with the people who get involved with some of the ways in which governments attack the problems of inflation or any other economic problem. I sympathise with the sort of people about whom the honourable member talked today. He represents exactly the same sort of people whom I represent in my electorate. However, I did not rise to speak on this matter.
As honourable members will be aware, I have been circulating material for a few weeks now on behalf of a group in Canberra with respect to trials of students and citizens in Indonesia. I am circulating this mainly for honourable member’s attention so they may learn something of the events in that country today. I think the trials are of direct interest because they indicate the political and social condition of Indonesia. They indicate the tensions; they indicate the problems. At present there is evidence of suppression of news in some of the journals coming from Indonesia. For example, ‘Tempo ‘, the Indonesian version of ‘Time’, has made no reference to the trials for a few weeks now. The parliamentary group of Amnesty International has expressed its concern about political prisoners in Indonesia, but it is not my purpose to expand on that group’s activities here.
The main reason I have been circulating material is that I believe we need to know a lot more about Indonesia itself. I believe it is an absurd situation that we as members and we as Australians know every sordid detail of the Watergate affair and yet we know little of 123 million people living very close to our shores. To put it quite bluntly Press coverage of events in that country is inadequate. To my mind, it is even inadequate on Japan, China and other nations in our region, if we want to get some sort of balance and find out where our interests lie.
I am not being critical of the Press. It is probably quite obvious that stories about these areas do not sell. But as a politician I find it embarrassing to be so informed about other parts of the world of less direct concern to Australia’s interests. We have heard the slogans that Australia is part of Asia and that Indonesia is part of our region, but these are rather meaningless truisms unless our own people are more aware of what is happening in our region. I might add that news about Australia in Indonesian newspapers is also lacking.
What can we do about the paucity of news from Indonesia? I think that perhaps the Australian Government could subsidise the posting of one or several Australian journalists in Djakarta. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has a man there, Mr Scully, but at present to my knowledge no other Australian journalist is posted in Indonesia on a permanent basis by an Australian newspaper. One of the major Australian chains of newspapers tried to station a man there several years ago but decided that it was not worth it. The newspaper argument is that Indonesian news stories are not really in demand in Australia. News from North America and Europe is what people want to read.
But there is some sort of circular argument here. People naturally want to read about, for example, Watergate because they have already heard a good deal about American politics in general and Watergate in particular. Naturally a story about, for example, General Sumitro, who was recently very powerful in Indonesia but now appears to have been deposed, is not of interest to Australians because they know nothing about the subject. Just as Mr Clark writes regularly for the ‘Australian’ from Tokyo, Australia needs at least one good journalist writing regularly from Indonesia. It may be that the Government should subsidise him. Considering that we spend $20m a year on aid to Indonesia, perhaps a subsidy of $15,000 to provide a better news service would be well worth it.
Remarkably few politicians move between Australia and Indonesia. Australian politicians need to visit Indonesia more and move outside of Djakarta. Perhaps we could increase the overseas travel allowance for ordinary members of Parliament travelling in the South East Asian area. Already Australia has some sort of a name for Indonesian studies in two fields in the social sciences- in political science at Monash University and in economics at the Australian National University. Nevertheless, there is a great scope for further exchange at the educational level and it may even be that in the long run this is the best way that Australia can help Indonesia develop. The Australian Government has given some support to academic exchanges already, some of which have been very successful indeed, if only on a very small level, and further activity in this area might be supported. Perhaps the Australian Development Assistance Agency should also be encouraged to develop educational exchanges.
Indonesia is having to face up to problems of making genuine improvement in the welfare of the vast island country’s huge and fast growing population- some 123 million people. In January long-standing resentments, particularly over the undue influence of foreign capitalists and local Chinese entrepreneurs, over alleged corruption in the Army-run government, over conspicuous consumption and privilege among the affluent few, and over the lack of education and opportunity for the many, erupted in largescale riots in Djakarta. Thousands of young people, chiefly high school students and unemployed high school graduates, but also some militant university leaders, wrecked or burned more than 100 buildings and 800 vehicles. The latter were mainly Japanese made, since the trigger for the protest was an official visit by Premier Tanaka of Japan, the country whose businessmen have been the most visible and the most resented foreign operators in Indonesia. Before things quieted down security forces were called out, 1 1 people were killed and more than 100 were injured. A curfew was imposed and the University of Indonesia was temporarily closed. We have to realise one thing about Indonesia when we talk about the students and the young people; over half the country’s population is under 19 years of age and the majority of unemployed and under employed together make up for about half of the nation’s working population of some 45 million people. So the problems in Indonesia are indeed immense.
I should like to stress the problems rather than make value judgments, and I point out to honourable members some of the facts regarding political prisoners. It is clear from what I have just briefly said that the economic-social-political strains in Indonesia are far greater than in Australia and in fact the whole society is a very different one. But we should be very careful about making value judgments. However, at the same time the Indonesian Government should realise that there are many Australians who are unhappy about the repressive measures that the Indonesian Government uses from time to time. While it is up to the Indonesian Government ultimately to make decisions about internal policy, the Indonesian Government should be aware that the Australian Government cannot ignore pressure groups within Australia. There have been significant pressures from quite a wide variety of people- trade unions, academics, students, lawyers, civil liberties groups, aid groups, for example- and these have all been making an impression on the Australian Government to protest to the Indonesian Government over the continued detention without trial of people charged with involvement in the 1965 attempted coup and the recent trials of intellectuals who were arrested after the January riots in Djakarta to which I have just referred.
There are three classifications of prisoners in Indonesia. Class A prisoners are those against whom there is definite proof; class B prisoners are those who were probably involved but against whom there is no definite proof, and class C prisoners are suspects where often it is alleged that there is no evidence at all. Many people have been awaiting trial now for 9 years and at the rate prisoners are being tried for involvement in the 1965 coup they will not be tried until the end to this century. So we have a very serious situation.
The news of recent tightening up of security in Indonesia is also disturbing. For example, gatherings of university students are now controlled and university staff have been warned not to make statements to the Press until such statements are approved by the university rectors. Further, the informal order has recently gone out that all government institutions, and this would include banks, universities, semi-governmental organisations such as electricity companies, water boards, railways, etc, must dismiss people who have not been completely cleared of involvement in the 1965 attempted coup. This means that people who are at all suspect, for whatever trivial reason, of any kind of link are in danger of being dismissed. In a country like Indonesia, where unemployment is very high, dismissal is tantamount to a sentence of poverty.
I think we have to try to find out why it is taking so long to try the class A prisoners and why class B prisoners are not released if there is not enough evidence to bring them to trial. Why is it taking so long to try the intellectuals who were arrested last January after Tanaka’s visit? For all these reasons, I am circulating material to honourable members and I hope that it does provoke more interest in that country, which is vital to our interests. (Quorum formed)
– I propose to make some comments on the economy of” the country and to indicate more precisely certain specific groups of people who have been caught up in this economic calamity. For heaven’s sake, I hope there is no interjection, as is habitual in this House, telling us that this sort of thing is happening in other countries. If ever there was a fallacy it is to try to tell the people of Australia that they can accept the economic calamity, the unemployment situation, because it is happening in other countries. The other countries in which it is happening are for the greater part old tired countries, over populated countries, countries who have their resources whittled away over a number of centuries. This should be Australia’s harvest time. We are a young, vital country with unlimited resources. We are under populated; we should be cashing in on the miserable situation which exists in other countries.
Over the last month or two we have seen the Australian people react to this situation. I am pleased to note that the honourable member for Darling (Mr FitzPatrick) is here, because it must have been a great disappointment to him to see the result of the council elections in Broken Hill when 1 1 Labor councillors were wiped out and replaced by 1 1 non-Labor councillors. Is this any indication that the people of Broken Hill, a very fine, distinctly Australian group of people, have suddenly abandoned their working class principles? Does it indicate any reflection on the member for Darling? Not one bit of it. It is an indication that the people of Broken Hill have seen their working class principles handed over to these young czarists, these young aristocrats who have very little in common with the working class principles of the old Labor Party.
If we are not satisfied with that result, let us look to the Australian Capital Territory, where there is a different group of people altogether, the academic group, a group of people who can think for themselves and who began to see clearly and distinctly that they, like the pensioners and the Aborigines, were being taken for granted. They would vote Labor because they were polarised, or supposedly, as Labor supporters. Yet their Labor support is such that in the Australian Capital Territory Australian Labor Party support dropped, I think, from 50 per cent to 24 per cent.
Let us go to the climax of this reaction against these young aristocrats- the Northern Territory results. If ever there was an area in Australia that was identified, particularly as to certain parts of it, as being solidly loyal to Labor- not the socalled Labor that we have now but the genuine Labor- it was the Northern Territory in places like Port Darwin and Tennant Creek, to get down to clearly defined areas. The almost unbelievable situation has occurred whereby not one member of the Australian Labor Party has been elected to the Legislative Assembly in the Northern Territory. It has 17 Country-Liberal Party members and 2 Independents. Is anyone going to suggest that the people of Port Darwin and Tennant Creek have suddenly abandoned their working-class principles? Not one iota. What they have abandoned is the present so-called Labor Party. Over a period the people of the Northern Territory have seen their freight subsidies removed; they have seen the shipping service to Port Darwin reduced to one Australian National Line ship; they have seen promise after promise broken in relation to television; they have seen promise after promise broken in relation to housing; they have seen a pilot scheme whereby 20,448 acres of land was taken over and was to be made available at a fair and equitable price to the people of the Northern Territory bungled because one-third of the land was not worth a cracker; they have seen the utter abandonment of themselves and their interests by this centralist Government.
What I am asking today- this is my particular grievance, Mr Deputy Speaker- is for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), then the Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson), the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) and I will throw in the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) for good measure, to define here and now what the powers of the new Legislative Assembly in the Northern Territory are going to be. Are they going to persist with the policy and the promises that they have so frequently and flamboyantly enunciated when they have galloped through the Northern Territory like a kangaroo on a red-hot roof that the new Legislative Assembly would have effective and authoritative power? Let them define that power here and now. Let them tell the people of the Northern Territory just what power the Legislative Assembly will have. I point out that my colleague the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), not I, would have been speaking on this matter but unfortunately- on behalf of everyone in this House I offer my condolences- his brother died the day before yesterday and hence Sam Calder is not in the House at the moment. What I am now saying he would have been saying.
So much for the reaction of the people of the Northern Territory. It is not just a reaction to the sad and sorry state of the economy of this nation. It is not just a reaction to the fact that they, like everyone else who lives beyond the boundaries of the metropolitan areas, have been quite arrogantly and almost in a third dimensional manner abandoned by the Government. What the people of the Northern Territory realise; what the people of my electorate of Kennedy realise; what the people of not only northern Australia but also all Australians realise is that this Government has reduced our defences to a shambles. One could occupy a week of grievance days talking about what it has done to the defences of this country, and on the way in which it has stripped this country of any self-respect in its trade relations.
– What rubbish you talk.
– Let the honourable member for Wilmot answer this one: The Government spent thousands of dollars on a display in China. The Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) went to China to see it. At this great display there was a photograph of Chou En-lai on one side and Mr Whitlam on the other- I suppose that is as it should be- but the Government did not complete one trade agreement. It spent thousands of dollars of the taxpayers money on snivelling and crawling to the Chinese people, but did not write one order.
I have 3 minutes left in which to speak. The next matter with which I would like to deal is the cattle industry. Here was at least one industry on which this nation could rely. In talking about relying on industries it is interesting to note that 77.7 per cent of the income of this nation came from primary industry. Take that away and this nation is bankrupt. The greatest of those industriesat least it was last year or the year beforewas the cattle industry. One of my grievances is this: I have in my electorate a great number of cattle men and those who depend upon the cattle industry for a living. The cattle man will be able to weather the storm, but what will happen to the contractor, the dam sinker, the railway man who depended on a bit of overtime? They are the little people the Government is supposed to be looking after. What plans does the Government have for trying to stimulate overseas trade in the export of beef cattle7 Never mind about crawling and snivelling to the Chinese at a display in China. Never mind about that. I want to know from the Minister for Agriculture, who slimes everybody over but who does not produce anything very specific, just what plans he has to try to bring some vitality and some economic stability back into the cattle industry. Those are questions we want answered.
Finally, I move away from the cattle kings to the pensioners. The Government is always bragging about what it does for the pensioners. I have in my electorate in the north of Australia tens of thousands of pensioners who have to meet the cost of northern freight charges. Has the Government ever considered- I have appealed to the Government again and again on this matterproviding some additional allowance to those people who have to meet such freight costs and to those people who have to meet great expense for such emotional requirements as going to the coast to seek specialist treatment? They have to pull up stakes and travel thousands of miles. The Government pays their fare but it does not pay their accommodation expenses. It does not make any allowance in their pensions for meeting the cost of those things. As a matter of fact, its policy is one of gross hypocrisy.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I would like to bring the House back from the high nights of fancy to which it has just been treated to some more mundane matters, in particular, to the extraordinary proliferation of rent rackets which are being perpetrated in the name of passing on the surcharge introduced for property income in the recent Budget. By way of illustration I wish to read a couple of letters which have come to my attention. The first one was addressed to a householder, not in my electorate, who rents his property through a firm of managing agents. The letter reads:
As managing agents for the above property, which you leased as tenant, we advise the following:
In view of a decision made in the Commonwealth Budget 17 September 1974 whereby income from property had applied to it a surtax of 10 per cent, we regret to advise you that it has become necessary to increase the rental on the premises you occupy by $3 to $26 as from 27 September 1974 or from the expiry of your current lease.
The second letter, which was received by a tenant in my electorate, reads:
Due to the Federal Government’s recent decision to impose an additional 10 per cent tax on revenue of this type of property ownership, this company is forced to pass this increase on to you as a return on this type of investment is not in any way profitable. This rise is effective as from Budget day. However, the increase in rent payable by you will be from 14 October 1974. Your rental from this date will be $33 per week. We regret that it is necessary to increase the rental, but should further legislation abolish this type of tax you will be notified of any alteration to the new rates.
If I might interpolate, the previous rental of the person to whom that letter was addressed was $30 a week. The increase is exactly 10 per cent. I had officers of the Treasury take out some calculations on the basis of the first letter I had read to the House, the letter advising a tenant of an increase in his rental from $23 a week to $26 a week, if I might say so, a particularly mean, unscrupulous and utterly indefensible action. Members of this House- including honourable members opposite- will be well aware that the 10 per cent surcharge applies not to the rent itself but to the tax payable on it after costs such as interest, maintenance, rates and agents fees have been deducted. If the landlord had a taxable income as high as $10,000 and no costs whatsoever to charge against the rent of $23, the increase would not be $3 but 66c. If his income was $20,000, the surcharge would still only amount to 98c. This is less than one-third of the increase being demanded. If costs amounting to half the rent are taken into account, the surcharge reduces to 33c a week for landlords earning $10,000 a year and to 49c for those in receipt of $20,000 a year. Landlords with earnings up to $5,000 a year do not incur any surcharge at all.
I have risen to draw these letters and the situation that they represent to the attention of the House because I believe that, owing to the way in which the surcharge has been reported and owing to the way in which many people, and in particular honourable members opposite, have gone out of their way to misrepresent it, there will be a great number of tenants in the community who, receiving these letters, suppose their contents to be soundly based. As a result they go ahead and pay the increased rentals without protest. This is a situation which this Parliament should not be prepared to tolerate. I hope that every member of this House who has letters of this type drawn to his attention will lose no time in bringing them to the attention of the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the Prices Justification Tribunal. I believe there is a very sound case indeed for increasing by 10 per cent rents themselves and not the tax paid on net return from them to be put to study by the Prices Justification Tribunal.
There is no defence whatsoever for the sorts of increases which are demanded in the letters I have quoted. It is utterly unscrupulous for landlords to take advantage of a Government measure to secure a windfall increase in profits which otherwise would not have been available to them or which has been ignored in fact oh quite different grounds. I hope that people listening to the broadcast of the proceedings of this House this morning, who have had increases of this sort drawn to their attention or who are themselves the victims of such increases, will send copies of the letters that they have received to me. I am anxious to build up a complete file on this matter so that the appropriate action can be taken. There is no reason why anybody in this country should sit back and passively accept exploitation in this form. The Parliament enacts measures; the Parliament should act as the defender of the people who are exploited unscrupulously as a result of those measures being misused.
-I call the honourable member for Griffith.
– What, again? Don ‘t you ever stop talking, Don?
– The Parliament has noted in recent times the complete and utter silence of Tasmanian members. This is in stark contrast to the action of other members of this Parliament who are on the non-Government side and who are unfettered and able to speak out against some of the destruction which is going on in this country. Last Tuesday night , we had a performance- that is the only word that I can use to describe it- by the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) who is the member for Newcastle in which the Minister completely and utterly denounced Evans Deakin Industries Ltd in Brisbane.
I wish to quote extracts from that rather remarkable speech delivered on 22 October. The Minister described Evans Deakin in this way:
It is the worst managed shipyard that this country has ever had the misfortune to have. The manner in which it conducts its affairs is poor. It has antagonised unions and, incidentally, the unions have not been unco-operative. The way Evans
Deakin has antagonised unions into unnecessary stoppages is an absolute and utter disgrace.
The Minister said further
It is an inefficient, badly administered shipyard.
This statement followed the announcement by Evans Deakin that it had reached a stage where it could no longer continue to build conventional ships. That announcement was preceded by one from the Adelaide Ship Construction organisation which last year, after a few months of Australian Labor Party policies decided that it could no longer carry on. The Evans Deakin announcement also followed the announcement by Walkers Ltd in Maryborough, Queensland, earlier this year that it could no longer carry on. The stage has now been reached where three of the nation’s 6 shipbuilding yards have been forced to close in just 22 months of a Federal Australian Labor Party Government. That is not a bad performance.
Let us examine some of the claims made last Tuesday night under the privilege of this Parliament by the Minister. They are statements which, if made outside this House, could result in his being sued. But he chose the Parliament in which to say them. I fully recognise that the privilege extended to members of Parliament is there for a reason. But the privilege which we have is one which should not be idly used. To indulge in such an attack is in my view most unfair, unjustified and reflects on every member of the staff of Evans Deakin, whether the staff be at the State Government Insurance office building in the heart of Brisbane or down in the shipyard itself. ‘Inefficient’ is the word that the Minister use to describe the staff.
I draw the attention of honourable members to the address for 1 974 by Mr Knevitt, Chairman and Managing Director of Evans Deakin Industries Ltd. I might say that I have little reason to love the man because, prior to the 1972 election, he came out and condemned the policies of the then Liberal Government. That did not help me in the marginal seat of Griffith. But at least he is consistent. Prior to the last election he came out and said, in a nutshell: ‘Well, I thought the Liberals were not too good; but, having seen the Labor Party for 16 months, I am forced to say that they are even worse. ‘
In his report, Mr Knevitt says:
It will be recalled that one of the conditions for our acceptance of the construction of the present drilling rig was that all unions concerned would be parties to a registered industrial agreement. Such an agreement was concluded prior to commencement of construction. The unprecedented high level of industrial stoppages throughout Australia has not been reflected at the shipyard. There has been an almost total absence of stoppages and trade union representatives and members within the shipyard have continued to honour the terms and conditions of the agreement in settling disputes.
This is in stark contrast to the claim made by the Minister on Tuesday last.
I know that the Trades Hall in Brisbane has been vitally concerned for a number of months now about the actions of this Federal Government towards the shipbuilding industry. I know that the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) and other Federal Queensland Labor Party members have been involved by the Trades Hall to try to pump some sense into the bilges of the Minister and to try to create a realistic approach to the shipbuilding industry. But this has been to no avail. It is little wonder that the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Hawke, who is also the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, is travelling around the country and saying that the Labor Government is on the skids. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) has given me permission to incorporate in Hansard the transcript of an address by the Prime Minister, the Honourable E. G. Whitlam, at the Kangaroo Point shipyard of Evans Deakin Industries on 2 October 1972. I formally seek leave for its incorporation.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document reads as follows)-
Next month, early in December, as you know, there will be an election for the House of Representatives and we are asking you to give the maximum support to the Australian Labor Party candidates. We haven’t got as many members in the House of Representatives from Brisbane as we should have. We got one additional one last election for the House of Representatives and we want a few more this time. Some of the candidates are here today.
Now things have looked up in at least one respect since I was last here, since the last election. On that occasion I was not allowed to speak on the premises themselves. You had to come around if you wanted to hear me under the bridge. I ‘m glad you turned up in such big numbers today. Now I will be speaking in general terms about this industry. Len Keogh has spoken in the House of Representatives last week and had deputations to the Minister for Shipping and Transport about it. 1 11 speak in general terms.
Now this company for which you work is the largest employer in Brisbane. Only Mt Isa Mines employs more people than this company in the whole of Queensland. The difficult thing for this company is that not only does the company, but its employees, don’t know where they stand. The principal activity is building ships. You can’t build ships in Australia unless the Commonwealth Government is interested in building ships. For years now every ship built in Australia has been ordered by a Commonwealth Shipbuilding Board and there’s a subsidy given by the Commonwealth Government for the building of any decent sized ship in Australia.
But the industry lives from hand to mouth. It has a stop-go policy applied to it. It’s true they have always got a new order just before the current ship is finished, but the new order has always been placed too late to keep all the people, the draftsmen and so on, fully engaged.
Now if there ‘s to be a future for this shipbuilding industry, if there’s to be a future for Evans Deakin as a company, or for its employees, there must be some program to guarantee shipbuilding in Australia.
I suppose you know pretty well the program that’s gone on here. Last House of Representatives elections 3 years ago we were told that the Tariff Board was looking at the state of the industry. And you remember that on the 28 November 1968 the Liberal Government had asked the Tariff Board to look at the state of the shipbuilding industry and to make recommendations as to what the Commonwealth Government ought to do to continue the shipbuilding industry in a healthy state, to guarantee its future.
Elections were held on 23 October 1969. In November 1969 the Tariff Board completed its hearings. It completed its public hearings a year after the reference was made to the Board by the Commonwealth Government. Then the Tariff Board made its report to the Commonwealth Government on the 25 June 1971 and the report wasn’t given to the Parliament until the 3 1 May this year. Now I ask you to look at the delays involved. It took the Tariff Board a year to complete the hearings from the time that it got the reference. It took the Tariff Board over a year and 7 months to complete its report and it took the Commonwealth Government 1 1 months to table that report.
I’d like people who are interested in these matters not only here but in the rest of Australia to ask what would we think if the High Court or the Arbitration Commission were to take one year seven months to make up their mind on a matter after the conclusion of the hearing.
I’m not going to blame the Tariff Board entirely but one must blame the Government for not giving the Tariff Board sufficient staff to carry out its job. The Tariff Board in annual report after annual report has said that it needs new staff if it is to promptly and effectively discharge its job.
It took it a year and seven months to draw up its report after the hearings were concluded. Nobody would tolerate that in the case of the High Court. Nobody would tolerate it in the case of the Arbitration Commission. Then there was 1 1 months between the Tariff Board giving its report to the Government and the Government giving that report to Parliament. Now what would we do what would we say if a Government was able to sit on something like this for 1 1 months in any other industry or any other type of occupation.
Well I can assure you personally then that an Australian Labor Government will see that there is sufficient staff available to the Tariff Board to do its job quickly and fully and effectively. Secondly, we will see that the Tariff Board reports are promptly tabled in the Parliament so that everybodymanagers, employees, investors, the lot- the public as a whole, knows what needs to be done about this industry.
There is no industry in Australia which is so dominated by overseas interests as shipping around the Australian coast or between Australia and other countries.
There’s a great deal said these days about overseas ownership, overseas control and there’s no industry in which Australians are involved in which there is so much overseas control, so much overseas ownership, than in shipping between Australia and other countries.
Australia is one of the principal trading countries in the world. There would be no more than 10 other countries which trade a greater amount than Australia. And yet only 1.8 per cent of Australia’s overseas trade goes in Australianbuilt ships, 1.8 percent.
Now the first thing an Australian Labor Government will do is to see thai the proportion of Australian-built ships engaged in overseas maritime trade will be increased.
There are a great number of other countries which insist that half the trade to and from goes in ships which are owned or built in their own country.
That’s not a bad yardstick but you can’t very well say it will be more than half because of course other countries will have to trade with us. But nevertheless not any where near SO per cent of Australian-owned ships carry our overseas trade to or from. We have 1.8 per cent of our overseas maritime trade going in Australian built ships. And the first thing therefore is to see that that percentage is steadily increased.
The next thing that has to be done is to do something about the Australian coastal trade. There is no reason whatever why all the ships on the Australian coastal trade should not be built in Australia. As it is there are 52 ships on the Australian coastal trade which are owned overseas. The Australian Navigation Act, there has been for over SO years, says that no ships can trade on the Australian coast, overseas ships, unless the Australian Government gives its permission. The Australian Government now as a matter of course gives permission to any of these ships to travel on the Australian coast.
So I give that undertaking there too that we will definitely set out to see that the Australian coastal trade is in the hands of Australian built ships. The overall thing that we want to do is to see that overseas trade which in the case of Australia being an island continent is overwhelmingly by sea- not very much trade can go by air when it comes to freight- the bulk of exports must always go by ships. We want to see that we work towards half the ships being built in Australia insofar as the overseas trade is concerned. We want to work towards the position where all the ships on the coastal trade are built in Australia.
Now we shouldn’t just limit our sights to ships which are trading around the Australian coast or the ships which are carrying Australian imports or exports to and from other countries.
We also ought to look at the position of building ships for other countries. It so happens that all the countries near Australia are composed of islands- the biggest collection of islands in the world, the biggest archipelagoes in the world. Indonesia and the Philippines and Micronesia and so on. Quite clearly it’s very important to be able to travel by ship in any of these than it is by air or by road. In fact there are not roads on many of these islands. But if anything is to be done about the trade of these islands it has to go by ship and as it is they build very few ships themselves.
The time will come, of course, when they do build more ships themselves, but at this stage they have bought the ships from Hong Kong or from Trieste or from Hamburg. There is no earthly reason why Australia shouldn’t build some of those ships herself. The Tariff Board report recommended to the Government that there should be a subsidy not only on ships built in Australia for Australian coastal trade, or for Australian overseas trade, but there should also be a subsidy on ships built in Australia for sale or use in other countries. But the Government has rejected that recommendation.
Now how many of the large shipbuilding countries in the world would be able to export ships to other countries without some sort of assistance from their own governments. As you know in other countries they not only get subsidies to build ships as is the case here, but shipping companies get tax concessions for operating ships which are built in their own country and so on.
Every one of these shipbuilding countries give encouragement for the export of ships- Germany, Japan, Britain, Sweden and Norway- the lot. They all give encouragement to people who build ships in their country to export those ships to other countries.
They make it easier for them to do it- tax concessions, long term credit, subsidies. But the Australian Government has rejected the recommendations from the Tariff Board that there should be encouragement for Australian shipyards to fulfil orders for other countries.
This is particularly wrong when one finds that in Indonesia, with well over 100 million population; the Philippines with nearly 40 million population; all the south sea islands with a disperse population; all these hundreds of islands, all using ships. They are getting ships from Europe, Japan and Hong Kong, but not from Australia and we are right beside them. We are closer to them. It should be easier to service the ships, to operate the ships with Australian skills and so on than it would be from these other countries.
So gentlemen, I put those three propositions to you- A Federal Labor Government will set out to see that up to half the ships operating in Australia’s overseas trade are built in Australia. We will work to see that all the ships on the Australian coastal trade are built in Australia and it will ensure that Australian shipyards are able to fulfil orders in a competitive way, particularly for those nations composed of islands right on our own door step around the periphery of Australia.
As a result of this there will be a certain future for the Australian shipbuilding industry. This all falls into the general pattern that the Australian Labor Party believes ought to be applied for Australian industry.
Last week there was quite a deal of argument in Parliament about these hundreds of miles of oil or natural gas pipeline that are to be installed in Australia. The order has gone to Japan. The Australian company which is getting the natural gas has refused to place an order with Australian companies that can make pipelines.
In the next 10 years there will not just be hundreds, there will be thousand of miles of oil and natural gas pipelines in Australia. Just as the line from Moonie to Brisbane had to be imported, so now the line from Moomba to Sydney is going to be imported. And it will always be said whenever there ‘s a new pipeline to be installed in Australia there’s no Australian company with the experience in building pipes of the size and strength required, and once again we will have to import them. The Australian Labor Party says we know there will have to be more pipelines installed in Australiathat’s the experience of every industrial country which has found that it has oil or natural gas in its boundaries or off its shores- and it has set out to see that there’s a basic Australian industry to get those orders so that it can tool up for future orders.
Secondly, the same thing has to be done with the railways. Remember the West Australian railways- hundreds of miles, bigger than the ones in Queensland, the iron ore ports in Western Australia, hundreds of miles. The rails were imported and half the wagons were imported and yet we know that for the foreseeable future we will need to be getting new rolling stock, heavy rails for our railways in Australia. If there is one thing that railways can do economically it is long distance haulage transport. There is no other transport method so economic as railways. And yet we import the rails, we import the wagons. The Government allowed it to be done. Gentlemen, one could go through all these basic things. The Australian Labor Party has faith that for the foreseeable future in Australia we will need ships around our coast, we will need ships between Australia and other countries, we will need heavy duty rails and rolling stock within Australia, we will need big pipelines within Australia because of what has been discovered in Australia and off our shores.
I’ve given you three instances. Now again, it’s a small one maybe, there’s the aircraft industry. Does anybody doubt that we will need aircraft in peace certainly and if there ‘s any war? You’ve got to have the necessary skills to maintain and in some cases to build aircraft. All the aircraft in use in Australia have been imported and there are no orders for Australian manufactured aircraft at the moment. Aircraft, railways, ships, pipelines- it’s the same story. Yet we believe as Australians whether we were born here or migrated here that Australia will need aircraft and ships and pipelines and railways, then we ought to be seeing that there’s a proper future for those companies which have the equipment, the skills, the men producing all these things.
I thank you very much for turning out in such numbers and being so attentive while I have been able to talk to you before this House of Representatives election at the biggest company, the biggest employer, the biggest works in Brisbane.
I do ask you, not only to yourselves, but if people know you work for Evans Deakin, they know that a great deal of the future of this city, of secondary industry in this city, for apprentices and skills, the future of people interested in industry in Queensland, in Brisbane, depends on the future of this the largest employer in Queensland except Mt Isa Mines themselves.
You ought to have a future here. Only the Australian Labor Party offers a future to you. I believe if people know you work here and you tell them in the pub or at the football or whatever one does in summer up here what the future is here, what a difference it makes to you and this company, what a difference it makes to this capital city, what a difference it makes to this State and the difference there is between a Liberal/Country Party Federal Government attitude to it and a Federal Labor Government attitude to it, then you will be able to assist to see that Joe McDonald wins Moreton, Eddie Foat wins Griffith, Len Keogh gets a bigger majority in Bowman and Manfred Cross gets a bigger majority in Brisbane.
– I thank the House. This 4Vi page address was delivered by the Prime Minister at the Evans Deakin shipyards on 2 October 1972, at a time when he was looking for votes and seats. I shall quote extracts from it. He said:
We haven’t got as many members in the House of Representatives from Brisbane as we should have. We got one additional one last election for the House of Representatives and we want a few more this time.
He was after my neck just as he was at the last elections, but I am still here. He is still here, but he may not be here as Prime Minister after the next elections. Let me quote his description of Evans Deakin. He said:
Now this company for which you work is the largest employer in Brisbane. Only Mt Isa Mines employs more people than this company in the whole of Queensland.
Later in his address he said:
Now if there ‘s to be a future for this shipbuilding industry, if there’s to be a future for Evans Deakin as a company, or for its employees, there must be some program to guarantee shipbuilding in Australia.
The Government has already cut the number of shipyards in half since he made this magnificent address. I am glad that the Minister permitted me to incorporate this address in Hansard because it is one of those speeches which will live in infamy. He continued:
You ought to have a future here. Only the Australian Labor Party offers a future to you. I believe if people know you work here and you tell them in the pub or at the football or whatever one does in summer up here -
The Prime Minister does not even know what people do in Queensland in summer- what a difference it makes to you and this company, what a difference it makes to this capital city, what a difference it makes to this State and the difference there is between a Liberal-Country Party Federal Government attitude to it -
His speech at this point should have had a couple of commas and full stops but did not- and a Federal Labor Government attitude to it, then you will be able to assist to see that Joe McDonald wins Moreton, Eddie Foat wins Griffith, Len Keogh gets a bigger majority in Bowman and Manfred Cross gets a bigger majority in Brisbane.
That speech was delivered less than 2 years ago.
– They got bigger majorities after that speech.
-They got bigger majorities but, regrettably, the people were fooled in 1 972. If the honourable member examines the Queensland results for the last elections he will see that the former member for Lilley is no longer here, Eddie Foat and Clem Jones are but names in the annals of history and Len Keogh and Manfred Cross scraped in. I suggest that after the next elections none of those Government supporters who are here from Queensland will be here. Just as the shipbuilding yards of Australia have been wiped off the map so will members of the present Government. The greatest tragedy is that from the Prime Minister down members opposite promised the world, yet the other night- I conclude where I began- the Minister for Transport, who is supposed to have a degree of responsibility, described Evans Deakin, Brisbane’s biggest company and Queensland’s second biggest company, as the worst managed shipyard this country has ever had the misfortune to have. What a condemnation. I hope that all workers in Evans Deakin who have been silly enough to vote Labor in the past will recognise that their future employment opportunities are being discarded because of the policies of the present Government.
– I shall use this occasion to answer some of the ravings of the Opposition that have gone on in the House over the past few weeks on one specific subject, although members opposite leave themselves open to be answered on numbers of matters. There would be some people who would say that some of the ravings should be ignored but as we record the proceedings of this Parliament for history I think we should also record answers to inferences and allegations made in this House against organisations outside the House because as the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) said- it was the only sensible thing he said in the 10 minutes he had at his disposal- we should be careful of the manner we use the privileges we are given as members of the House. This morning I shall inform the House about an organisation which, by inference, was condemned in this House by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) 2 weeks ago. I refer, of course, to the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union. Honourable members will recall the honourable member for Mackellar reading through a whole list of names, the majority of which are unknown to any of us. In some cases I should think the members opposite do not know any of the people named. This was a list of people whom the honourable member for Mackellar alleged were members of the Communist Party who hold full time official positions with the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union. I wish to inform the House about this union and the part it plays in our community, and the reason we should be careful of our privileges and not bring industrial relations into the House trying to solve problems which can better be solved around the conference table by representatives of employers and employees.
On several occasions in this House I have condemned the practice of union bashing. I do not intend to answer union bashing by becoming an employer basher because I have, throughout my life as a representative of trade unions and of the Labor Party, met many fine people who represent employers. In their jobs they are tough, dedicated people- just as tough and just as dedicated as those who take on the role of representing trade unions. When the honourable member for Mackellar talks about the Metalworkers Union he is talking about an organisation which throughout Australia has 183,000 members. It has 1 13 branches throughout every State of the nation. The honourable member read out a list of perhaps 15 to 20 names, but in the union there are 108 full time officials. The Amalgamated Metalworkers Union arose out of the amalgamation of the Sheetmetal Workers Union, the Boilermakers Union and the Amalgamated Engineering Union. In 1972 these unions took a decision to constitute the one amalgamated union. It has been a successful step. The Labor Party has been encouraging union amalgamations in Australia for a long time. This is a step which Opposition parties oppose. They do not understand the ramifications of having a multiplicity of unions in the industrial relations field.
When in 1972 the move was made to amalgamate there were 8 formal objections from other unions of no specific political nature. They were unions representing all political philosophiesleft wing, right wing and middle of the road. After negotiations with all concerned, all objections were removed and there was absolutely no challenge to the registration of the enabling rules for the amalgamation which was to exist between 1972 and 1974. Each of these 3 unions which went to make up the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union in 1972-74 were, of course, substantial organisations in their own right. At the time of amalgamation in 1972 they had 163,000 members but in the following 2 years 20,000 members were added. The 1 13 branches of the union throughout Australia meet monthly. Each branch of the union can have eight or nine officers. All business of the branches is sent on to State councils which meet quarterly. The State branches send their business on to the State conferences which send their business on to the national conference which is held every 2 years.
A significant feature about all the conferences of the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union is that written into the rules of the union is a provision that the majority of people who attend the conferences must be other than full time officials. The majority of people who go to represent the members at those conferences are what we term, in industrial language, rank and file members. The matter does not only stop at conference decisions. I hope that honourable members opposite will take time out to read what I am saying so that they will get some understanding of the largest union in Australia. Not only are decisions of the conference made by a majority of rank and file members but also decisions are subject to ratification back at the branch level. All decisions made at State conferences and national conferences are referred back to the 113 branches for ratification. So there can be no standing over the membership. There can be no justification for the allegations made by the honourable member for Mackellar.
A very significant feature of the administration of this union which makes it perhaps the most efficient of all trade unions in Australia- this was news to me when I made inquiries about it- is that every quarter every one of the 183,000 members receives a card from his union which tells him his financial position in the union, his section of the membership in the union, his classification, the time of the next monthly meeting of the union, the name of the branch secretary and also the business which will be conducted at that meeting. Every quarter there is a summoned meeting of the union. All positions which are to be balloted at any meeting are listed on the card which the member receives every quarter so that every member of the union will receive notification by virtue of the card which is sent to him of what positions are vacant, when nominations will close and when the meeting will be held. He is also informed of the business which will be conducted at that meeting. No other union in Australia to my knowledge carries out such a comprehensive and complex system of involvement of the membership. Let us look at the effects of having an efficient organisation like the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union. The efficiency of that Union does not stop at the way it passes on information to its members. Let us look at what it does in the industrial relations field. It is estimated that by virtue of common law, apart from negotiations which might be settled outside of the courts, the Metalworkers Union gained in one year alone for its members through the courts $3. 5m in workmen’s compensation. The influence of the union in the parliaments and the community is there for everybody to see. There are conciliation commissioners from the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union. There are government inspectors. There are people on the apprenticeship boards. There are members of Parliament from the union and there are people appointed to Government advisory panels. They are a very influential section of the Australian community and ought to be treated as such.
I want to make one final point about how responsible the Metal Workers Union is. Let us look at the union’s negotiations which took place in 1974- a troubled period for the Australian community by virtue of the inflation rate. It will be recalled that in December 1973 a claim for $30 a week was submitted to the employers by the union for a pay increase for all its members. After only 2 stopwork meetings to hear the results of negotiations with the employers an offer of $15 a week was accepted by the union. After acceptance of the $15 a week by the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union the courts, following agreements between employers and employees, reached a decision that would give workers under 118 awards in other industries outside the metal industry amounts of between $24 and $31 a week. That is an amount of $9 to $16 more than the metal workers settled for. The Amalgamated Metalworkers Union renegotiated its position and gained a further $9 a week. Again members of the union lost only 2 days by virtue of reports to the rank and file by officials. This is a very responsible organisation in the Australian community. It should not be an organisation which is subject to union bashing for political purposes in this House. It should be looked upon for the role it plays in the community.
-Last Monday, 21 October 1974, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in commenting on the record consumer price index increase of 5.4 per cent said:
Such a disturbingly high rate of inflation cannot continue without permanent damage to our economic and social structure.
Perhaps one of the areas which has suffered most from inflation- a rate of inflation encouraged almost entirely by the present Government’s policies- has been the housing sector. Inflation has involved not only those in industry but also and just as important that section of the community, mainly young people, who are trying desperately to own their own homes. In many countries home ownership is not regarded as a sine qua non of normal life but in this nation it is. For 23 years successive Liberal-Country Party governments did their utmost to make home ownership a reality to all sections of the community regardless of income.
Today we have reached a situation where almost without exception it is very difficult to obtain adequate finance to buy a home in keeping with a person’s desires or needs. In addition to that, as the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) pointed out, we are faced today with incredibly high rents which are being charged to people who are forced to pay rent for accommodation. Unfortunately the fact remains that high rents are only symptomatic of a situation that has developed during the last 2 years and is directly the result of Government policies which have restricted home building in the last few months so that it has not kept up with the obvious increase in demand. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) pointed out recently that 1973-74 showed a record level of housing approvals and also commencements and completions. Of course’ that is correct. He also went on to say that the Government had been forced to take restraining action because industry was unable to live up to the requirements of people demanding houses. Yes, that is true, but what the Government has not done and what has to be done is to relate the demand for housing not only in terms of the supply of land, labour and capital but also to examine in great detail what should be done with the available labour resources of the economy.
Today we find that most houses are built by contract labour and many contractors have shown a distinct disinclination to employ apprentices because they feel, for various reasons, that they are not getting their money’s worth. In the long term this is a very serious situation. We have to build up a labour force which is both numerically and in terms of qualifications capable of meeting the increasing demand for housing in Australia. It is worth pointing out some statistics which have recently been prepared by the Housing Industry Association of Australia. The statistics were published in March 1974. According to the projections in regard to housing needs, in 1975 we will need 184,500 new homes. By 1980 the number will increase to 207,000. The Government must realise that today we are still in what can best be called a large demographic bulge in the community where a significant section of people will be getting married or have recently married and will be requiring housing from the public and private sectors. The public sector has improved its position in terms of total financing for Government funded accommodation for low income groups. This has been given to State authorities and I have no doubt it will be put to good use.
The fact still remains that the vast majority of housing completions in Australia are carried out either by private contracts or by larger companies in the community who are developing housing. Unless this demand can be met we will face a situation where, in the next 2 years in particular, rents will increase because the demand will increase. The population is growing and the requirement for building is growing with it. The demand is simply not being met. It is no good using fiscal policy as a dam to hold back demand in the hope it will just whittle away. People need accommodation. They have a right to accommodation. It is the Government’s responsibility to apply economic and fiscal policies that make this a reality. Until this is done the country will not ‘ progress forward. It is not satisfactory to say to the people of Australia who paid $130 a month last year on their principal-interest repayments that they now have to pay $300 a month. It is not satisfactory for people hoping to build a home in 8 months to find it will now take them 12 months. The Minister might be interested to know that I have been trying to build a house for 18 months. It is still not finished. The building industry is in a situation of chaos today greater than it has ever been before.
– Why do you think that is the case?
– Because of your policies.
– Why do you think your house has taken so long to build?
– Because of inefficiency in the industry and because the Government has allowed a large demand to build up without initiating adequate industrial and training policies to meet the demand. It is not just a case of supply and of finding the necessary capital or the necessary land. We have to find people to build the houses. It is the Government’s responsibility to see that we do that adequately.
– It is a pity the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) did not refer to the Cambridge Credit Corporation Ltd and the Mainline Corporation Ltd which forced up the price of land and did not pass the profits on to the young married couples who are being exploited by the land sharks today. However my mission in speaking today is to mention the inadequacies and the deterioration in mineworkers pensions. I know this matter has been of concern to the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) and to the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) who have a large contingent of retired mine workers in their electorates.
Pension legislation affecting coal and oil shale mine workers has operated in New South Wales since January 1942. Similar legislation followed in the other coal producing States. A mine workers’ retirement scheme emerged from negotiations between the unions and mining companies to cover mine workers employed in the metalliferous mining industry at Broken Hill. Unlike coal industry schemes, that at Broken Hill is not established by legislation, as you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, through your long experience with the coal mining industry, being a representative of a coal mining area in the Lithgow region.
When considering the drafts of new schemes we can now assess 32 years experience to measure the actual results against the mine workers’ expectations at the time the original legislation was enacted. The first adverse development to prevent basic expectancies being realised was the departure from fixing employers’ contributions by a levy on the tonnage of coal produced and its substitution with the present per capita method of fixing both the employers’ and employees’ contributions. This method, crippling in its effect on the benefits structure, has been maintained despite numerous deputations to Labor and coalition governments. At no time has the correctness of the mine workers’ submissions been refuted. They are able to prove that the living standards of retired mine workers and their dependants have been severely worsened. The answers received have been more concerned with legalistic matters and an alleged reluctance to legislate for a small distinct section of the community than with any essential approach to the considerations of human welfare.
It must be admitted that although the Miners’ Federation’s efforts to re-establish the levy have been fought without success, nevertheless reestablishment of the levy remains a fundamentally correct plank of the Miners’ Federation policy. As such it has to be maintained and advanced with the maximum energy which the current industrial-political situation permits. Since introduction of the per capita method of financing the schemes in all States except Tasmania annual production and output per man-shift have increased enormously. Output per manshift has increased by approximately 500 per cent in the last 7 or 8 years and is near to reaching a world record. The production of coal per man in Australia has attained world standards. The upward movement in production and output per man-shift has not been matched by corresponding gains to retired mine workers. Employers have actually enjoyed a gigantic saving through the method of per capita contributions to the miners’ pensions funds. In effect, much of what retired mine workers should have received has been congealed in the funds of coal companies, including the multi-nationals, particularly those well known to all honourable members, Utah Mining Australia Ltd and Clutha Development Proprietary Limited.
This situation is compounded as fewer mine workers continue to produce at higher levels. Little is left to the imagination with the prospect of a world wide sellers’ market developing for coal. Action by the Australian Labor Government has resulted in increased prices for Australian coal, much to the credit of our present Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), the honourable member for Cunningham. The coal owners and their ‘coalition’ spokesmen see this as intended to yield them more profits. Retired mine workers do not even come last in the calculations of the coalition political parties; they do not enter into the calculations at all. The mining unions originally sought compulsory retirement of mine workers at 60 years of age. That was and still remains correct policy. However, it must be seen that while social security legislation provides for retirement on pensions for males at 65, the compulsorily retired mine worker has his working life shortened by 5 years compared with other workers. He is in fact 5 years short in the market of time to prepare for retirement, and in the 5 years between 60 and 65 he and his dependants exist on a level below the Henderson poverty line.
One of the most corrosive weaknesses in the situation of the mine workers is revealed here. Since commencement of miners’ pensions, the Miners’ Federation has pressed with varying degrees of vigour for compulsorily retired mine workers to qualify for age pensions as from the date of their compulsory retirement. Mr Deputy Speaker, you are well aware of the hazards of the coalmining industry and the resultant effect on the lungs of mine workers working deep in the bowels of the earth commonly referred to in the United States of America as black lung but referred to by you and by me, who represent coal mining constituencies, as miners’ silicosis, a lung complaint which causes long and lingering suffering.
Some Commonwealth action towards providing adequate miners’ pension standards was envisaged in the report of the royal commission inquiring into the question of the compulsory retirement of employees in coal and oil shale mines in New South Wales in 1941. After exhaustively setting out legislation for miners’ retirement in many overseas countries, as enacted by their national governments, at page 47 under the heading ‘Conclusions: General’ the report states:
In this respect the legislation of Australia, including New South Wales, has lagged behind that of Europe where the right of miners to a pension has been recognised in schemes distinct from those which apply now to the community in general as does the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act.
I should like to contribute more on this subject in this debate but I am aware that the Parliament is anxious to debate very soon a national compensation scheme in which the overwhelming majority of the population of Australia are interested. But at some later date I shall conclude my remarks on what I consider is the unfair treatment or the lack of proper sympathy by responsible authorities towards building up the mine workers pension to the level at which it was originated and to the level at which it should be today. I am grateful to Mr Comerford, a former
President of the Northern District Miners Federation, for the information contained in the documents I have before me. He is well known to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for his research and his dedication to the welfare of retired miners.
-Having heard the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) speaking on the Estimates for the Department of Agriculture last night I could not let this opportunity pass without informing the people of Eden-Monaro that their representative’s views are not unanimously held. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro is blinding his electorate with science, with his usual academic jargon and high-flown ideas. He made reference in his speech last night to things like a national soil conservation scheme. And he is a member of a government which has taken away the tax concessions granted to enable primary producers to undertake programs of soil conservation. How much easier would it be to encourage, across the board in Australia, through tax deductions and other incentives, each individual farmer to apply his own program of soil conservation? What indeed would be the costs of administering something like a national soil conservation scheme? Yet our academic friend from Eden-Monaro talks about -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order! The honourable member is not in order in reviving a debate. He may refer to the subject matter but he should not revive the debate.
– Thank you for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro is the Chairman of the Caucus Resources Committee. This Caucus Committee recently recommended unanimously that $50m for carry-on finance for the beef industry should be made available through the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank. I ask: What has the honourable member for Eden-Monaro done about trying to find ways and means of getting the Government to accept decisions of the Caucus Resources Committee which he chairs? There are many problems being faced by the rural community throughout Australia, particularly in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, but no concrete suggestions have been made by him or by the Government as to how these problems could be overcome. There is no doubt that the beef industry is in dire need of assistance.
There is no doubt that the wheat industry is in dire need of assistance, despite the fact that its market prospects are among the most favourable in the rural community at the present time. It is true that the Labor Government increased by 10c the first payment on a bushel of wheat, but in terms of inflation which is in existence in Australia today the increase is entirely meaningless. The first payment on wheat should be increased to $ 1 .80. If that were done the effect on those people who are dual producers of meat and wheat would be such that they would have more cash in their pockets and would not be forced to off-load breeding stock and other cattle as they will be forced to do because of the current seasons and market conditions.
In the time left to me in this debate I want to make particular reference to the beef industry. The Country Party leaders had lengthy discussions on Tuesday with representatives of the beef industry. Among the large number of people who came to Canberra for these discussions were representatives from all levels of industry, from the unions through to the producers, the cattle producers, councils, exporters, wool brokers and the beef agents themselves. Other people were invited but did not come. However, they did send in written submissions. I will refer to some of the points that came out of that meeting. This is a government which advocates a system of open government. We now have industry views on what should be done to alleviate the position and to alleviate the disastrous crisis which is now confronting this industry. I want to know what the Government is going to do and what it is prepared to do in the light of what the industry itself has said it needs. We have gone to the trouble of getting these people down to Canberra and getting them to express what they regard as the assistance that the industry needs. The Government now has the responsibility of assessing those requests and taking some steps towards providing the assistance.
The suggestions that have been made are very reasonable. They involve carry on finance, and that is something which I do not think we can escape. A suggestion has been made that companies should pay their tax on a quarterly basis. This is something that will further severely restrict the liquidity that does remain in the rural industry, particularly in the beef industry. Companies should be allowed to defer the payment of tax and revert to the original basis of taxation while this particular crisis is upon them. We have a situation in which the Government has increased the meat export levy tax. This again is something which could be shelved until such time as there is increased liquidity and the beef industry is in a better position to be able to handle these problems. I would like to see the adoption of the suggestion that the Commissioner of Taxation use his discretion in respect of imposing penalties on those people who make mistakes and errors of judgment as to what their provisional taxation assessments might be. These people are being affected daily by the crumbling levels of beef prices which are now down to below 10c per lb. Nine hundred dollar bullocks are being sold for $90 and that is a tragedy in national terms as well as in terms of a return to the industry.
– What can be done about it?
-I am telling you what can be done about it. I am listing the things which your Government could do and which would not cost a great deal of money. It would keep a great industry on its feet. If the honourable Minister will listen to me in the brief time available to me in this debate I will run through a few more of them. We can increase the tax averaging scheme from $ 16,000 up to an amount of $32,000 which would enable many small producers to be able to adjust their income over a period of years so that they can cope with the peaks and troughs such as they are experiencing these days. We could suspend the meat export tax levy. I have already mentioned that one. We could introduce some of the tax concessions which this Government has ripped off the rural community and which have had such a savage effect on liquidity. Let us, especially the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) who is sitting at the table, not forget the importance of liquidity in this industry as in so many others in Australia. But in this industry which is undergoing a particular crisis liquidity is vital and anything that the Government can do to increase that liquidity to alleviate the problems of the beef industry will certainly be well received by the industry.
I want to know where in this debate are the Government members who should be standing up in this debate for the beef industry which so many of them represent. I want to know what the Government is going to do in terms of assisting and alleviating the problems of the beef industry in this country today.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-On behalf of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation I bring up the report of the Committee on the conservation of endangered species on Christmas Island, together with extracts from the minutes of the proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-by leave-This is the first report from the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation in the Twentyninth Parliament. The inquiry into the conservation of endangered species on Christmas Island, the first to be completed by a subcommittee, began in the previous Parliament and was interrupted by the double dissolution. The use of sub-committees offers increased flexibility and enables us to get on with inquiries into matters requiring urgent investigation. We feel it is fitting that sub-committee chairman speak to reports for which they have been primarily responsible.
The Committee’s major aim was to examine the effect of mining and other activities on the flora and fauna of Christmas Island and to advise on any measures necessary to protect the environment. Christmas Island is the home of several rare and endangered bird species. One particular species, the abbotts booby, is found nowhere else in the world and already has generated considerable international scientific study. It is a large sea bird whose unique habits and characteristics make it distinct from all other species of booby.
The Committee found, after visiting the Island, that most of the trees that form the habitat of the abbott’s booby are being destroyed as mining progresses, and that as a result the bird is in danger of extinction. We discovered by analysing the distribution of phosphate and of booby habitat that by selective and careful clearing, a considerable area of habitat may be left intact with little effect on phosphate production. We have a responsibility to ensure that this bird, and other species of fauna, do not become extinct as a result of our exploitation of the environment.
The abbott’s booby, and many other species on Christmas Island, have not yet been fully studied. There is still much we have to learn from them, and about them. In this regard, we have an obligation not only to Australia, but also to the rest of the world, to see that the natural beauty of the Island and its unique wildlife are preserved for future generations. I feel that by our inquiry, we have helped to pursue this significant objective. The Committee was pleased at the interest generated by our inquiry and impressed by the sincerity of organisations and people who assisted us with our investigations. Finally, I would also like to express the Committee’s appreciation of the work done by Mr Tim Richmond who was Clerk to the Committee during the inquiry.
– May I in moving for the rearrangement of business compliment the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Lamb) and other members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Conservation on the report.
– It sent you to sleep.
– I was doing something which all honourable members should do- I was reading the report.
Motion (by Mr Bryant) agreed to:
That order of the day No. 2, Government Business, be postponed until a later hour this day.
Consideration resumed from 23 October.
Department of Agriculture
Proposed expenditure, $49,4 1 8,000.
-Firstly I would like to comment on the speech made by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) last night. He said very little in this speech but he did make a reference in one very rousing part of it to what the Government was doing in regard to soil conservation. This subject took up a good part of his speech and was one of his main planks. He said:
The situation with which we are confronted is that we have a new government that has a proper, rational, national approach to agriculture. Nowhere is this better illustrated in this Budget than in the approach to soil conservation.
After carefully looking through the Budget Papers I found the following comment on soil conservation:
Legislation to be introduced in the Budget Session will provide for an interim program of financial assistance to the States for soil conservation programs. The program will extend over a two-year period with grants totalling $2.5m being made available to the States, of which $0.5m will be made available in 1974-75.
That is the sum total of the great new assistance which will be given for soil conservation, and that was the subject of most of the honourable member’s speech.
As has been pointed out repeatedly to the Government by members of the Opposition and by rural industry leaders, the rural areas of Australia are facing a recession the like of which we have not seen in this land since the depression of 1930-3 1. Generally the cost of production this year has risen by 30 per cent in all rural industries. Our major industries of meat and wool are facing a grim export situation. Grain is holding up but seasonal conditions may substantially reduce our crop. The dairy industry is suffering with the beef industry. Exporters of fruit, particularly apples, are facing a situation of rising costs, rising freight rates and tough market conditions. The outlook for many people involved in rural areas and those who depend on their prosperity for their own prosperity is grim.
The Government basically has shown its hostility to the rural people. There is a long and sorry list of actions that this Government has taken in this Budget and the 1973 Budget that have adversely affected rural people. I do not want to go through all of these actions. We have heard them and know them so well. We know of the loss of taxation deductions, the investment allowance and so on. The Government says that it is making rural production a nationally viable industry. But this reminds me of the story of the doctor saying to the cripple: ‘I will make you walk’, and then kicking his crutches away.
The Government has argued that the rural areas were being feather-bedded and that they were taking too much out of the system in comparison with what they were putting in. I do not think that anyone on the Government benches has argued that Australia does not need the export earnings brought about by the rural areas, but it would not surprise me if Government supporters did advance that argument. There is no likelihood of mining or manufacturing industries in the short term taking up the slack if the export of rural products declines or disappears from the scene. The Government repeatedly has said that it would assist those rural industries which through no fault of their own fell on hard times. I want to quote from a speech made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to the Australian Farmers’ Federation on Tuesday, 23 October 1973. This speech was made when times were reasonable. He said:
If the farming community is again exposed to economic hardships we will be prepared to play our part in helping individuals to make the best and most rational choices and, if necessary, cushion them against economic adversity. We have always voted for such policies when we were in opposition; we will adopt them if necessary now that we form the Government.
The Government has taken a stand on the wool industry, for which I commend it. The wool industry would have been in extreme difficulties without a firm floor price in the market. But the time has come now for urgent action to be taken to assist the beef industry. This industry is in a difficult position which certainly will not get any easier by the Government doing nothing. I realise that the export situation is desperate in the short term but one can only assume that in the long term the export situation will be encouraged. So what can be done to see that our beef producers are still successfully raising beef when conditions improve?
The beef industry has slumped to its present position through no fault of its own. In fact 18 months ago the industry was encouraged to expand production by agricultural economists, governments and anyone who thought that they knew anything about the world supply of protein and were in a position to expound it. Now, because of political decisions made in countries such as Japan, the United States of America and the European Economic Community countries, we have a glut situation in the countries which are and have been our traditional markets. The cost to these countries to maintain and build up their own beef herds has been astronomical. It has cost them many billions of dollars to support their agricultural industries. We have to compete on world markets against this support. I have no doubt that in the long term these countries will return to economic sanity as far as their agricultural products are concerned and that the markets for beef and other commodities will return to Australia.
But what is to be done in the meantime? The greatest problem facing farmers is one of liquidity. We are not living today in normal times. Different sections of rural industries have weathered greater storms in the past. But in those times liquidity was reasonably easy to maintain. Normal monetary conditions as we have known them do not exist in the tight money situation of today. There just is not the finance available to bridge this situation. An amount of $50m is urgently needed to allow the majority of producers to survive. I certainly would not imagine that this amount of money would be made available by way of grant. Rather it would be made available in the form of a loan. If this is the case I hope that the loan will be made at the lowest interest rate possible. Such a loan could be organised through the Commonwealth Development Bank or through rural reconstruction. The industry will have the ability to repay its borrowings when the wheel turns, as it surely will.
Taxes and levies imposed by the Federal Government on the beef industry for different schemes could be lifted for the short term or until such time as the industry returns to prosperity. Meat export charges which in the current year are estimated to be some $26,300,000 are a great burden on the industry. There must be continual dialogue between the beef industry leaders and the Government. There should be regular meetings between people at the grass roots level and the Executive. Last week when speaking during the Budget debate I mentioned, in one of my districts in which fattening cattle is a major industry, there had been a meeting of local bankers, stock firm agents and three or four of the leading farmers. The devastating conclusion was that if the market did not improve- in fact it has slipped significantly since then- and if credit remained tight, then 70 per cent of farmers would go out of business by Christmas time.
Is the Government really aware of this? Is the Government prepared to see this happen? Does the Government realise that groups of desperate people who this time last year were prosperous are meeting right now in rural areas throughout Australia formulating desperate policies to bring their plight to the Government’s attention? Measures such as not paying shire rates, not paying taxes, boycotting sales, picketing sales and generally disrupting the community are high on their list. They are losing their livelihood after years of struggle and work. Why would they not be bitter? Any Government Minister or member on the Government side who would care to visit the country areas and explain to the people the Government’s policies would be more than welcome. He may be in for a rather lively time, but I , believe there is an obligation on Ministers and Government supporters to visit country areas and understand what is happening throughout rural Australia. The Government must have dialogue with these people and the industry and be prepared to stand by the industry for the nation to reap the benefits in the not too distant future. Every effort should be made to develop new markets. The Australian Meat Board, private enterprise and marketing organisations should be encouraged. Export incentives should be given to assist them in finding new markets.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I congratulate the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) on a most moderate, reasonable and constructive speech. It would be better if we had a lot more such speeches from the other side of the House instead of some of the ravings that we have been listening to over the last 12 months. I agree with the honourable member for Forrest regarding the extent of the problems of the beef industry. On 3 October the Government Members Resources Committee, of which I am a member, met Mr Baden Cameron representing the Australian National Cattlemen’s Council, a council formed about 8 months ago. Mr Cameron put forward his submissions to the Committee. I agree with the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) that it is now up to us to analyse the submissions and to see whether there is something practical that the Government can do for this big industry. To my knowledge this industry is the only one that has never received any government assistance. It is away out on its own; it is in Siberia as far as government assistance is concerned, mainly because it has never asked for assistance. It has been a self-reliant industry. But now with overseas exports and prices in a hopeless position because of the situation in Japan and the United States, it has now come down to bedrock and needs help. I am sincerely hoping that we will be able to tabulate the best ways of assisting this industry at the present time.
The rural industries of Australia are our most important industries. Let no one, no matter what side of politics he is on or where he lives in this country, forget that fact. With 53 per cent of our exports coming from the land, no government can afford to neglect any sector of rural industry. Rural industry is hit by weather conditions and economic conditions harder and faster than any other industry. Things may be going really well one year, and then within 9 months a drought, a flood or some wretched holocaust may descend upon the country and all the profit of the previous 12 months may be lost overnight. We must have flexible policies dealing with rural industries because of the impact of weather and other conditions upon them.
Last year, for instance, our rural industries earned $3,254m of export income. The total value of rural production in Australia was $4,909m. Last year, in the good times, the rural producers of Australia paid $589m off their overdrafts in the one year.
We have initiated new ventures in the rural area. Not everything we have done has been bad, as some honourable members on the other side of the Parliament would try to make us believe. Constructive programs throughout rural industry have been initiated under the excellent guidance of the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt), who is deeply concerned with all aspects of this industry. For instance, the rural reconstruction plan is being continued at $28m a year. Let us look at the difference in the number of applications for assistance under the plan. In 1971-72 the monthly average was 791; last year, the number dropped to 16 per month.
– Last year was a boom.
– Yes, I know. But the point is that the number of applications might creep up again in the next 12 months. Rural reconstruction assistance is available for men if they need it. The Government has introduced expertise into marketing boards. We do not believe that just because men are producers they are good marketers.
– What rot!
– Just a minute. Men in rural industry agree with us. Today we need men who can sell products on the tough competitive world markets. So the Minister for Agriculture is appointing to our marketing boards one or two men with expertise in marketing.
We have also established the National Rural Advisory Council whose members are meeting the Resources Committee tonight. They will be bringing forward some of the problems of rural industry. We have also established new overseas markets, particularly in China, for wool and wheat. We have upgraded the Commonwealth Development Bank of Australia and widened its power of assistance to rural industries. We have also introduced a guaranteed price of 250c a kilo for 21 micron wool, and this has been appreciated. The honourable member for Forrest acknowledged it, but precious few ever acknowledge it. The more you do for some people in this country the less thanks you get. I have found that out in my 28 years in Parliament. That applies to people in rural industries as well as other people.
We have guaranteed to stabilise the apple and pear industry. We are continuing what the previous Government did. We have also set up the Apple and Pear Corporation with new powers and new initiatives, but I still believe that we should have set up an apple and pear marketing scheme to handle the whole crop because the industry is going downhill fast and needs some drastic measure to restore it and hold it from going out of existence altogether.
The dairying industry has received a lot of assistance. I must commend the Australian dairy adjustment program, which includes the dairy assistance plan. I have never had more requests for help, guidance and information from any section of farmers than I have had from dairymen in the last 2 months about this scheme. It will provide interest-free loans to dairymen who wish to switch from butterfat production to whole or bulk milk production. They will be the only loans in Australia that are interest free. Honourable members opposite tell us that the Government is doing nothing for rural industry. The only interest-free loan available to anybody is the one we are giving under the dairy assistance plan. It will enable farmers to purchase and install type 95-40 refrigerated vats, make structural alterations to the dairy, improve roads into the dairy and make any water and electricity alterations consequent on the installation of the vat. Repayments of the loan are arranged between the authority in each State and the individual dairyman according to how long he wishes to repay the loan. There are many other wonderful features of this scheme. It will be backdated to 23 July 1973. Anyone who borrowed money to buy a vat on or after that day will be recompensed under the scheme for his interest repayments but not his actual capital repayments.
The whole dairy program has been uplifted through the extension of the broadened dairy adjustment scheme. All in all the dairy industry will receive perhaps the most practical assistance of any industry. The idea of switching from butterfat to whole or bulk milk is to give the dairymen a better price for their product. This will lift many of them out of their economic insecurity because there is such a demand on overseas markets for the by-products of our milk. I commend the Minister for bringing down and the Cabinet for approving this remarkable assistance plan for the dairy industry. I want to mention also that the superphosphate issue is still a very virile one in the country. I would say that this one issue cost the Government more support than any other issue throughout the country because everybody on the land uses superphosphate. It is like eating; everyone has to eat to live. Superphosphate is used extensively throughout all sections of rural industry. It is hoped that the Industries Assistance Commission will come forward with some practical proposals to help farmers on this issue.
The phosphate rock position is quite serious because the price is going up overseas and Australian fertiliser companies will be paying more next year for their phosphate rock- a basic raw material- than they are paying now. The subsidy of $12 a ton to the farmers will be gone by the end of this year, and this, plus the increase in price, could bring the price to the farmer to around $50 a ton. This would definitely mean a decrease in the use of superphosphate. If the farmers use 10 per cent less next year, that is one million tons less of superphosphate that will be used and the production decrease would amount to $150m because of the reduction in superphosphate usage. So to maintain overseas markets, to maintain the viability of farming, to maintain quality of production and fertility of the soil, some form of assistance will have to be given to maintain maximum production through maximum superphosphate use.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 1.2 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from 3 October on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time. (Quorum formed.)
-The House is now debating the National Compensation Bill which could be described as one of the most significant social measures to have been brought into this House. It tries to cover one of the most significant areas of social need in the community. The Opposition recognises that need when it is built around the context of examining the number of people in Australia who are killed or injured or who become sick each year. For the magnitude of the position and its ramifications Australia-wide to be more simply understood one need only look at some of the figures in the report of the committee of inquiry set up by the present Govenment- the Woodhouse Committee. It said that every year 3,600 Australians are killed on the roads alone; that more than 90,000 are injured; that 5 times as many are victims of work accidents, and that even larger numbers are casualties elsewhere. If the figures are accurate it requires only a simple arithmetical calculation to ascertain that about 1 million Australians are either killed or injured annually. The consequences of that occurring cannot be properly quantified. I have referred only to figures concerning the number killed and injured. I suggest that it is a proper deduction from the Woodhouse report to say that much larger numbers in the Australian community are affected by sickness, but I believe that no accurate figures for that class can be obtained from the report.
Having stated the amount of sickness and injury that does occur, let me come now to the areas of social need which this Bill tries to remedy. I see no justice in the fact that a man who died of a heart attack 5 minutes after returning home would not be covered by compensation but if he had died from the same complaint 5 minutes earlier while on his way home from work he would be covered by workers compensation. I can see no justice in a boy or young man who sustains some injury playing football and who becomes a paraplegic or a quadraplegic- all of us have known examples of this happeninggetting no compensation whereas a young man who arrives at work virtually drunk and who, because of his own indiscretions, injures himself and becomes a paraplegic or a quadriplegic would be covered by workers compensation. People can be and have been injured playing sport, swimming, ski-ing, in the homehousewives have accidents- and so on. At present they would not be covered by compensation. Admittedly if they do become sick they are eligible for social service benefits, but in that respect they all would have to meet a means test. The compensation for pain, injury and suffering to those people is non-existent.
The Opposition recognises in a flash that this is a great area of social need and that something must be done about it. We also concede the weaknesses in the present system, as outlined in the report. The report does classify and identify the weaknesses under the present system. But we as members of Parliament did not need the report because all of us during our constituency work have had brought to our attention tragic case after tragic case of people who have been injured and who have had to wait a long time for satisfaction or who have received no satisfaction at all. Under the present system there are delays - sometimes inordinate delays- in people seeking justice. There is a delay of up to 4 years in the courts and there are delays for other reasons. We know that people are subjected to enormous ex- pense if they unfortunately become injured or become sick. Then there is that horrid period of uncertainty between the time of the injury or sickness and the wait for the litigation or other processes to be completed. Then if they do not receive what they believe they should receive there is disappointment. All of those emotional experiences- the delay, the expense, the uncertainty and the disappointment- are bad enough if an ordinary, healthy person suffers them. But what happens to people who have already suffered and sustained some injury or sickness. We recognise that that is a weakness.
There is also the incongruity that a person who has suffered some terrible injury or illness should then have to go through the process of suing. One would look at that as being some additional punishment that one has to suffer to get justice. The delay is not only frustrating and aggravating but also inhibits rehabilitation from an illness or a sickness. I am not happy about the large amounts that go in legal fees in the course of people seeking justice in compensation for injury or sickness.
I am not satisfied with the efficiency of some insurance companies and with the high expense ratio that they have to maintain their business. Notwithstanding how much we might champion the jury system, I am not happy- I do not think anybody is- about some of the irresponsible decisions handed down by juries from time to time.
For all that, the Opposition recognises that there is a great need for reform in this area and the Opposition Parties have organised a group of experts- an expert committee- to look at means of overcoming the weaknesses and the bad things about the present scheme. In particular we are looking at that sort of legislation which is now operating in Victoria and Tasmania. But any scheme must be fair, it must be equitable and it must not be arbitrary. In particular it must not rely or rest on the arbitration of a civil servant with no redress to any judicial functions being available. We see virtue in the elimination of the need to prove fault. That is not part of the report or of the Bill which we necessarily criticise. I believe that it is essential that some form of 24-hour coverage be introduced to cover injury. I believe that there should be an extension of the payment of compensation for sickness and congenital disability. But where is the justice, if we say that we are concerned in this country about the human race, in a person born with some hideous congenital disability not being compensated for it? Does the elimination of the right to sue, as contained in this Bill, achieve that result? Does it achieve justice? Does the elimination of the right to receive lump sums of money in certain cases bring justice? I suggest that it does not. We would like an examination to see whether a dual scheme is possible. Is it possible to have the elimination of the need to prove fault and the retention of the right to sue at common law? I noticed that even the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation, Senator Wheeldon, was posing this very question himself only last week in a letter to the Melbourne ‘Age ‘.
Because this is such a basic area and such an important area- it is the most significant area of social need that we have- the Opposition has authorised me to say that we deplore the absurd haste with which this Bill is being thrust through this House. If anything is the action of a panic stricken government gone mad, this is it. It is the action of a panic stricken government which we know it is.
– That is not correct.
-The Minister says that it is not. He is being loyal to his Prime Minister. I happen to know that the Minister in charge of this legislation, Senator Wheeldon, desperately wants this legislation to be suitable and has expressed publicly on several occasions that he would want this legislation to lay on the table of the House for a considerable period so that it could be criticised and discussed. I know that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) made some sort of statement last week that he would want consultations with people concerned with compensation. But no; here we have the timetable. The report, which is an enormous document of 3 volumes, was tabled last July. After promising that the Bill would lay on the table, be discussed and that the Government would receive criticisms, comment and suggestions about it, we find that the Bill was introduced on 3 October, just 3 weeks ago. All the time, the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation is saying that the Government wants discussion. There was no suggestion that the Bill was going to be brought on at this time.
Then we have the incredible statement by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), who is sitting at the table now, in his second reading speech that the Government was not necessarily wedded to all that is in the report and that it would want to hear the views of trade unions, of housewives and of organisations. And he was charitable enough even to include the Opposition in that request. What does the Minister do? He says: ‘I want consultation. I want criticism. ‘ This debate is brought on at 2. 1 5 p.m. and we are told that the Minister wants the Bill by 10 o’clock tonight. This is the most significant piece of social reform that has been introduced into this House for some time.
The mind boggles at the action which the Government has taken. Last night I received a pretty grotty sort of publication from the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation informing me that there were to be 46 amendments to the Bill and that they were to be introduced today. We did not have a copy of the amendments last evening. We received them only at about 11 o’clock this morning. There are 9 amendments which, according to the Minister’s words ‘relate to the proposed phased introduction of the scheme’. There are 20 amendments that are formal drafting amendments, many involving cross references which have to be altered. There are 17 amendments which, in the Minister’s own words, ‘involve matters of principle’. We find 46 amendments are to be moved; we are expected to debate these and to pass the Bill today in this House. These amendments, which occupy 7 typewritten pages, were presented to honourable members just before lunch.
The compendium- I hold it up so that the House can see it- is a document of more than 270 foolscap pages. I received it only last Thursday. Not only that but we had the rather quaint explanation from the Minister in the Senate on 17 October that there were not enough copies to go around, so he was laying a copy on the table of the House; and he expected the compendium on which the whole cost of the scheme is based to be ready some time ‘next year’.
Here is the Government introducing a scheme which will cost $ 1,700m a year- that is the Government’s own figure, not mine- and the Government asks us to pass the legislation without having the advantage of seeing copies of the report on which it is based. We are told that those copies will not be printed until next year. This is one of the most disgraceful of the many disgraceful acts that this Government has forced on to this Parliament. I am beginning to wonder why the Government calls Parliament together at all. It is reducing Parliament to an absolute and utter farce with its tactics. I would hope that those champions of democracy up there in the Press gallery, who ridiculed us for years any time we gagged a motion, might for once look at this example of jackboot democracy, if one could call it that, and blow up for the public to contemplate the actions of the Government.
Therefore, I move:
– It certainly sounds as though the lawyers have been in on it.
-Order! The honourable member for Kingston is not in bis seat.
-That interjection from the honourable member for Kingston reaches the usual contemptible level of his interjections. How he as a doctor, or a professed doctor, or a past doctor, or whatever he is, can make an interjection like that when we are talking about the rights of injured people and sick people passes my comprehension.
The Government is very fond of talking about mandates. Where is the Government’s mandate after either of the recent elections to enact a law effectively prohibiting a citizen from recovering damages from a person who assaulted him, or from a doctor who amputated a left leg instead of a right leg by mistake? One could imagine the honourable member for Kingston doing that with consummate ease. If he or one of his colleagues does that in the future, why should not the person concerned have the right to sue that doctor? Where is the mandate to prevent effectively a worker injured by bis employer’s negligence from suing that employer for damages and to remove effectively economic sanctions which in practice exist in relation to employers who are not safety conscious?
Why not as a first step help those who are already not looked after by the community and who need help because they have been injured? Why not extend the benefits for those presently inadequately covered? Is the Government’s haste due to a fear to tell the people the true import of the Bill, or is it just being plain panicked into trying to drum up some superficially attractive measure in case there is an election this year or next year? Why is it that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is the only one in Cabinet who is pushing this Bui, rushing it through, ramming it through the House with this haste? The Prime Minister knows that the trade union movement is against it and that there is a ground swell among workers against it because they feel that their rights are being taken away.
May I deal very briefly with what the Bill is. As introduced on 3 October it is designed to provide many benefits to all persons between the ages of 18 and 65 years suffering from any significant disability whether caused by injury or sickness. It allows benefits for those people who are incapacitated by personal injury or congenital disability on or after 1 July 1976. The legislation provides for four phases, the final phase, which covers sickness benefits, coming into law by 1 July 1979. Time does not permit me to detail everything in the Bill but I make the comment that general discretionary power is given to pay other benefits, but medical and hospital benefits are to be covered by the proposed national health scheme, which scheme is not yet law in its final form. Claims will be determined by departmental decisions subject to internal reconsideration and subject to appeal to a non-judicial appeals tribunal. Questions of law can be determined only by a superior court. The remedies at common law and through workers compensation are now completely abolished.
I turn to some of the inequities in and the loss of existing rights under the Bill. While fault has been removed as a prerequisite to entitlement the Bill introduces new moral and value concepts which appear to be unfair. Some of these are that people under age 18 years are not entitled to compensation unless they are or have been earning money. I now speak with apologies to the House, not to the Government, for I am speaking without a knowledge of the effect of the amendment which, as I said, I received at 1 1 o ‘clock this morning. I have not had time to contemplate their full effect on the Bill. People over age 26 are not compensated for loss of potential increased earning capacity in the future. The Special Minister of State shakes his head. That age may have been raised to 30 years. I believe I saw some mention of that, so let us say that the age is 30 years. What does this mean? It means that some young man or woman who has had a brilliant academic career at school and university and who is just embarking on a career as a doctor, lawyer, architect or in his own business as a carpenter or builder, if struck down with a permanent total incapacity before age 30, his future earning capacity is not taken into account. He receives 85 per cent only of the immediate past year’s earnings. What does a young man, who has had the training to which I have just referred, earn at 29 years of age? His earnings are minimal. He does not start to earn and to reap the rewards of his sacrifice of study and hard work until well after that age, but for the rest of his life he will receive 85 per cent of his previous year’s earnings. If he is not totally incapacitated- let us assume that he is badly incapacitated but only partially incapacitated- that fact will be determined by some bureaucrat virtually without any appeal as we know it. Whatever his disability, the will receive a percentage of 85 per cent of average weekly earnings. I will return to this aspect presently.
Self employed people will get no compensation for temporary partial incapacity. Thus shopkeepers, farmers, plumbers, music teachers, the fellow who mows lawns on a contract basis and others will get no compensation when they are convalescing from broken limbs or car smash injuries. The self employed plumber or carpenter who is physically assaulted in his own home and badly hurt and off work for 4 weeks with a temporary partial incapacity will receive nothing and under this legislation will not be able to sue the person who assaulted him. Is the Labor Party saying that this is equitable and fair- that something like this should be permitted? I invite the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who is trying to interject, to check on what I am saying because this is true. The honourable gentleman could be at home one evening, could be assaulted by thugs and receive a temporary partial disability which keeps him out of work for 4 weeks but he would get absolutely nothing. If a self employed farmer injures his back, he gets absolutely nothing for the time he is off work, during which time he cannot operate his farm.
Widows under age 56 lose benefits after 12 months unless they have to support children or aged relatives. Accident victims are given no rights to challenge unfavourable evidence on the basis set out in the report, namely, that any contest is bad for their rehabilitation. A partially incapacitated person is not compensated for the loss of his livelihood but only for the loss of his capacity to work. If someone resumes work after being granted compensation for the rest of his life for a permanent partial disability, those payments may continue even though he might have overcome that disability completely. A person loses the right to sue whether it is a case of a doctor’s malpractice, premises being in a dangerous condition, drunken driving or even assault. Although the Government has placed a lot of emphasis on the sickness section of the scheme this will not now be introduced until 1979. By and large benefits will be less for accident victims who would have received full entitlement under the present system. I should like every trade unionist to realise the fact that in many cases benefits will be less for people who are injured in accidents either on the road or at work. One could give a great number of examples to illustrate this fact.
Although it is claimed that the scheme provides benefits of up to 85 per cent of earnings, limited to $500 a week, this is only for people permanently incapacitated. As I understand it, that represents a small minority of injury cases. Something like two-thirds or more of people injured are injured permanently in a partial way, not a total way, and those people have to rely on less than 85 per cent of average weekly earnings for the rest of their lives. People who would have been entitled to benefits under existing schemes will get no compensation. Persons who are assessed at having less than a 15 per cent permanent partial incapacity will not receive any payments in respect of that incapacity no matter what effect it has on their livelihood unless some departmental officer exercises a largely undefined discretion. I give the example of a carpenter who loses his right hand in some accident- road accident or otherwise. Under this legislation that carpenter, who might have a flourishing business building homes, will receive 55 per cent of 85 per cent of average weekly earnings. Is there any supporter of the Government who claims that there is justice in that provision? If there is, I should like them to say so.
As I understand it, if a person loses two fingers on one hand he may be regarded as having a 16 per cent disability. I know that if a person loses the middle finger on his right hand at the knuckle that is regarded as an 8 per cent disability. I am now quoting a good source, which I will cite in a moment. If a man who works with his hands loses one finger, perhaps 8 per cent is fair, but is it fair for a concert pianist or surgeon to be so compensated?
– He will be compensated.
-I shall be delighted if when the Minister responds he indicates that section of the Act which guarantees such a person. As I understand it, that is at the total unfettered discretion of a public servant and that, to the Opposition, is not good enough because we believe that a person should know what his rights are. Assessments of partial permanent disability of 15 per cent or more are to be made by reference to an arbitrary American formula which will not necessarily have relationship to the actual incapacity being suffered by the individual. The honourable member for Prospect should know that famous or infamous book- the manual that the American Medical Association has published- which sets out everything that can go wrong with a person.
No lump sums are payable in respect of pain and suffering. I give one further example before I proceed to other aspects of this legislation. In the case of a 13 year old boy or girl who is run over on a pedestrian crossing by a drunken driver and receives a permanent total incapacity there will be no benefits at all under this Bill until that child reaches the age of 18 years. He will then receive for the rest of his life or until he is 65 years of age the princely sum of 85 per cent of $50 a week. He will receive $42.50 for the rest of his life. One could go on pointing out many other inequities in the scheme.
I now turn to the administration. This indeed is mindboggling. Time does not permit me to go into it in any detail. Let me sum it up by saying that the Secretary has 59 expressed discretions given under this Bill. Have we now reached the stage of having government of this country by the Public Service? Is it not the whole root of the Westminster system that Parliament governs the country, that the final appeal can be made to a Minister of the Crown? This Bill sweeps that principle away in a flash. The plateau cost of the scheme has been estimated at $ 1,655m. That does not include administration in the health area, legal costs, the cost of collecting the levy, additional cost incurred by including the first week of injury, which was not recommended by the Woodhouse report, and it certainly does not cover the cost of the 46 amendments which we have not had time to study yet. Will the Minister declare what the cost of those 46 amendments will be, or does he not know? I plead with him to tell us something about that when he responds in the debate. One of the things about costing is terrifying. Paragraph 298 on page 118 of the Woodhouse report states:
There is no need to set up funds in the insurance sense to meet future commitments . . . The State has the financial muscle to fulfil all its undertakings in the future as they arise. It can be done both by the collection of sufficient taxes at the relevant time-
And wait for it, Mr Speaker, this is a classic - or by the outright creation of money.
That is the kind of thing that has been embraced by this Government. In other words, if the cost becomes too great the Government just prints a bit more money. The story gets even funnier when we turn to the funding of the scheme. The Government is asking us to pass this Bill today and it cannot tell us yet how it is going to fund the scheme.
– Of course we can.
-I should like that interjection recorded in Hansard. The Minister has just said: ‘Of course we can’. He could not tell us in his second reading speech. He has not told us yet. Yet he is now asking us to pass this Bill by 10 o’clock tonight not knowing whether a 10c a gallon levy will be placed on petrol. I say it is insufferable that a Parliament should be subjected to that sort of thing.
I sum up the attitude of the Opposition by saying that this Bill is a classic case of a Bill which should be withdrawn and redrafted. We would prefer it to go to a select committee, as the New Zealand Parliament did with its Woodhouse report. Investigate the cost; investigate the validity and the accuracy of the statistical and costing assumptions; investigate all the sorts of things which this Bill tries to do in this enormous and significant area of social need. For these reasons we will not have a bar of the Bill as it stands. While commending what it is trying to do we state quite categorically that it will not do what the Government proposes should be done in this area.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) was both right and fair to call this Bill a most significant social measure. I think it should be acknowledged as well with some pleasure that at least he shares the concern of the report and of the Government at the need to eliminate the requirement to show fault and to radically improve existing programs for compensation and rehabilitation. The honourable member for Hotham unfortunately then left what appears to me to be the central question, especially during the second reading stage of the Bill, of principle and got on to a discussion of details, many of which were wrong, and on to a violent criticism of what he regards as an absurd haste. We have to test quickly and expeditiously what the view of the Parliament is on the principle embodied in this Bill, the principle that we should have faultfree compensation for injury available on a 24-hour basis and that it should be available wherever and however the injury occurs. That is what we have to test and the detail can well come later on.
Although I have said that many of the details introduced by the honourable member for Hotham in his speech were wrong, this is not as great a matter of concern at this stage as the question of whether or not we will move from a system which is inadequate and unfair and treats many people inequitably, to one which will cover the field much better. The honourable member for Hotham puts it as a criticism in terms of detail that so many amendments have already been listed. I do not accept that is a reasonable criticism in the circumstances of this Bill. We know quite well that between the time of the Woodhouse report, with its draft Bill, and the Bill itself some very significant amendments were added. We know, as the honourable member has already complained, that in the last couple of days- not at lunchtime today but some time yesterday I understand- copies of the further 46 amendments were made available to the shadow Minister covering this portfolio for the Opposition.
-That is not true.
-I am informed that these were made available last evening to Senator Drake-Brockman, but I stand to be corrected. That is what I have been advised. The point I wish to make is that the very existence of the original amendments and this further large list of amendments can hardly be seen as an indication of intransigence on this question but, more importantly, it should not be seen as a case of weakness either because right from the outset the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) has made it clear that, throughout the discussions in this Parliament, in this House and in the Senate, even after the Bill has been passed as we hope it will, until the actual introduction of this scheme, the first stage of which is not scheduled until July 1976, further possible amendments will be considered on their merits and welcomed where they have reasonable force behind them. The very fact that there has to be a time lag between the passing of this legislation and the implementation of it- the Government has adopted the 18 months period recommended by the Woodhouse Committee- is itself an indication that at this stage we should not allow concern on matters of detail to prevent us giving a clear indication of our attitude to the basic principle involved.
I want to get back to that principle and to discuss it in what time I have rather than deal with the proposed mechanics of the scheme. Mr Speaker, with your indulgence I shall do so in the first place by way of a small personal reminiscence. One of the occasional regrets I have at the timing of my election to this Parliament is that it coincided- I might say clashed- with my efforts at the same time to complete a law degree. Unfortunately since those days I have found that almost day by day my recollection of what little I learned during that course has tended to fade, and that makes me rather sad. Yet in spite of the fact that 6 or 7 years have now passed since I had to study torts and that I have this notoriously bad memory, I still remember something from that subject which is relevant to the present Bill, that is, the extraordinary complications which arise in the law of negligence. I remember, to this day, over reams of reports and texts trying to sort out in my own mind what all this argument was about on just one aspect of the law of negligence related to measuring remoteness of damage. These are very complicated arguments.
What is the correct criterion to apply? Should we apply the criterion of directness or should we apply the criterion of foreseeability? One could spend hours- I suspect some academics have spent years- happily engaged in the pursuit of that ethereal project. Fortunately at the time of my law studies I had the advantage of having as a lecturer in the subject a professor with what I might call a healthy cynicism towards this particular dispute. I hope he is not listening because I am bound to misrepresent him, or the subject, given the circumstances. But what I gradually came to absorb at that time was that the choice of criteria was in itself irrelevant and meaningless and that given a decision in any case going either way either criterion could serve equally well to justify it. From there it was a relatively short step to some understanding or at least a belief on my part, which stays with me, that apparent changes in the decisions did not come from any change in criteria but in elements such as the ability of the common law to accommodate itself to a changing social framework. In cases of negligence that meant losing some of the former emphasis on laissez-faire and the needs of industrialisation and turning instead to a greater concern for the needs of the victim. It meant a tacit acknowledgement of the spreading availability of insurance, and later in some cases its compulsion. In turn this reduced the emphasis on concern for the morally blameless plaintiff as he would not in any case be paying as it was realised that the insurance company would.
From here developed the realisation again that the insurance company itself did not really pay, that that was left to the general public either through the wide spread of insurance in some cases or through insured parties passing on the cost of premiums through the price of their goods and services. Finally, we are led by that sort of process to these two questions: If the public pays, what purpose is left in retaining the negligence action at all, considering that it was always essentially a means of limiting the liability of defendants; and, secondly, can we not turn our whole attention to the injury and the loss of the plaintiff and the need to compensate and rehabilitate him so far as possible rather than all these other theoretical considerations? An affirmative answer to that last question seems to have been the natural direction which the common law development itself has been taking and which this Bill seeks to embody by statute.
I return to my original proposition that whether the embodiment of that new principle is to be accepted or not is really the main question we have to face up to today. It is that principle rather than the detailed provisions to which we have to direct ourselves, particularly in the second reading debate, leaving the luxury of argument about the mechanics of the scheme and who may or may not do a little better or a little worse under its provisions perhaps to the lengthy committee stage which I understand is to follow. No one has yet suggested- certainly not the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon), certainly not the Governmentthat the scheme as now outlined is faultless, but neither has there been any absence on the part of the Government of readiness to accommodate suggestions. If I might just express one concern I have, arising from the comments of the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), it is that in the catalogue of complaints which were made there were no great suggestions for improvement. We had nothing more than a question thrown in, which might hint at the direction of the Opposition’s intentions, when the honourable member asked: ‘Is it possible to have a dual scheme?’ I hope the Opposition will not base its future approach on that question because if it does it will be the equivalent of saying that we should not have fault-free insurance. I think the Woodhouse Committee dealt with that point very succinctly on page 13 of its report when it commented:
Certainly no government . . . could require its citizens, even if it wished to do so, to insure against risks that had completely or almost completely disappeared.
That is precisely the position in which we would be placed if on the one hand we wanted to introduce a comprehensive, universal fault-free compensation system, and yet sought at the same time to retain, as I suspect the Opposition is wanting to retain, the common law action for negligence. What we need is an important value judgment. In his earlier comments the honourable member for Hotham hinted that he might be prepared to accept our value judgment and that what we should have is fault-free insurance to cover everybody, everywhere, all the time, without risk, and with certainty such as does not exist now. I think one can only regret that as his speech developed he moved away from that generalised approval of the aims of this legislation to something which, if the Opposition pursues it, will inevitably add up to a rejection of the total scheme and a rejection of any significant change and will bring satisfaction, I suggest, to no one other than the members of the legal profession.
The Woodhouse report is replete with examples of relative advantages and disadvantages under the present system and the proposed scheme. It is full of very solid and disturbing evidence about the inequities of the present system. If one reads the submission put to members of Parliament by the Law Council of Australia one could easily be led to the assumption that the common law is not only generous to people who suffer injury but is also quick, simple and certain. In fact, as the report shows, it is slow, cumbersome and uncertain. It has problems of contributory negligence and the enormous problem of delays. I do ask people who perhaps have not yet had the opportunity of reading the report to look at those sections which show that claims are still pending seven or eight years or even longer after the incidence of some accident. It has the problems inherent in any system which seeks to provide in advance a lump sum benefit which cannot sensibly protect plaintiffs against the ravages of inflation. I think that when one compares what the Law Council submission is attempting to indicate with what the Woodhouse report actually demonstrates, one can only come to the conclusion that* some drastic radical reform is necessary.
Not everyone will end up better off under the proposed scheme. Some people will end up with something less and I think that has to be acknowledged, but for the vast proportion of the Australian population the future position under the terms of this present Bill will provide much greater security, certainty and generosity of benefits than are available now. It will also ensure that there will be adequacy for all even though there may not be some of the sensational, or seemingly sensational, amounts awarded in the most isolated of cases under the present system. The honourable member for Hotham threw out some frightening figures such as $ 1 700m cost for the whole scheme. I think it is only fair to point out that that figure relates to the total scheme, which in terms of the Bill itself could not come into operation until 1979 at the earliest when sickness benefits would be included. The estimate for the injuries compensation, which it is suggested will come into operation in July 1976, is something like $450m. Again, it is interesting to observe, on the evidence of the Woodhouse inquiry, that the benefits will be greater, taken on the whole, and the cost to the community on the whole will be less.
I turn to an example, not taken from the Woodhouse report, and not dealing with facts and figures, to try to get back to the thing that I have been trying to emphasise all the time; that is, the need to determine an approach to the principle of this legislation. By way of illustration I refer to the case of Bolton v. Stone which I think is a very interesting example of the problems in this area. I am not equipped to say whether it is an important example, but it is interesting. The headnote from the ‘All England Law Reports’ reads:
During a cricket match a batsman hit a ball which struck and injured the respondent who was standing on a highway adjoining the ground. The ball was hit out of the ground at a point at which there was a protective fence rising to seventeen feet above the cricket pitch. The distance from the striker to the fence was some seventy-eight yards and that to the place where the respondent was hit about one hundred yards. The ground had been occupied and used as a cricket ground for about ninety years, and there was evidence that on some six occasions on a period of over thirty years a ball had been hit into the highway, but no one had been injured. The respondent claimed damages for negligence from the appellants, as occupiers of the ground.
Held: for an act to be negligent there must be, not only a reasonable possibility of its happening, but also of injury being caused thereby; on the facts, the risk of injury to a person on the highway resulting from the hitting of a ball out of the ground was so small that the probability of such an injury would not be anticipated by a reasonable man; and, therefore, the appellants were not liable to the respondent.
I find that fascinating for all sorts of reasons. In the first place, when you have a look at a summary like that it is a clear invitation to an advocate in any future case to start asking himself questions like this: What if the fence was not 17 feet above the level of the pitch? Say it was only 16 feet or 6 feet? What would be the position if there were no fence at all? What if the place where the ball landed was only 85 yards away from the wicket instead of 100 yards? Would that make any difference? Would it make any difference if instead of these fantastic sixers being hit only five or six times in 30 years they had actually been hit twice in a season? What is the significance of that? When one reads the report one realises that that is precisely the sort of question which an advocate in any future case would be asking himself. But what he would not be asking is what happened to Miss Stone. She was the lady who was hit by the cricket ball. She does not even rate a mention. Neither does her injury.
Five members of the House of Lords commented on that case. Not one of them bothered to tell us what happened to Miss Stone. Whether she got a passing bruise on the shin or a permanent injury to the head, is regarded as irrelevant. But there are all sorts of other very interesting and important matters. For example, the sort of hit that actually put the ball over the fence is listed in this report. It was a straight drive. We are told that the Cheetham Cricket Club had existed since 1864. There are all sorts of fascinating bits of information like that but there is no information about Miss Stone, what sort of injuries she suffered, what her need was or what her suffering was.
I think that puts it in a nutshell, if I may say so, just what is wrong with this whole system that we have now. The important things in terms of concern for people and their need in terms of compensation and rehabilitation are ignored, but not so matters which produce an enormous proportion of settlements being taken up with legal fees, with a few plaintiffs getting large amounts but very large sections of the community being left uncared for. That is what we have to ensure is not allowed to persist.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Honourable members in this House always enjoy listening to the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson). While I would disagree fundamentally with many of the points he made I am convinced that he is driven by a genuine desire to help. Although we on this side of the House would regard his philosophies as quite wrong, I do not think for a moment that we would doubt his sincerity. I take the last point he made in which he referred to Miss Stone, her needs and her suffering. The point about this so-called compensation legislation which the Government has introduced is that it does not take account of individual needs and suffering in anything like the way that has traditionally been conceived in compensation legislation throughout the world. I will come back to that during my remarks. We maintain that in this Bill we see an entirely wrong approach to problems which rightfully we should be considering. The problems which we should be considering concern anomalies and inadequacies in both injury and sickness compensation and assistance throughout this country, and that is not to be denied. We would seek to do something about that. But the proper approach is to consider these anomalies and inadequacies and to propose appropriate and achievable and costed remedies.
The first thing to be said about this National Compensation Bill is that it is not a compensation Bill. It does not set up a national compensation scheme. It does abolish present compensation schemes and with them the rights and remedies which exist throughout Australia. This Bill is frauduently titled because it abolishes compensation schemes in the States and destroys the very concept of compensation in the new Canberra legislation. The Bill provides for assistance to those people who have been injured or who are ill. It provides assistance which is in some cases greater and in some cases less than what is at present provided in the States. It provides assistance which is related to earnings in the case of total and permanent incapacity but which is in no way related to individual earnings or skills in the case of permanent partial incapacity. With little exception as for cosmetic injury, it never provides that a person can be one whit better off financially after an accident, however grave, however painful, however destructive of everything that can make life worth while. A person ‘s life is all but destroyed by an accident and this Bill says: ‘I will give you as compensation all the earnings that you had before, minus 15 per cent’. This Bill says: ‘You can keep your battered and broken body but I will take away 15 per cent of your previous earnings and I will take away your right to get a single cent more in any court in this country’.
This is what honourable members opposite call a compensation Bill. It is not even a minicompensation Bill. It is a minus compensation Bill. What does the word ‘compensation’ mean? It means: To make up for or to recompense suitably. The provisions of this Bill in no way make up for or recompense suitably injuries to individuals because this Bill in virtually every case leaves people worse off than they were before their accident, unless of course that which is destroyed in the accident is a person’s property rather than his person. This Bill leaves us in the astonishing position that we can sue those who destroy our property but we cannot recover from those who destroy our person. If our cars are written off on the roads we have a remedy in the courts. If our kids are almost written off on the roads we no longer have a remedy in the courts. So here we come back to the sensible philosophy of this minus compensation scheme. It is a social welfare assistance scheme. It sets the seal on the socialist view of people as simply the products of their environment. It abolishes personal care and personal responsibility. It wipes its hands of any concept of personal fault. The following statement is made on page 1 of the Woodhouse report:
Yet there are still those who point to the fault of individuals as the basic cause of accidents.
This makes plain and sets the seal on the whole socialist theme of the Woodhouse report and this Bill.
The Bill enshrines the socialist philosophy that I am not my brother’s keeper; Big Brother will keep us all.This is not to say that there is no area in which the no fault concept should apply. It can apply alongside actions for negligence which provide for personal care as in Victoria where in the motor accident field a no fault scheme exists alongside an action which lies in a court of law for negligence. In other words, there can be basic universal no fault assistance schemes which take care of the immediate needs of people plus a limited but genuine compensation scheme- compensation in the proper sense of the word- which perseveres with the basic human proposition that we are responsible for our own actions and that we are responsible for one another. We would do well to consider the immense potential social cost, for instance, of absolving an employer from the costs of his duty of care to his employees. We would do well to consider the immense potential social cost of absolving the supplier of goods or services to an unsuspecting public from his duty of care for the quality of the goods and services which he is delivering to the unsuspecting public. To me it is horrifying to consider the cost of the Woodhouse philosophy in simple human terms, for people everywhere are crying out for a society where people are bound together by a sense of personal responsibility, where they care for one another and where personal relationships matter most. This Bill substitutes for personal relationships care by the State in a bland, overall but not altogether ungenerous way. Some of the provisions are generous- so generous that we have heard no proposals from the Government about how it will cost them.
I want to make some other points about the Bill which I believe are as important in many ways as the central philosophy which in my view is basically and unfortunately very nearly rotten to the core. There is a massive shift from the State to the Federal sphere involved in this proposition. Honourable gentlemen who belong to the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party might say: ‘That is all right by me’, but their colleagues in the States have different views about this. In evidence before the workers compensation inquiry Mr Batt, a Labor Minister in Tasmania, had this to say at page 1 13 of the transcript:
These days we talk increasingly of participatory democracy and that only has meaning if people in communities are allowed to govern themselves and to influence the quality of their lives and the quality of the life we live in Tasmania is presumably related to the sort of judgments we make about compensation.
Again at page 1 12 he says:
If everything is determined by an umbrella organisation then the people of this State -
That is Tasmania - and the people of Western Australia and so on will feel that they are no longer effectively governing themselves and they no longer have an opportunity to vary from what is standard. Perhaps it could be argued that the people in this State ought to make a judgment about how far their workers compensation ought to vary or be more adequate than other States.
He made it quite plain in the hearings that he was against the Commonwealth moving in and taking away the basic, grass roots involvement of State governments in this fundamental area of human endeavour.
There is also a massive shift of another typethe massive shift from the private to the public sector. Everywhere one goes these days people are crying out for a re-invigoration of the private sector of this country, a private sector that has been driven to its knees by Government policy and by other factors which can only lead one to believe that if this sort of Bill were implemented even over the extended period allowed for, which was mentioned in the Minister’s remarks, it would lead to a further and most massive shift from the private to the public sector. If this Bill were to be put into effect over a 10-year period the investable capacity of the insurance industry, which as all honourable gentlemen know and as the Treasurer (Mr Crean) noted last weekend plays a basic part in the whole economic wellbeing of this country, would be reduced on one actuarial estimate by $4,000m. This could only have the most dire consequences for the productive capacity of this country which the Government, to its credit, is starting to stress at the moment.
The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) dwelt at some length on the question of the cost and the funding of the scheme. I believe that this is where the Government gives the game away. It is simply not prepared to come to this Parliament and to the people of Australia and tell them frankly how it would fund this scheme. The Treasurer has instituted an inquiry to see how, and presumably whether, the Government could fund such a massive, new form of Commonwealth expenditure. We have not yet heard from the Treasurer the results of his inquiry about how he would fund this scheme. It is surely the height of irresponsibility for him to go on and on playing Father Christmas, pretending to give presents to people, without telling them how long are the strings attached. That is the sort of perilous situation this Government is putting before the Australian people. The Government is saying: ‘We will give you the goodies, but we will not tell you how we will pay for them’. Because the Government is not prepared to tell the people how it intends to pay for the scheme and because it will not be prepared when the time comes to lift either indirect or direct taxation to the requisite level to pay for the scheme, the quality of care provided under its bureaucratically dominated scheme inevitably will suffer. I grant that there are many costs at present in the way compensation claims are worked through in this country. But those costs which I would hope we in the Government of this country could reduce are one of those penalties which one pays for the basic philosophy of the right of people to take their case to court and to seek recourse in the courts of this country. One has to pay the cost of these sorts of things. What we are offered as an alternative is a government which would take all the burden of the cost unto itself but not tell us how it would pay. That ought to be enough to make it clear that this Bill is so bad that it should be withdrawn and redrafted.
– It should be chucked out.
– It should be withdrawn and redrafted- chucked out, if you like- and a new Bill brought forward which takes account of -
– The Woodhouse report is a disgrace to judicial inquiry.
– The honourable member has commented that the Woodhouse report is a disgrace to judicial inquiry. The Woodhouse report, as the honourable member rightly states, is an utterly ideological document. It is a socialist panacea. It does not purport to be an objective and careful assessment of the facts which spells out alternatives and comes out to conclusions. From go to whoa it tells us that we have to do it the way it has been done in New Zealand, the way the socialists would do it. That is why it is rotten at its heart. Everybody knows that there is a world-weariness with that sort of approach to individuals and their care. Communities will not bear the costs. If personal responsibility is not provided for, then the quality of care in a community must suffer.
The Government is giving us part of an afternoon and evening to consider this most momentous legislation. It took 6 or 7 years before a similar scheme even got off the ground in New Zealand. Yet we in this country are told that we have to put our scheme into effect overnight. This is the way the Labor Government goes about its business. This is why the Labor Government has been brought to its knees in the Australian community. This is why the country is very nearly economically grovelling. Yet the Government tells us it will give us more presents but will not tell us what they will cost or where it will get the money. This is a government that can only destroy virtually everything that makes community life in this nation worth while. The socialist solution is as dead as a dodo as far as any reasonable person is concerned.
For the Government to go on with this scheme would be an utter indictment of its good sense, its judgment and almost everything for which it stands. I believe that some honourable members opposite would wish to do a better job. I would hope that now it has been shown by the Opposition that the Bill is not a compensation Bill but a new social welfare Bill the Government will consider the consequences of that and consider how a proper compensation scheme could be developed in this country so as to take away the anomalies and inadequacies of the present approaches to compensation throughout this country.
-I rise to support the Bill. I consider that the remarks of the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) not particularly worthy. He obviously has not read the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation in Australia. Beyond any question the current hotch-potch system of workmen’s compensation and compulsory third party motor vehicle insurance is far more costly than the proposed new scheme. From its inception, the Government has been struggling to bring about a more equitable sharing of the riches of this country, and in attempting to achieve the goal the Government has endeavoured to lift some of the burden from the less fortunate members of the community who for some reason beyond their control have been unable to benefit fully from the advantages which should be their right.
Perhaps one of the most disadvantaged sections of the community comprises those suffering incapacity through illness or injury. Most honourable members know of incapacitated people in their electorates. I advise the honourable member for Chisholm that in my electorate there is a village for some 150 disabled people, a high proportion of whom are suffering from either paraplegia or total disablement. I suggest that the honourable member visit that place and state his capitalist philosophy on self-help. I suggest that he tell these people how they must live for the remainder of their life on an invalid pension under the current system. Many of these people have had their lives ruined by mischance, by congenital infliction, injury through a sporting accident or some other mishap which has in fact seriously diminished their ability to earn a reasonable income. Besides the physical incapacity suffered by such people, the mental anguish is dreadful. The fear of not being able to pay one’s way, not being able to keep up mortgage payments, hire purchase payments and the like have caused untold misery to thousands of unfortunate people who through no fault of their own have become incapacitated.
The media tell us frequently, according to the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), of the large sums awarded to road accident victims, who incidentally have waited sometimes for ten to fifteen years for a court judgment. We all know of the amounts paid out annually in workmen ‘s compensation. But these 2 areas are only part of the picture. What of the thousands who cannot prove negligence or are not covered by workmen’s compensation? The current scheme provides nothing for them. These are the ones who for the first time have some hope of security under this legislation and who will be able to obtain compensation for their incapacity.
In supporting the Bill I do not want to go into the field of benefits and procedures. This will be left to other speakers. I want to pass some remarks on the effect that unquestionably this Bill will have on the insurance industry. I pay a tribute to the private insurance companies and the State Government insurance offices which have carried the burden of workmen’s compensation and compulsory third party insurance over the years. Most honourable members have at some time or another received complaints about unfair treatment by insurance companies in the workmen’s compensation field, but I understand that the number of genuine complaints is relatively small, which reflects a high degree of integrity amongst most insurance companies. I know of instances where fault did not lie with the insurance company but with a careless employer who failed to report an accident.
Some insurance companies, notably Australianowned companies, have spent considerable sums in providing physiotherapy services for injured workers, which is very much in line with the sentiments expressed in volume 2 of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Rehabilitation and Compensation. Some companies, again mainly Australian-owned, have employed safety officers to institute safety programs for employers. It would be a great pity if, once the Government takes over full responsibility for safety and repatriation, it does not make use of the expertise gained by insurance companies in these 2 areas.
I make a plea for the insurance companies which are currently providing the types of insurance cover which will no longer be needed with the inception of the national compensation scheme. It has been estimated by various authorities that from 1 July 1976 companies, on average, will lose 40 per cent of their business, mainly in workmen’s compensation and compulsory third party motor vehicle insurance. Some companies have as much as 60 or 70 per cent of their annual premium income tied up in workmen’s compensation alone.
A sudden reduction of approximately $500m in income would be a very serious matter and could seriously endanger some companies’ solvency. Added to this loss of income will be the obligation of the companies to continue to pay claims arising before the national compensation scheme comes into effect. Theoretically companies should have sufficient reserves to cover these claims, but we would be deluding ourselves if we believed this. Examinations of balance sheets recently released by companies show how badly some companies have underestimated their position. I doubt whether many companies realised the seriousness of the position until recently, but inflation, retrospective increases in benefits and a number of other factors have added to an already serious situation.
The House will recall that in anticipation of these circumstances in last July I raised the question of the need for a consultative committee or committees following the adoption by the Government of the Woodhouse Committee report. The Government endorsed my proposals. The Government felt that 2 committees were needed, one in the field of general insurance and one in the field of life assurance, with functions similar to those of the committees to be established under the Financial Corporations Act. Section 30 of that Act provides for the establishment of a committee or committees to advise the Treasurer on matters to be included in Regulations under the Act and on the operation of the legislation. The committees suggested in the context of this legislation will provide similar advice, for instance, on the proposed new legislation or amendments to existing legislation. It is likely that there will be significant developments in the area of insurance legislation directed at, amongst other things, such matters as protection of policy holders and safeguarding the community interest in insurance matters, and such committees could prove to have a powerful use in consultation for such developments. They will provide a very valuable medium to centralise a point of general consultation between the Government and the various insurance groups. At the moment there are some 12 associations representing life and general insurance and it is very difficult to get an industry point of view from such a vast number of associations. In addition to the basic function of advising on proposed legislative changes and being a point of general consultative contact with the Government, the consultative committees could also have matters referred to them by the Treasurer on which they could provide advice. The committees will be standing committees.
Apart from the matters contained in the Woodhouse scheme, I have persistently laid stress on the urgent need for the inclusion in the general insurance legislation of further provisions dealing with the protection of policy holders. There should be provision in the legislation to give the Insurance Commissioner some control over investments by insurance companies, a matter which has become extremely relevant over the last eight or nine months, and some selectivity as to the appointment of managers and directors to companies on the grounds that they ought to measure up to the highest standards of competency in the field. They are three areas that ought to go immediately to the consultative committee.
I was very pleased to hear the Acting Treasurer reply, in answer to my question, that the consultative committee on insurance which is being established will be asked as its first task to advise the Treasurer on ways and means by which the withdrawal of insurance companies from workers compensation and compulsory third party insurance can in fact be cushioned. The Woodhouse Committee did not examine the possible effects of the introduction of its scheme on the insurance industry and it gave no consideration to the measures, if any, that might have to be adopted to meet any of these problems. Regrettably, the insurance industry has to take the responsibility largely for that, because it did not furnish the committee with the necessary information.
– They were not given the opportunity.
– Yes they were, obviously. An early examination of these aspects should be made and, while some work has been undertaken on the question, the dearth of statistical information on the general insurance industry means the situation will not improve until the Insurance Act 1973 has been operating for some time, and this will make the task extremely difficult.
I should like to quote now from the submission made by Pettigrew and Glencross to the Woodhouse Committee. Clause 5 on page 384 of the Woodhouse report states:
But that is probably the least of the worries. We are sure you well appreciate the extreme difficulties of accurately estimating outstanding claims on any liability business. The problems of inflation and increased Statutory benefits have snow-balled over the past decade with the result that Insurers have belatedly recognised the inadequacy of their reserves although not necessarily the extent of that inadequacy. Even if one felt completely confident of assessing these future liabilities accurately, the quantum of current inadequacy may well be so vast that only the largest Insurers with immense reserves could afford to fund them in one year.
On page 387 of the submission three alternatives are set out on the way in which this legislation could assist the insurance companies and at this point of time these ought to be sent to the consultative committee for consideration. I will not read the first two alternatives in full, but (a) is a proposal to assist companies to continue in business and (b) is a proposal to take over reserves and liabilities completely. The third alternative reads:
In the circumstances and given the critical importance of the subject for the insurance industry, it will be necessary and desirable to have close consultation with the insurance industry in undertaking this work.
Let me conclude by saying that no one denies that the transition will be difficult for the insurance companies, but the stakes are high. The insurance industry is immensely important to the country. It is perhaps one of the least known and least understood industries, both inside and outside the Parliament. From 1969, when I first came into this Parliament, it took me 5 years to overcome a good proportion of the lethargy of the then government to give this country some semblance of adequate legislation in the field of general insurance. It seems to me to be a tragedy that the legislation was not brought in much earlier. Had the existing legislation been placed on the statute book, companies like Northumberland Insurance Co. Ltd. would never have been registered, in my view. It is a regrettable fact that the insurance industry is now in the position where it ought to be fully examined and I believe the consultative committee will play a very important role in the phasing in of this particular measure.
Much of the blame for ignorance about the industry regrettably lies with the industry itself. However, it should be realised that in premium income terms alone the Australian public pays $2, 500m per annum for general and life insurance, an immense sum, I think all honourable members would agree. The overall objective of this legislation, which in my view is the most significant piece of legislative reform ever tabled in this Parliament, is to provide a universal and comprehensive scheme designed to alleviate the problems of persons afflicted by physical or mental incapacity which adversely affects their quality of life. I commend the Minister, I commend the Government, and I commend the Bill to the House.
-I am not opposed to the principle of a national compensation and rehabilitation scheme for personal injury and sickness generally based on no fault, and I believe the amendment that is presented to the House by the Opposition supports this view. The big issue in this debate is whether we are really debating in this Bill as it now stands a satisfactory legislative arrangement for the incorporation of that principle. As the Bill now stands, the answer is obviously no. The fact that the Government at the very last minute has presented 46 amendments already- and one could question how many more amendments will come with time- proves this point.
I accept that the present arrangements are incomplete and unsatisfactory in many ways. There are unnecessary costs, there are gaps, there is tardiness in making payments to people who need immediate payment for injuries. I support the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) when he says that we had the document commenting on the 46 amendments last night, but the amendments themselves were obtained only at the time he suggested today. Even with these amendments, I suggest the present Bill falls short of the principles enunciated, the principles which I believe find widespread support on both sides of the House. There is no statement from the Government on how much this scheme will cost, in view of the amendments and alterations to the original report. There has been no suggestion as to how this finance will be raised. This is not a minor proposal. It is one of the major, if not the most major, proposals the Government has introduced. Mr Justice Woodhouse has suggested that it will cost a minimum of $ 1,600m when in full operation. Having regard to the present rampant inflation, and accepting that the Government would be socially bound to update the payments, the amount it would cost when in full operation would be substantially higher than that. But this cost cannot be considered in isolation. One has to look also at the other very expensive schemes that the Government proposes to introduce. There is the health scheme, which has been costed at the moment at around $ 1,500m.
– The wool subsidy.
– The wool subsidy happens to be a commercial loan on commercial interest rates which the Government prevented the banks providing. So the less we hear about the alleged wool subsidy the more honest and accurate this debate will be. As I have said, the health scheme has been costed at around $l,500m. How much will the proposed superannuation scheme cost? Two steps have still to be taken concerning the abolition of the means test. It would cost approximately $400m to $500m to bring it back to 70- year-olds, and then there is the further step back to the 65-year-olds. One should add those figures together and see what percentage of total Government expenditure at present they amount to.
I believe that it is logical for the Government to withdraw this Bill at this time to allow the Government more time to study the implications of the Bill. It is obvious that more than 46 amendments to it will be forthcoming. The proposal as presented should be subjected to public scrutiny and with adequate time set aside for that public scrutiny. I think that by something like the middle of next year it could be presented again to this House in a more acceptable form. It is all very well for the Government to say that it is prepared to listen to suggestions after the Bill has been passed, but it is too late to do so after the Bill has been passed. The Government will give no guarantee that any further amendments will be made. The Government would be too concerned about implementing the proposals contained in the Bill. I believe that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon), who is a member of the other place, accepts that adequate time should be set aside for public scrutiny and public debate, but he is being forced by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to agree to this Bill being raced through both Houses of the Parliament so that a double dissolution situation can be set up for use, if that suits the Prime Minister, at a later time.
Adequate consideration is not being given to the importance of this legislation. Although this Bill is unacceptable at the present time, it may not be unacceptable in the future if the Government allows adequate public debate, public
Questioning and public scrutiny to take place, toe should look a little more at whether adequate time has been set aside. The situation in New Zealand, which is the country from which Mr Justice Woodhouse came and in which he acquire i his knowledge of this subject, provides a very good example. Mr Justice Woodhouse headed a royal commission into compensation in that country in 1967. A parliamentary inquiry was then conducted after the royal commission had reported. The New Zealand scheme commenced in April this year, 7 years after the proposition was first mooted. If one reads the New
Zealand papers one will see that problems are still being experienced with the implementation of the scheme after 7 years.
Let us look at the time schedule in Australia’s case. Mr Justice Woodhouse was appointed to conduct the inquiry in Australia in about April 1973. The first stage of this proposal is to commence in July 1976, which means that we have allowed about half the time that was allowed in New Zealand for debate on and scrutiny of this proposition and legislation. There are more complications involved in this country than in New Zealand. For a start we have a federal system with all the complications that it will cause in respect to this legislation. Secondly, we have a more developed state and private system of third party and workers compensation insurance. We also have had no indication of what the Government’s true intentions are with respect to insurance. Does the Government- I understand it does- intend to press ahead with its Australian Government insurance office and move into general insurance and life assurance in a way in which I believe it is actually happening in New Zealand so that instead of this proposition being a social justice measure it is a blind for a general take-over of the insurance industry in total? I think that the Government should be a little more open with its intentions in this regard.
Let us look at the time that members of this House have had to examine this proposition. The first volume of the Woodhouse Committee’s report was presented on 10 July, the second volume was presented on 22 September and the third volume, which is a statistical document, was presented on 17 October. It is now 24 October. What chance have members on both sides of both Houses of the Parliament let alone people outside the Parliament had to study this proposition adequately? On Monday night I was at an Australian Insurance Association dinner at which the Treasurer (Mr Crean) was the guest speaker. As of Monday night most of the people there- leading people in the Australian insurance industry- had not been able to obtain a copy of the third volume of the Woodhouse Committee’s report, which is most important from their point of view, to see how accurate were the figures presented by Mr Justice Woodhouse.
Let us look at the cost involved. It has been said that this scheme will cost $ 1,655m once a plateau has been reached. Mr Justice Woodhouse has suggested a 10c a gallon levy on petrol to replace the third party component and a 2 per cent levy on the wages bills of employers and a 2 per cent levy on incomes of the selfemployed. In his second reading speech the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) said, in reference to raising the necessary amount to cover the expenditure involved:
The Government has considered this matter and, while it sees merit in the recommendations of the Committee, it has not committed itself to this or any other method of financing. The Treasurer, the Honourable Frank Crean, is investigating the options available to the Government and will bring forward proposals for later consideration.
That is not good enough. The Parliament has no idea how money will be raised to finance one of the most expensive and most important pieces of legislation to hit the Parliament in years. The first year cost of the injury and congenital disability phase has been estimated in the second reading speech at $300m. I ask the Minister: When was that estimate made? Was it based on the Woodhouse Committee’s recommendations or on the movement away from the Woodhouse Committee’s recommendations to accept cover for injury right at the beginning rather than to have a delay of 7 days? If it is not based on providing a cover from when the injury happens but allows for a delay of 7 days, the Government will be out in its reckoning because according to the insurance industry two-thirds of the cost of all claims occur in the first 7 days or less after an injury. I would be interested to hear what the situation is. One has only to look at the 46 amendments, when one has time to do so, to see that they will also result in major alterations being made to the cost. I accept that the Government has not had time to cost these alterations, but that only adds to my argument that the Parliament should not be expected to vote on this measure until there has been sufficient time to ascertain what the cost will be and how the Government will raise the money to meet it.
There is an interesting contradiction here with the health scheme in that all the medical and hospital costs incurred in relation to compensation are loaded on to the health scheme. But if one looks at the recommendations concerning the financing of the health scheme, one will see that quite an amount of the financing of the health scheme is loaded on to workers compensation and third party insurance, which are being abolished by this proposal. The Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot isolate one from the other because they all have to be taken into consideration in the total budgetary concept. By adding all the costs- the $ 1,600m or more for compensation, the $ 1,500m for the health scheme and the $ 1,000m for complete abolition of the means test- and nothing else, one will come up with 25 per cent of the present total
Commonwealth Budget. The Government cannot say that that will be picked up as its taxing ability increases with inflation because it is already committed to increased Government expenditure at the same rate. Also it is not allowing for the increased cost later because the cost of providing the type of service that these schemes envisage expands at a faster rate than inflation.
How are all of these things to be financed? That is one of the things that the Government has to say. Let us look at the proposed petrol tax. It would be a gross inequity if a levy of 10c a gallon were to be imposed on petrol. I hope and believe that the Government has accepted this point. It would be better to calculate the charge on a ‘per driver’ or a ‘per car’ basis than to impose a levy on each gallon of petrol purchased. Consideration must be given to those people who, in the course of their jobs, use their vehicles a great deal and so consume a lot of petrol. People in isolated areas are in the same position. The cost to the community generally is another factor to be considered.
Another aspect is the third party insurance schemes operated by the States. This proposal eliminates such schemes, but there is nothing to stop any of the States from moving in to levy some sort of charge- they can call it anything they like- on motorists, to replace third party insurance. Motorists would then be required to pay twice for third party insurance. Many major question marks arise in respect of this legislation. These add to the reasons why the Bill should be withdrawn and redrafted.
I turn to the no fault concept by which people will have no right of legal redress. I accept that this scheme will provide immediate and, in many cases, less expensive cover. I would like to see allowance made for public argument on this question of incidents where gross or criminal negligence is involved. Will people accept that no cost will be imposed on them in a financial sense as distinct from a criminal sense, and what this will mean to their sense of responsibility as ordinary citizens? If in public debate the argument between no fault as against legal redress is satisfactorily resolved and the verdict comes down on the side of the no fault concept, I would be prepared to look at this proposal again and possibly to accept it. The point I make is that there has to be a chance for public debate to occur on this question. Time should be allowed for that purpose.
The next matter that I raise concerns the States again. They already have third party responsibility. They have their own insurance offices.
What will happen to those offices? What has the Government done in consultation with the States to arrange uniform no fault third party workers compensation with the scheme administered by the States which already have the expertise and, if honourable members like, the bureaucracy in this area? Thus unnecessary duplication could be avoided if the Commonwealth moves in on an extended sickness benefits basis. If this proposal put forward by the Government is subjected to public scrutiny and is found to be wanting, well and good. One must accept the facts. But the facts have not been presented on this legislation because the opportunity has not been provided for them to be ascertained.
What will be the position of the private insurance companies? As my colleague from Hawker pointed out, Mr Justice Woodhouse made no mention of them. I point out that 40 per cent of the business written by private insurance companies is workers compensation business. The Australian-owned section does over 70 per cent of this business. The effect of this Bill will be actually to help the multi-national insurance companies at the expense of the Australianowned insurance companies. We are told that 4,000 or 5,000 people will lose their jobs in the insurance industry. No reference is made to how the Government will provide phasing out arrangements. As the honourable member for Hawker mentioned, there are weaknesses in relation to the proposals dealing with the insurance industry.
A further question in this respect concerns the protection that will be given to the existing rights of policy holders. Will those policies continue? What will be the cost involved once the Government has introduced its scheme? If a period of 6 months is allowed for these questions to be answered, hopefully we will have the added advantage at that time of a properly considered debate of these matters.
I mention next the trade unions. As proposed by this legislation the maximum that a worker will receive as compensation of his earnings is 85 per cent. But in many cases unionists at present receive 100 per cent of their earnings in compensation payments. I have here a letter sent to Mr Souter, the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, by Mr Reynolds of the Labor Council of New South Wales. Mr Reynolds goes into some detail. I will be fair to him and quote one of the good aspects in the legislation that he points out. He says:
Let me say at the outset that the proposals in the report concerned with accident prevention and rehabilitation are, in the main, satisfactory, and generally reflect acceptance of our policy statements on both subjects.
The remainder of the report and draft Bill, however, which deals with monetary benefits and other entitlements, amounts to virtual rejection of the ACTU’s policy as framed in our written submission.
I ask for leave to incorporate this letter in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
State Branch of the Australian Council of Trade Unions
MrH. J. Souter, Secretary, Australian Council of Trade Unions, 254 La Trobe Street, Melbourne. 3000.
I have now completed an analysis of the effects of the report by the Woodhouse Committee of Enquiry, and look forward to elaborating on some of the comments made herein before the Executive Meeting next week.
Let me say at the outset that the proposals in the report concerned with accident prevention and rehabilitation are, in the main, satisfactory, and generally reflect acceptance of our policy statements on both subjects.
The remainder of the report and draft bill, however, which deals with monetary benefits and other entitlements, amounts to virtual rejection of the ACTU’s policy as framed in our written submission. The report clearly states that:
It is important to note, apart from consideration of the above matters, that the main recommendation in the report is that there be:
Prompt, automatic and earnings related compensation for every person in respect of every significant physical or mental incapacity, whether arising from injury or congenitally, or from sickness, and whether suffered within the country, or whilst travelling overseas ‘.
When this attractive statement is put under scrutiny and read in conjunction with the draft bill, it is patently clear that not all of these objectives are achieved.
The relevant sections of the draft bill relating to mode and manner of payment is apparently based upon the model for the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act. Unless there is radical restructuring of the existing administration for claims under the new scheme, it is reasonable to assume that payments under the National Scheme will neither be prompt nor automatic. From daily experience of the Commonwealth Compensation Act, we frequently find employees that have been forced to put up with delays of up to 12 months, and sometimes longer, before their claim is accepted and any payment of compensation is made.
The provision of an earnings related compensation is clearly both desirable and advantageous to all workers. But, whilst earnings related compensation is payable for total incapacity, it is not payable for partial incapacity. Let me explain how the report seeks to deal with the problem.
If you are totally unfit, you get 85 per cent of your preinjury wage.
If you are later able to perform work (light work) your compensation entitlement is not based on the actual difference in earnings between the old and new job, but on a medical assessment completely unrelated to your particular economic circumstances. This change in the method of assessment will, in my view, exclude thousands of workers from compensation entitlements which they presently enjoy.
The draft bill provides in Clause 35 that the DirectorGeneral can fix percentage disability on the basis of a medical report. This Section also names the book which doctors must use in making their reports- ‘Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment’ published by the AMA.
The report goes on to say that any person who is impaired to a degree of less than 10 per cent (which is felt to be insignificant) under these guides gets nothing, whether or not he has an actual wage loss after injury. Who are these people who have an insignificant physical or mental incapacity?
Any of the following injuries or conditions the report says are insignificant:
What this means, of course, is that under any of the above illustrations any injured worker could well find himself unable to resume his pre-injury occupation. Not only would he miss out on a lump sum payment for the injury he has suffered, but, as well, would miss out completely on his present Workers’ Compensation entitlement for any additional weekly payments, being the make-up or the difference between his pre and post injury occupation.
If one considers the effect of some of these proposals one cannot help but arrive at the conclusion that all Trade Unionists are being asked to make substantial sacrifices, and to pay direct tax to finance the scheme, so that they can share lesser benefits than they currently enjoy with all selfemployed persons and employers earning no more than $26,000 per year.
The already endorsed policy of the Movement is reflected in that pan of our written Submission which states: ‘The governing philosophy or approach of the Trade Union Movement to the question of employment injury is that any benefits conferred by a National Compensation Scheme must be in addition to and not in substitution for already existing rights and entitlements. ‘
As I understand it, this statement represents the express view of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, this State Branch, and, indeed, the views of most other State Branches, as well as the majority of our affiliates.
Accordingly, ! would respectfully propose to you that the Executive consider the following draft Resolution at its forthcoming Meeting: ‘The ACTU Executive commends the initiative of the Australian Labor Government for having undertaken this far reaching inquiry and investigation into Compensation and Rehabilitation in Australia. The ACTU Executive having discussed the report of the Woodhouse Committee and the above report notes that there are certain adverse features in the proposed scheme. We therefore consider that representations be made forthwith to the responsible Minister or Ministers to amend the relevant Sections of the Bill, so as to ensure that the National Compensation and Rehabilitation Scheme, when it comes into operation, shall be excellent social legislation, not only in principle but in fact.’
Yours fraternally, TOM REYNOLDS
– I thank the House. What will be the position of people under 18 years of age? Until they reach that age, they will receive no compensation at all for any injury suffered. I mention also ordinary people who at present receive sickness benefits after a delay of 7 days. Under this legislation they will receive no sickness benefit until 21 days have elapsed. I ask the House to consider the position of self-employed people. The Special Minister of State, who is at the table, in private conversation discussed with me protection for self-employed people to provide cover for temporary partial incapacity and the problems involved in the mechanism for working out the previous year’s income bearing in mind the fluctuations that all self-employed business people suffer, whether they are in the tourist industry, farmers, or ordinary business people. The Minister has informed me that this aspect is now covered. If he can spell it out in closing the second reading debate, that will be a help. The next point that I raise is that compensation is related to earnings for permanent partial incapacity. With respect to temporary partial incapacity, there is no relation to the actual loss suffered on an individual basis. There is an arbitrary percentage figure taken from an American table of percentages, on a basis of 85 per cent of average weekly earnings, which provides nothing below 10 per cent whereas formerly it was nothing below 15 per cent. No allowance is made for individual cases. I instance the star footballer, the ballet dancer who loses his or her big toe, the pianist who loses part of his finger or the surgeon who loses part of a finger -
– Or the journalist who loses part of a finger, too.
– Or the humble farmer who has a bad back. The point that I make is that no allowance is made for these individual cases. These, Mr Deputy Speaker, are my reasons for believing and saying that this BUI should be withdrawn and redrafted and presented to Parliament again only after adequate public scrutiny. In the course of such public scrutiny, the legislation should be considered by the trade union movement, insurance companies, members of the legal profession, the States and the other multitude of groups which have been in contact with us in the last few days including the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Guide Dogs for the Blind organisation and medical associations. In that time the Government should come forward with some accurate costing of its scheme and show how it will raise the necessary finance. If this happens, we will have a situation more approaching that in New Zealand where in more simple circumstances twice the time that has been allowed here was provided and more opportunity for consideration was given before the New Zealand legislation was implemented. In the course of this public scrutiny, I believe that an awareness would be created in the mind of the general public of the provisions of this legislation and that this would allow for the development of a considered public opinion of what this Bill means to everybody in Australia. Then and only then can a purposeful debate take place in this Parliament, a debate befitting the importance of this legislation, and a satisfactory conclusion reached.
-I call the honourable member for Wentworth.
– The Labor Party is pulling out.
– You said you did not want a guillotine on the legislation. Do you want a fair go, or do you not?
– We will take our fair go. The perils of modern living have subjected people to greater risk of injury than ever before from the elements in our society which are intended to assist people to enjoy life more. The greatest hazard to modern man, I think, has proved to be the motor vehicle. Apart from the motor car, there are machines and instruments by which goods are produced and services are provided. As the number of motor cars multiplied and factories expanded, injuries increased and, with them, claims for damages.
Faced by innumerable claims, the law was constrained to meet the challenge, and meet the challenge it did. It did so by adapting old forms of action which now make up the modern law of tort, particularly negligence. For the enforcement of these claims court procedures were adopted- including courts, judges, juries, laws of evidence, lawyers, etc- and because the guilty motorist or employer needed protection, this was accompanied by the development of compulsory third party and workers compensation insurance.
Today motor vehicle, industrial accident and workers compensation cases occupy more of the courts’ time than any other type of case. At all levels- district court, county court, supreme court and at the appellate level- the time of our courts is taken up by these cases. Indeed much of the time of our High Court is taken up by the consideration of cases involving the assessment of damages in accident cases at considerable economic expense to the community in the form of court buildings, judges’ salaries, court costs, insurance premiums and, last but not least, of all counsels’ and solicitors’ fees. All this has taken place and, of course, we have the prospect of this increasing. Much of the time of the court is spent in determining the issue of fault and the balance on assessing the damages suffered according to formulae that might seem to some to be artificial but which have attempted to give the victim reasonable compensation for his or her injury. At the same time, third party insurance has become much less profitable for many insurers. Workers compensation has remained profitable but at the cost of greatly increased premiums. Some indication of this can be taken from the recently published report of the QBE Insurance Group Ltd, wherein it is stated:
The results for the year were severely and adversely affected by the following major factors:
The impact of inflation and increasing benefit levels on workers’ compensation claims in Australia. This impact applies not only to the new claims notified, but requires an upgrading of estimates for all earlier claims in course of settlement Workers’ compensation claims taken into account in the financial year were $19,409,000, an increase of $1 1,453,000 on the figure for the 1973 accounting period.
Rapidly increasing Court awards and settlements under motorists’ compulsory third party business in Australia. Claims paid and outstanding taken into account in respect of compulsory third party business in the year were $3,133,000, an increase of $ 1 ,653,000 over the previous period.
Those statements give an idea of the mounting cost of insurance premiums and the effect on insurance companies of claims under these types of policies.
Over recent years a fresh community attitude has developed towards compensation- that is, that since injury and sickness are to a large degree the result of living in society, those who suffer should be compensated irrespective of fault. It was this that prompted Sir Victor Windeyer to say at the Twelfth Legal Convention of the Law Council of Australia:
The real consideration in my view is that the whole system of negligence actions is outmoded in ordinary accident cases. The actions are utterly unreal. We live in an insurance age; we live in a motorised and mechanical age. People are suffering from accidents which are part of the hazards of the times we live in; they arise not out of and in the course of our employment but out of and in the course of our daily lives . . .
Thus there are very strong reasons for the adoption of a system for compensating victims of accidents and sickness which eliminates the necessity to prove fault, and it is fitting that it be provided, if possible, by the national Parliament exercising the great social services power of this Commonwealth. I believe the community is ready for and needs an alternative system to that now prevailing. It is expensive, inefficient and outmoded. For my own part I would concede that such a system could properly involve the termination of the common law right to sue for damages. The right to sue is a means to compensation. If there is substituted a system which is more efficient and which will guarantee fair and equitable compensation, the right can go. It is a dispensable right and not a fundamental human right. The Opposition is interested in the introduction of such a system. The question we face in the legislation before us is whether it provides a fair and equitable system of compensation.
As has been said by previous speakers, it is unfortunate that this legislation is being rushed through the Parliament despite indications to the contrary that time would be given. I believe that this can only denigrate from this House of Parliament. When a social measure of this nature comes before the House of Representatives, surely it is the sort of legislation that should go to a committee. Being here for the first time in the last few months, I find it hard to believe that such legislation is not going to a committee. The legislation will potentially alter a significant part of the way of life of the Australian people if it is passed. I think the present procedure puts this House in a position of inferiority, if I may say so, to the Senate that stands opposite. It is time that we in this House took very seriously these fundamental matters when they come before the Parliament and allowed time for proper and due consideration, not necessarily in debate that is rushed but in a way that will allow a mature consideration on a non-party basis- that is what the Minister said in his second reading speech; mature consideration on a ‘non-party basis ‘-in a committee. But that we are not to have. There are 46 amendments proposed and there is no time for their consideration. It is difficult for the Opposition to deal with the measure in any form other than that in which it was introduced.
Having made these broad observations and having indicated the Opposition’s desire to find a suitable scheme, I pass to a consideration of the legislation. The linchpin of this scheme is the abolition of the common law right. Those provisions are found in clauses 9 1 and 92 of the Bill. There are a number of observations I would like to make. Firstly, the abolition of the right must be accompanied by a fair and equitable right to compensation. I will deal with this subsequently. Secondly, the guilty should not be advantaged at the expense of the innocent. It is tremendously important that those who have a right to obtain damages under the existing system- because they are the innocent victims of motor car accidents- should have no less right under the system that is to be introduced. In other words, the guilty should not be advantaged at the expense of the innocent. Again if the common law right cannot be abolished much of the economy of the scheme disappears and we must realise that. That is why this abolition of the common law right, as I apprehend it, is the very linchpin of the Government’s scheme. If it is not abolished people will still need third party insurance. Employers will need common cover in industrial accidents.
The other matter to which I should like to refer is this: The constitutional power to abolish the common law right appears to be open to considerable doubt. I need only quote from the document circulated to members by the New South Wales Bar Council wherein it says:
It seems that this is beyond the constitutional power of the Commonwealth.
This document was prepared by the New South Wales Bar Council, of which the President is now Mr Tom Hughes, formerly Attorney-General in this Parliament. The introduction of this scheme must depend on proper arrangements with insurance companies. There must be some method whereby liabilities under existing policies can be met. In other words, if the introduction of the scheme does depend on such arrangements with insurance companies and they are to be made, obviously those insurance companies will give up the system that they now have and will go out of business. This has to be done by 1 July 1976. By then, if it is accepted and the common law right is terminated, insurance companies will have ceased their business in the accident field. This part of the insurance industry would be dismantled. On present indications, it would only be after that that the constitutional question would be determined. If, as is quite possible, the High Court holds that there is no power to abolish the common law right to damages it will produce a chaotic situation. In the meantime while the constitutional question is under review claims will be made by people saying that they have a common law right. When the constitutional question is decided and if it is against the Government, those claims would be viable. It will be during a period when the insurance industry will be going out of existence in this area.
The next thing that will happen is that the linchpin of the Government’s scheme will have disappeared. The economies to society said to flow from the elimination of the common law right will have disappeared. If the scheme is to proceed on the basis of the elimination of that right it is on very shaky constitutional grounds. The constitutional problem must be solved first either by obtaining co-operation from the States, something which this Government seems to be incapable of doing, or by having the constitutional question determined before the scheme comes into operation and before the insurance industry is dismantled as was done by the arrangement over the Marriage Act in the early 1960s. It is important to realise however that unless the common law right can be abolished a great deal of the economic value of the scheme to society will be lost. This also means we are not able to assess the costs at present.
The next question to which I should like to advert is whether the scheme provides fair and equitable compensation to accident victims even with the 46 amendments proposed by the Government. This is highly questionable and it is the reason the motion has been moved by the Opposition. I concede at the outset that it is not enough to condemn the scheme that in essence it provides for periodic rather than lump sum payments. A periodic payment scheme could, I believe, provide fair and equitable compensation in substitution for the present system. The question is whether it does. As I have said already, it is important that under a new scheme the guilty are not advantaged at the expense of the innocent, that the drunken middle-aged driver is not advantaged at the expense of the innocent child whom he maims for life. As I understand the scheme, this is precisely what could happend
The Law Council of Australia has pinpointed a number of respects in which the scheme appears to be unfair. Other speakers have dealt with these aspects. The Law Council also points out that compensation payments would not be related to the earnings of the victim in the case of permanent partial incapacity. The effect therefore is that the small maimed child of 5 gets nothing immediately. Only when the child attains 18 years of age is a small amount of $42-odd a week paid. Surely that is a gross inequity in itself for under the present common law system the child would be entitled to substantial lump sum payments as soon as they were assessed. The guilty drunken driver, however, who gets nothing under the present system of common law damages gets 85 per cent of his average weekly earnings if he is totally and permanently incapacitated. He might be earning $25,000 a year so he would get $21,250 a year. I choose this illustration not to demonstrate that the fault principles should not be abolished but to emphasise that if a new scheme is adopted involving the elimination of the common law right, the benefits which a person obtains should compare favourably with those which he or she could receive at present.
Other examples could be given but some have been dealt with already and others will be dealt with by subsequent speakers. A procedure has been adopted which, of course, involves extremely wide discretions in the administration of this scheme. It is always doubtful whether the administrative method is a satisfactory substitute for judicial settlement. If the matter to be decided is not complex in fact or in law, or is based on formulae, the administrative method may be sufficient. However, here the discretions are complex and it is vital that ultimately the issues can be referred to a judicial type inquiry. The proponents of the Bill have attempted to do this. On analysis honourable members will find that there are 3 levels of inquiry- wide discretions before the Secretary, an appeal to an appeal tribunal and then a further appeal to a court. The result of that is that substituted for the present system, which constitutes in some States an investigation before a judge with or without a jury and in other cases before some administrative tribunal, we get 3 separate inquiries. In the appeal tribunal and before the court there will be lawyers. Undoubtedly the procedures, although there is a desire for informality, will be formalised. There will be cross-examination and costs. The result of this scheme if adopted at the administrative level can be 3 levels of inquiry. Let us understand on what basis a matter goes from the tribunal to the High Court, the Industrial Court, or the Supreme Court of the States, because there will be no Superior Court. When the matter reaches the court it will be in the original jurisdiction of the court. As the Bill rightly says, the court can look at the matter again and so the lawyers come along. Again there is a full scale hearing on appeal from the appeal tribunal. It is not confined to a question of law. All the matter must involve is a question of law and the ingenuity of lawyers in this country does not need to be taxed very greatly to find a question of law, particularly in a complex piece of legislation such as we have here involving the exercise of discretions in relation to very complex matters.
The system of assessment that is adopted is more complex, more expensive and more likely to lead to the involvement of lawyers, more likely to lead to the use of technicalities and more likely to lead to tremendous expense. For those reasons I suggest that the Government should not be carried away by the grandiose quality of this scheme. It should not fail to overlook the necessity for justice in its implementation. I suggest that the Government give further thought to our proposition that this Bill should be taken away and redrafted or, alternatively, that it should be sent to a committee of this House so that we in this place at last may find ourselves with a committee that is dealing with something of great importance to our nation.
-Honourable members opposite have made a very strong case for no fault compensation. The honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) made a very tidy case. The only trouble with his case is that it is not in dispute. This appears as yet another case of ill-thought-through legislation. The concept of no fault compensation has a great deal to recommend it and the Opposition wishes to retain this concept. However I find it hard to believe that this Bill is serious. On the last occasion that I accused the Government of presenting legislation that it knew very well ought to be rejected or deferred because of inherent impractibilities I was taken to task by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) who is at the table. On that last occasion he had much to say about my being new to this place. I am new, and new boy that I am, I still have enough belief in the system to just not believe that a government, any government, could be so ill-informed as to bring in by accident legislation that has so many quite clear omissions, impracticabilities and anomalies.
The Opposition is left with the difficult task of preserving what is good in the hope that the Bill may one day come before this House in a workable and relatively anomaly free form. The Government obviously intended at the time the matter was introduced that it remain before the House for some time in that the Minister invited amendment. This is a very sensible procedure. Why is it now being rushed through? Is the Government looking to a double dissolution or is it trying to build a case of Senate obstruction by forcing poor legislation through this House? Previous speakers on this side of the House have spoken in detail of the shortcomings of this Bill. I intend to speak of principles and timing in the hope that the matter will remain before us for some time yet.
Australia, and indeed most Western democracies, have lived with a system of compensation at common law. It does have much to recommend it in spite of its 2 great failings of high adminstrative cost and inequity as between those who can establish fault on the part of a second or third party and those who cannot. But the Bill before the House poses 2 great alternative faults. They are first, the very strong probability of a very high cost of operation as opposed to administration, and secondly, the very strong probability of great inequities between beneficiaries under the scheme. It is my belief that we can have the best of no liability insurance without excessive cost, without extremes of inequity and without embracing administrative impossibilities.
I have had some experience with accidents- a minor eye injury for which I am to receive substantial financial compensation, and the loss of an arm for which I have not and will not receive such compensation. Though there is, I suppose, a risk that my judgment might be dominated by personal experience, it is also true that I have the benefit of an intermittent interest in the subject over many years. This has included the critical assessment of others who have been physically injured. One group of people, albeit a substantial one, which is seriously disadvantaged by the present scheme consists of those who have received an impairment to their health or physical skills such that they cannot cope with life as they find it. These people need help whether their condition is the result of sickness or accident or is congenital.
The inability of these people to cope is not measurable by reference to the injury alone. The same injury will affect different people in different circumstances and to a very different degree. For example- I hope the House will excuse me for drawing on my own experience- a single-arm amputee really dependent upon manual dexterity to earn his accustomed livelihood, be he labourer or musician, is in need of public assistance, but one who is not dependent on such manual dexterity, even though he was accustomed to making use of it, and who in his normal course of occupation would normally require manual dexterity but is not dependent on it, is not in need of compensation. There are plenty of successful one-armed farmers- farmers who would normally be expected by many to be those who would depend upon their manual dexterity. In fact they are not. Man is a most adaptable animal, but he needs an incentive to adapt. Leave him with incentive for his own sake as well as to avoid overloading the system.
On the other hand, some conditions such as quadriplegia or a serious stroke require all the patient’s effort to adjust to the daily chores of existence alone without room for sufficient surplus energy to provide for the patient’s own support or the support of his family. A widow with a young family needs more help than she receives at present. Under the proposals in this Bill I, who had any amount of opportunity to adjust, would receive more compensation than a farm hand, possibly with minimal mental skills and a poor choice for adjustment. Under the proposals of this Bill the Government would be thrusting compensation upon me and denying him adequate compensation.
It is essential that compensation be assessed in relation to individual opportunity. It is essential that it be afforded to all those who really need it. It is essential that public resources be not wasted. Those who do not need compensation very often would be afforded assistance that would in fact be to their detriment, not to their welfare. It is essential that that not happen. In these times of economic chaos we cannot afford massive wasted resources. It is essential that this phase of new and complex government activity be taken slowly. In the fond belief that either this Government will accept the Opposition amendment or that in another place the matter will be deferred for consideration, or- and this is perhaps more likely- that before the eggs become too hopelessly scrambled this Opposition will be the Government, I propose a very different method of phasing in these remedies from the one placed before us.
Because it is essential to help those in need- a need that must be assessed by a far more sophisticated means that those proposed in this Bill- I believe that initial effort must be directed to those people in the greatest need. There is every reason to retain, at least for the time being, the common law remedies and the workers’ compensation legislation remedies until we can become confident that we have a better system. Let us hasten slowly. The initial step should be for the Commonwealth to provide compensation for those who have a high level of disability assessed irrespective of whether those injured or sick are congenitally so or have become so later in life, and irrespective of whether they have rights at common law or under the workers compensation Act. Compensation should be paid according to a formula that relates to the percentage of incapacity rather than to the nature of the injury. It should be paid for the period of that incapacity, but incapacity for short periods should not qualify for compensation.
As the Commonwealth benefit would be automatic once the disability is assessed, damages assessed for workers compensation, motor vehicle third party and public risk awards will be reduced by the amount of the Commonwealth benefit. Premiums for such risk cover as a result would be commensurately lower. I am acutely aware of the evils of the slow legal process and of what is called ‘litigation neurosis’. I am also aware that my proposals will preserve the slower legal process for the time being. However, I am very fearful that the nation is embarking on a project as unjust as the present system and inordinately more costly, and which will itself be a disincentive to rehabilitation.
I shall tell a small story that might give some idea of the extent to which this might happen. I asked my surgeon a few days after he took my arm off how long I was likely to be in hospital. He answered with another question: ‘Are you paying for all this?’ What effect do honourable members think this should have upon the whole system? Why did the surgeon ask whether I was paying for it? Because apparently the desire to get back to work is a great rehabilitator. All I ask is that we take this new and quite excellent and undisputed concept slowly.
I would narrow the first stage of the scheme to apply only to those in real need and widen it later to include all those in real need, including those suffering from sickness, irrespective of the date at which the condition was first noticed. The cover could gradually be expanded in the light of experience to lower percentage disability and to include shorter periods of disability. Let us crawl before we walk lest we make a needless mess of the whole business. The stupidities of the draft Bill I have not discussed as they were adequately handled by speakers on this side of the House, but they are evidence of the sort of hopeless mess we can get into and the mess we can make of excellent intent.
– I would seek to incline my attitude into as charitable a frame as I can in speaking on this Bill. The first observation I make about it is that the Bill represents the corporate attitude of the Government towards the state of the nation. This is the Government’s sense of priority. With the economy tottering towards disaster it now seeks to place before the people of Australia a further burden which can only be described as one extravagant in its character and completely unjustified in its form. As to the justification, I will deal with that later on. Having said that by way of preliminary comment, the next observation I would like to make is this: If this Bill is within power, that is to say, if it is within the power of the Australian Constitution, we may as well tear up the Australian Constitution. There would be no industry in Australia which would be sheltered from the political grasp of any government. It is perfectly true that a government is entitled to go right to the perimeter of constitutional power with respect to its legislation, and I do not quarrel with that. I merely sound the warning that if this Bill is within power then the Australian Constitution has taken on a form which I venture to say was never intended by the founders of the Constitution or by those who have directed their minds to a consideration of it over the years.
I think the House should be immensely indebted to the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) for warning us of the consequences involved, if at some time in the future, taking the assumption that this legislation is passed, the Bill comes into form and is an Act, is challenged and it is found that the purported extinguishing and abolition of the common law rights, which is postulated in clauses 9 1 and 92 of the Bill, was not validly made. As my honourable and learned friend pointed out, if the entire insurance system has been collapsed and then the Act is found to be invalid, what would be the position then? How do you pick up the broken pieces? Possibly that metaphor is inapt. In that event there would be a complete void in one of the largest fields of insurance activity in this country. Do not members of the Government and do not other Government supporters regard that aspect seriously? I beg of them, not in any partisan fashion at all: Why do you not respond to the true observations made by the honourable member for Wentworth? They were not stated with partisan commitment and attitude. He implored on the first hand, why not refer the Bill to a select committee? We do not do justice by ourselves in this House. We do not resort to a joint committee of this House. We leave it to the Senate. The Senate can appoint committees galore but as far as we are concerned it is not good enough for us. I would hope that the House could get some corporate sense of resentment in this matter and do something about it. The second suggestion made by the honourable member for Wentworth, as I understood him, was to try to find the means whereby a test can be made in advance, of the legislation so that the danger of the void will be obviated. Again, that is an interesting and I think welcome suggestion made by my honourable friend.
I turn to resort to a little more assertative language as far as this Bill is concerned. Those who have conceived this Bill propose to set up a bureaucratic edifice before which the great Parkinson himself would have prostrated his body. It proposes to establish a bureaucratic machine which defies description. It proposes to give to bureaucrats powers with which those who conducted the Spanish Inquisition would have regarded themselves as being well served if those powers had been in their command. In more contemporary times those who directed the activities of the Ogpu would have been satisfied if they had had the proposed powers in this Bill at their command. But I want to say further to the House, and not by way of levity of expression, that if this Bill goes through, becomes an Act and is put into being we will need a battalion of ombudsmen to look at the inequities, the injustices and the unfairnesses. I mention the discretions referred to by my friend the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) who led for the Opposition. He referred to the discretions made available to civil servants. I do not speak disrespectfully of them. I have the most profound regard for those who serve this country. But it is not of the nature of the bureaucratic machine to resort to benevolence in the exercise of discretion. As far as the creation of this vast bureaucratic machine is concerned, once it is in being there will be no pulling back from it.
The next observation I make to my friend the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) who is in the House and for whom I have the utmost affection is this: Why the haste? My understanding is that it is intended that this Bill should be finished in this House by tonight. It is the sort of Bill that lends itself to a Committee debate. We could spend anything up to a week debating it. If need be those of us interested in the Bill could go away, lock ourselves up in a room and have pie and peas for lunch. That would be a worthwhile exercise, but no, we have to go on bur way. The community has not had an opportunity to consider the full ramifications of this Bill. The trade union movement is already beginning to show its sense of apprehension as to the full implications of this measure. I say to the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), whose presence has now brought fragrance back into the chamber, that when members of the community wake up to the full implications of this Bill I do not think they would be able to treat even him with the generosity that he suspects he deserves.
My honourable friend from Chisholm (Mr Staley) referred to defects in the existing Commonwealth system. Let those defects be conceded. This Bill does not cure them. It seeks to exacerbate them and in point of fact it will add to them in a monstrous and completely unacceptable fashion. In respect of the Woodhouse Committee report that came before us, I fear that we are seeking to indulge ourselves in an Alice in Wonderland fashion these days. What do you do with any problem that confronts government? You set up a committee. You get the committee’s report. Ergo, that is the end of the problem. I remain singularly unimpressed with this report. I erred very much on the side of charity when I described it as a disgrace to judicial inquiry. I will deal with one or two aspects of it. His Honour Mr Justice Woodhouse at paragraph 32 of the report made this observation:
We propose to keep them flexible -
This is dealing with procedures- and the accent will be upon informality. In this way anyone interested enough to appear will be given a full opportunity to express his or her point of view.
I do not quarrel with that. But I do with this:
It has been suggested that we should conduct our hearings rather as a court of law might take evidence, which would then be tested by cross-examination.
Is His Honour serious when he says that the procedure of cross-examination no longer serves a useful purpose? The procedure of crossexamination was described by no less an authority than Wigmore as being the most perfect machine ever invented for the purpose of getting at the truth. How does one get at the truth when one gives to a committee of this nature no power for those who appear before it to be crossexamined, to test their qualifications, for all their qualifications to be revealed and for the quality of the evidence to be assessed? The Committee finished up with this observation:
The conduct and procedure of a Committee of Inquiry must necessarily be decided by the Committee itself.
We are entirely satisfied that everybody concerned has been given a proper opportunity of expressing his or her point of view. The general approach that we have adopted differs in no important respect from that followed by other similar Committees that have carried on inquiries in Australia.
I say: ‘Tell that to the marines’; it is simply not true.
I want to turn to one or two aspects of the Bill that I have culled out as being most important in terms of implementing the scheme. The first matter to which I want to refer is the dependence of the Committee- this is reflected in the Bill- upon the American Medical Association in respect of the percentage impairment provision. It seems to me, with very great respect to those involved in the drafting of the Bill, that they have confused impairment with disability. A person by medical assessment may have a 25 per cent impairment of the limb but he may not necessarily have a 25 per cent disability of the limb. Can I illustrate the proposition fairly quickly -
– Please do.
-If I thought it would at all rescue my honourable friend from Prospect I would do so with the greatest alacrity. Therefore, even running that risk, I do so. Take the case of a clerk who sits at a desk all day. Let us assume that he breaks a leg and the doctor assesses that he has lost 20 per cent of its usefulness. I do not speak in any disrespectful way about the occupation of a clerk but as this man sits at a desk all day his broken leg may not necessarily interfere with his work. But take the case of a rigger who works on windmills and who loses 20 per cent of the effectiveness of his limb.
– What about fitters and turners?
– With great respect, one can take into account a great variety of fields. For instance, one could take the case of a surgeon who loses 2 fingers and who as a result would be seriously disadvantaged. Take the case, if you like, of a fitter and turner who loses two or three fingers and is seriously disadvantaged because he would not be able to use instruments such as a micrometer.
– He could be a paraplegic
-This may be so. But I ask my honourable friend to listen to me. One can give other illustrations. Take the case of a person who loses two or three fingers. If a member of Parliament suffered this loss he would not necessarily be disadvantaged to the same extent as somebody else.
I thought that the honourable member for Hotham dealt in a devastating fashion with the subject of minor injuries. Can Government supporters seriously suggest that these can be dismissed as being of no consequence? A little finger is described in the table, if I might so describe it, as being a minor injury. The table lists the loss of a little finger at 3 per cent. The figure for the loss of a ring finger is 6 per cent. It may be that in certain instances such injuries would represent a very significant disability. The Special Minister of State said: ‘Well, we are going to cure this allegation of arbitrariness of assessment’. So the Minister at lunch time yesterday- I will say at lunch time to err as I always do on the side of generosity- gave the Opposition 46 amendments. For my part I tell him in simple honesty that I did not get a copy of these amendments until this afternoon. But the Minister pointed out to me that one of the principal provisions of the Bill is to be altered- that is to say clause 36- to give yet another further discretion to the Secretary so that he may in making a determination take into account the weekly income that he determines that a person is capable of earning.
– That is right.
– I am indebted to the Minister for confirming what I have just read. But the point is that it is a discretion on the part of the Secretary.
– You would favour the discretion rather than not have it, wouldn ‘t you?
-Why not use the word ‘shall’ -
– You have just complained about people not getting compensation. Now when they will get it you say it is discretionary.
– He does not get it. That is the very point.
– This is the very point. If you had taken a little longer time over afternoon tea your powers of comprehension may have improved. The fact is that this is a discretion and do not think for one moment the Secretary will deal with every case because he can delegate his powers to the thousands of people who undoubtedly will be needed to roam around the countryside from Cloncurry to Carnarvon to sort things out. To give an idea of the exquisite absurdity of this proposal it would be possible for an individual to get alcoholic poisoning on the continental shelf and find himself as a recipient of a benefit of sorts under the Bill. I thought that we had finished the continental shelf argument some months ago. To think that honourable members opposite have reviewed it; they should be ashamed of themselves.
My friend the honourable member for Wentworth has dealt, as one would expect, in a very cogent fashion with the appellate system. I think it is to flatter the system to call it the appellate system. But I pass that by. To give a final illustration of the absurdity of this Bill, take the case of a Class A widow over 55 years of age. She is to get S 1,000 in a lump sum payment and three-fifths of 85 per cent of her husband’s earnings. But take the case of a woman 53 years of age. What will she receive? She is to get $1,000 and threefifths of 85 per cent of her husband ‘s earnings for 12 months- for 12 months only. So she is put in the position where the much vaunted Woodhouse Committee says explicitly to her: ‘Ah, you are all right; you can go out and work’. I suppose she would have to be retrained under some scheme or other. When the women of this country wake up to what the Government has in mind as far as this is concerned I think that they will vent a quality of vengeance upon you, Mr Minister, that will be thoroughly warranted.
I have, I thought, in the course of the short time available to me been as dispassionate as I could in assessing this Bill. It is a bad Bill. It is based upon premises which are thoroughly rotten premises. It is based upon premises which do not seek to emancipate human spirit or indeed to deal with the problems which are problems in contemporary society. The Bill reflects the entire philosophic attitude of this Government. It is the cradle to the grave philosophy. One cannot be looked after from the cradle to the grave by any government, no matter what their declaration of benevolence, without submitting to the power of the government that seeks to control one. Once you surrender to a government the power to look after you in all facets of life, you surrender your personality and your being to that government. For my part and for those who sit on this side of the House, that is something we are not prepared to do.
-It is interesting to note the difference between the members of the Opposition on this legislation. The honourable members for Chisholm (Mr Staley) and Moreton (Mr Killen) are basically opposed to this type of legislation. They oppose the Bill. The arguments they use are only peripheral arguments. They are basically opposed to the whole concept. The honourable member for Moreton is obviously concerned about questions of injury only when somebody is at fault and can be sued. He is not the slightest bit concerned about a crippled or injured person who cannot sue somebody. Even if the injured person can sue somebody the honourable member is probably concerned about him only if the person he wishes to sue is covered by insurance. He has the typical attitude of a lawyer- and a small time lawyer at that.
The honourable member for Chisholm made one of his usual sanctimonious speeches. It is a great pity that he was not in the chamber when the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) spoke. I am quite sure I could not persuade him about the significance of the Bill, but the honourable member for Wentworth made an excellent speech on the Bill. I would like to repeat some of the points he made. He said that much of the time of the courts is spent on the question of fault. He felt that this was completely wrong. He quoted Mr Justice Windeyer’s comment that the whole system of negligence is outdated. This is in complete opposition to the argument that the Neanderthal member for Chisholm put up in his sanctimonious proposition that somebody always has to be at fault.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member for Prospect might withdraw his description of the honourable member for Chisholm.
-What is that?
– You used the word ‘Neanderthal’. That is offensive.
– In his ideas he may be a few thousand years ahead of the time of the Neanderthal man but not much closer to this century.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Prospect might withdraw the remark.
– I withdraw the word ‘Neanderthal ‘ but I do not really accept the proposition that a reference in those terms to an honourable member’s extremely old-fashioned views is contrary to the parliamentary spirit. However I bow to your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Chisholm, as I said a minute ago, has the view that somebody always has to be at fault. In his view, if there is to be a divorce or if there is a case for compensation somebody has to be at fault. It is a basic philosophy that there can be cases -
– It is a good view though.
– It is a great pity that the honourable members of the rural rump did not listen to the honourable member for Wentworth and the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde), who, thank God, replaced one of their fellow members in this Parliament. These honourable gentlemen believe that there does not necessarily have to be somebody at fault.
They believe that a person is entitled to an income if he has been injured, even through his own negligence. He may have dived into water which he did not realise was shallow because he did not test the depth of it before he dived. As a result he may have finished up a paraplegic as many people do. I think it is a great pity that they do and that they do not look out for themselves. But the point is that at the present time they are not covered by any legislation. There is nobody at fault. There is nobody who can be sued, unless, as the honourable member for Moreton suggests, you can find the proprietor of some swimming pool or a local government council which did not put up an appropriate notice.
Again I agree with the honourable member for Wentworth that the present system is expensive, inefficient and outmoded. I go further than that. So far I have agreed with him only on the sorts of things I would be expected to agree with him on in a party political discussion. But I go further. I agree that there ought to be mature consideration of this sort of legislation on a non Party basis. I think it is unfortunate that this sort of consideration will in fact take place before a Senate Committee. I think the matter will be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. It is a great pity that the matter will not be discussed by a standing committee of this House. One of the difficulties about having reports prepared by judges, prominent lawyers and others, is that their approach is not necessarily the same as that of parliamentarians. I think that committees of this Parliament consisting of reasonable people who wish to reach an agreement on a basic proposition, for example, that there ought to be some system of compensation as is introduced in this scheme, can reach a reasonable conclusion that can be supported by everybody.
I also agree with the honourable member for Wentworth on the proposition that if the elimination of common law rights is not upheld constitutionally as being one of the powers of this Parliament, then the whole Bill has little point to it. It would be extremely difficult to have 2 systemsthe present common law system and the system that is proposed under this piece of legislation- -running parallel to one another. I assume that the honourable member for Wentworth, who was at one time Solicitor-General, is correct in his assumption that the constitutional problem can be referred to the High Court of Australia before the provisions of the Bill are implemented and somebody is forced to take action. Apparently this was done with the Marriage Act about 15 years ago. If this is .so then I strongly support the proposition that that ought to be done. I even agree with the honourable member for Moreton when I say that it would be ridiculous if we dismantled the present system and then finished up without an alternative. I am sure that the sorts of views that have been voiced by the honourable member for Wentworth will be taken into consideration by the Senate Committee to which this Bill will probably be referred, and I hope we will have another chance of discussing this Bill when it comes back to this House after the Senate Committee has made the appropriate amendments or suggestions. I agree with the honourable member for Wentworth that it is a great pity that we do not set up this sort of committee consisting of members of this House, because there is no terribly good reason why the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs should be the only one that gets involved with the actual details of this legislation.
The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), who led for the Opposition in this debate, agreed with us that there was virtue in eliminating fault from this legislation. His opinions were half way between those of the honourable member for Moreton and the honourable member for Wentworth. There is only one point on which I basically disagree with him, or in relation to which I take him up on a question of fact. He argued fairly strongly and possibly persuasively that for those who have not read the report there has not been adequate time for submissions. As I said earlier, the fact that those submissions were heard by Mr Justice Woodhouse and Mr Justice Meares does not mean that some submissions should not still be made to parliamentarians because I would hope that our attitude is different from, or at least is not necessarily the same, as that of lawyers or judges. I asked the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), who was at that stage sitting at the table for the Opposition, for permission to incorporate in Hansard pages 329-344 of Volume I of the Woodhouse report. That is Appendices 1, 2 and 3 which give the names of organisations and persons who made submissions at the public hearings of the committee. There were 92 of them; these were oral submissions and there were another approximately 150 written submissions. There were 163 overseas experts who were examined by Mr Justice Meares and members of the research staff in a large number of countries- 4 in Austria, 23 in Canada, 6 in the Federal Republic of Germany, one each in Finland, Norway and the Netherlands, 39 in New Zealand, 40 in the
United Kingdom, 1 1 in Sweden and 35 in the United States of America. I ask for leave to incorporate those pages in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-
Organisations and persons who made submissions during the public hearings of the Committee.
Australian Insurance Staffs’ Federation-K. H. McLeod
Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists- Dr J.Ellard, DrN. E. Parker, Dr T. Barnes
Dr A. F. McS weeny, Dr R. N. Tinning
Australian Physiotherapy Association, Tasmanian Branch- J. MacLachlan, R. Costello, Mrs L. Foster, Miss P. Cresswell
Batt, The Hon. N. L. C, M.HA. (Tasmania)
Christian Science Committee on Publication for the Australian Capital Territory-K. N. J. Bernie
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters of AustraliaD. P. Whelan, Q.C., W. R. Ormiston
Law Council of Australia- D. C. McGregor, Q.C., B. J. Herron
Law Society of New South Wales- J. R. Broad bent, W. McNally
Lloyds Insurance Brokers Representatives Association, Insurance Brokers Association of Australia, Corporation of Insurance Brokers of Australia- R. S. Greene, E. A. McKeown, J. G. Green
McCarthy, K. R.
NRMA Insurance Ltd- R. J. Lamble
Queensland Training and Placement Centre for the Blind-S. J. Cliffe, Mrs K. M. Dickinson
RACV Insurance Pry. Ltd-K. J. Jenkinson, Q.C., D. Graham
Shugg, DrC. M.
State Government Insurance Office of Western AustraliaS. G. Chester, G. Darge
Organisations and persons who made written submissions to the Committee.
Australian Association for the Mentally Retarded Incorporated, The
Braille Society for the Blind of Western Australia (Incorporated)
Christian Science Committee on Publication for Australian Capital Territory
Crompton, DrD. O.
Federal Council of the Australian Physiotherapy Association, The
Ford, DrR. M.
Johnson, DrF. L.
Jones, DrR. F.
McCarthy, K. R.
McConaghy, Professor N.
McEvoy, Miss R.
McMaugh, W. E.
National Association for Training the Disabled in Office Work
NRMA Insurance Limited
Parents without Partners Australia, Queensland Division
Queensland Training and Placement Centre for the Blind
Royal Guide Dogs for the Blind Associations of Australia
Star Victoria Association for the Retarded
Technical Aid to the Disabled, Queensland
Womens Electoral Lobby (Women in Home Group) Victoria
Dr P. Fleissner, Commission for Socio Economic Advance of the Austrian Academy of Science, Vienna.
Dr C. McLaurin, Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre, Toronto.
Hon. J . C. McRurer, Ontatio Law Reform Commission, Toronto.
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Hon. A. M. Finlay, QC, AttorneyGeneral, Wellington.
Dr H. J. Hiddlestone, DirectorGeneral of Health, Wellington.
Rt Hon. J. R. Marshall, Leader of the Opposition, Wellington.
Miss Van de Zander, Maternal Health Division,Department of Health, Wellington.
Rt Hon. Sir Richard Wild, KCMG, Chief Justice of New Zealand, Wellington.
Dr AnneMarie Bolander, Bureau of Statistics, Stockholm.
Dr L. Normell, Neurological Clinic of Rehabilitation Section of the Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm.
Mr Nyman, Principal Psychologist, National Clinic for the Assessment of Work Capacity, Stockholm.
Miss E. Evans, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, London.
Commander I. R. Henderson, Secretary General, British Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, London.
Miss B. Naish, M.B.E., Director of Home Safety, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, London.
Miss D. M. Pammanter, Deputy Secretary General, British Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, London.
Rt Hon. Lord Pearson, C.B.E., Chairman, Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury, London.
Mr van der Vord, Deputy Director General, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, London.
Group Captain K. Wynn-Parry, Consultant Adviser in Rehabilitation, Joint Services Medical Rehabilitation Unit, RAF Chessington
Dr E. M. Bruestone, Rehabilitation Department of the General Montefiore Hospital, New York.
Dr S. G. DiMichael, Director, ICD Rehabilitation and Research Centre, New York.
Dr M. E. McCavitt, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, D.C.
His Excellency Sir James Plimsoll, Australian Ambassador to the U.S.A., Washington, D.C.
– I thank the House. Those people made submissions and there was obviously opportunity for everybody to make submissions. If one looks at the names of the organisations and people who did make submissions, they cover a very wide spectrum.
– They are not submissions on the recommendations.
– I agree with you. On the final report we ought to be able to hear further submissions. I take it that people will have another opportunity to appear before the Senate committee, and preferably if there had been a committee here -
– Why should we not have a committee to look at it?
– I agree; I have expressed my views on that. I should like to give some factual information which may be disjointed but is nonetheless important. Again, I have asked for permission from the honourable member for Moreton to incorporate in Hansard Table 6 and Table 7 appearing at pages 1 1 1 and 1 12 of volume 3 of the report on Compensation and Rehabilitation in Australia. Table 6 shows in part that the percentage of total payments for third party claims in the State of New South Wales, for example, which had not been paid within one year was 88.5 per cent, within two years 57.4 per cent, and even within five years 28.7 per cent. The percentage of the total number of claims as distinct from the amount of money involved is still very depressing. In Victoria 3 years after the accidents 22.2 per cent of third party claims had not been settled, after two years 40 per cent and after one year 66.3 per cent. I think they are important points and are among the reasons why this sort of legislation will be of benefit. I ask for leave to incorporate those two tables in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-
-Some other figures which I have obtained, which are the latest figures available, deal with medical and hospital costs, legal costs and payments to claimants for workers compensation in Victoria in 1971-72. As a proportion of premiums collected in that year medical costs were 6 per cent, hospital costs 5 per cent, payments to claimants 33 per cent and legal costs 7 per cent. I do realise that because of the point I made earlier, even though it specifically refers to third party, there is a delay in payments. In other words, a proportion of the premiums collected in 1 972 were not paid out until 1 973-74 because the claims had not been settled. But it is impressive that legal costs amount to as much as medical and hospital costs- in fact they are greater than either of them- and constitute a high proportion of total premium payments.
A further fact that I was able to obtain was the total amount paid in premiums by employers under the Workers Compensation Acts during the 1972-73 financial year. Over $291m was paid in premiums by employers. For third party insurance, premiums of $183m were paid by owners of motor vehicles during 1972-73. One other series of figures which I will assume are correct were published in today’s ‘Australian Financial Review’ in an article headed ‘Money and morality as lawyers turn lobbyists’ on pages 2 and 3. There is a reference there to the fact that in 197 1-72 in New South Wales and Victoria the
estimated legal costs and disbursements for common law actions resulting from work injury totalled nearly $2.3m and nearly $lm respectively, out of settlements and awards of $1 1.4m and $4.8m respectively. I think it is important to know that there are people in whose interests it is, not to go ahead with this sort of legislation. By itself, that does not mean that this particular kind of legislation is the correct kind, but let us not kid ourselves that there are not pressure groups, strong pressure groups, in the community which will oppose this legislation and will think of all kinds of reasons why it should be opposed.
Finally, on the question of workers compensation, we have heard many points in the discussion this afternoon as to how badly off some people will be under this piece of legislation. I agree with the honourable member for Wentworth, I think it was, who made a point about a child who is injured as a baby and will get relatively little. But let us not forget that under the Government’s proposition people will receive 85 per cent of their current income and this will be updated by the cost of living index. For example, at the present time the minimum flat rate for workers compensation in New South Wales and Victoria- and at present even in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory regrettably, although there is legislation before this House to increase it- is $43 a week. That is $43 a week for the single person receiving
workers compensation at the present time. Many unions have been able to exert pressure, industrial and otherwise, to get 100 per cent payments, but other people in those States and Territories are not covered by 100 per cent payments.
I think it is important that people realise that under the Government’s proposed scheme a person who is injured- and it does not matter where he is injured nor how the injury occurs, with very minor exceptions- will be entitled to 85 per cent of his normal income up to $500 a week. This is a very great improvement on the present position where a person, even if he is quite sure that he has not been at fault and that somebody else is at fault, does not know until the case is finally decided some years later whether he has been able to persuade a jury or a judge, whichever is appropriate, that he has a case and that his lawyer has presented the case adequately enough for him to receive his compensation.
I think it was the honourable member for Hotham who made the point that if somebody comes into your house and attacks and injures you- I think it was a carpenter or a farmer he was referring to- and puts you out for some time, perhaps 3 or 4 weeks, you will not get any compensation. There are two points here. Such a person would get compensation if he is unable to work. He would get 85 per cent of his normal income. The second point is that the honourable member complained that such a person would not be able to take any common law action against the person who came in and attacked him. Very few people are lucky enough at the present time to be assaulted by people whom it is worth while suing. I think even the honourable member for Moreton will agree with me that the sort of person who comes into your home and attacks you is not likely to be the sort of person who would be able to pay for even your legal expenses, let alone pay compensation. We have some system of criminal compensation in a couple of States at the present time, or possibly in all the States, but it amounts to $ 1,000 or $2,000. It is completely inadequate. For the first time, if a person is injured even in a drunken brawl in a hotel he will be able to get compensation for the time that he loses from work or he will be able to get permanent compensation if appropriate. I commend the legislation, but I have reservations that there are areas that will have to be dealt with further. There are complications or potential complications which will or may have to be dealt with. I hope that the Senate Committee will deal with them if necessary.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I think that the central issue to which this House should address itself during this debate is not so much the deficiencies of the existing compensation and accident cover for persons in the community but rather the devising of a scheme which will effectively compensate and cover people who, by common consent, are unlucky enough not to be covered at present. That is the simple issue. On that principle I think there ought to be some measure of common agreement in this Parliament. I, for my part, certainly believe that the time has long since passed in this country when what all of us would in everyday experience regard as mere chance and nothing else should determine whether, as between 2 people who suffer an equal physical devastation, one of them is to have impacted on that physical devastation financial devastation, and the other is to have some kind of security for the rest of his or her life which makes the physical devastation a little easier to bear.
That, in common language, is my going in position in relation to this legislation. I think it is also the going in position of a great number of people in this Parliament. If I have any criticisms they are criticisms of approach, criticisms of timing, criticisms of technique and criticisms of inflexibility. I support the basic concept-I take it no further than that- which is inherent in this legislation. I believe that the concepts on which my Party is founded compel a concern for those in the community who are less fortunate than the great majority of the community and compel its supporters to look at the devising of a scheme which will compensate and care for those people, not in any paternal sense but in a sense that there are many in our community who, through pure misadventure, are left physically and, unfortunately in relation to a great number of them at the present time, financially devastated.
Having laid that ground and having stated my basic approach to this legislation, I turn to the mechanics of it. I turn firstly to the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). In that speech he frequently referred to the social significance of this legislation. He was very correct and very accurate in saying that this legislation is socially significant. Indeed it is. I submit that it is at least as socially significant as the restrictive trade practices legislation which was introduced by the Menzies Government in the 1960s; that it is at least as socially significant as the uniform divorce law or the matrimonial causes law which was introduced in 1959; that it is at least as socially significant as the provisions of the Family Law Bill, which is now laying on the table of another place, and that it is at least as socially significant as the massive amendments to the conciliation and arbitration procedures of this country in the 1950s and the early 1970s.
Yet, notwithstanding the social significance of this legislation and notwithstanding that it represents a massive breaking of new ground, we find an indecent haste to have it passed. I remind the House that when the restrictive trade practices legislation of the 1960s was introduced there was continuous public debate for a period of almost 2 years. I can well remember the now Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia going around Australia getting opinions, attending public meetings, receiving submissions and sifting through all of the evidence and material on that subject. It was not until he had been satisfied, and the Government had been satisfied, that the legislation was proposed. It did break new ground in that area, in the same way as this legislation breaks new ground in this area. This legislation does not seek to amend an existing Act. It seeks to write into the statute book an entirely new concept. I plead with the Government, in the interests of having some kind of consensual approach to this legislation, if it is interested in a bipartisan approach to allow more time to be given for public consideration of this legislation.
It is of no use the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) saying that people had an opportunity of putting their views before the Woodhouse Committee. Of course that is important, but what is even more important is the warrant of this Parliament. We want as a Parliament the opportunity of looking at this legislation more carefully. The Government has already indicated that it is prepared to sponsor 46 amendments to this Bill. I commend it for doing that because a great number of those amendments picked up detailed deficiencies in the legislation. Be that as it may, it is just not realistic- in common language it is not on- to expect this House to give proper consideration to such a mammoth piece of social legislation as this Bill in the time which has been allowed. I very strongly commend to the Minister the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) that we ought to have the legislation examined by a committee comprised of members of both sides of the House who are concerned with the issues involved in this legislation so that ultimately we can come up with a piece of legislation which will be a credit to this Parliament, which will be the result of a bipartisan distillation of all the issues and which will be a piece of legislation which will achieve the stated social objectives.
A great number of individual deficiencies in the legislation have been canvassed. It is inevitable in a debate such as this that one is driven to refer to individual case histories. One cannot help but do that because it is precisely the unfortunate experiences of individual people which prompts legislation such as this. One area I ask the Government to consider, even at this late stage, is the apparently inflexible attitude of the legislation towards lump sum payments. I know that a very strong case can be made out for periodic payments. I accept the arguments in support of that. I know that provision is made in the legislation for the payment of $10,000 for significant cosmetic disfigurements and that there are other minor provisions for lump sum payments, but basically lump sum payments go by the board. In a great number of cases that may well be the right approach but there are cases where lump sum payments are far more preferable than periodic payments.
I pose the case of the school child under 18 years of age who suffers a devastating accident and is a quadraplegic. Under this legislation, as I understand it, on attaining the age of 18 years that person would be entitled to a certain periodic payment. I accept that. But I do ask the Government to consider whether there ought not to be some type of option of capitalisation available to the victim of such an accident because one of the additional tragedies of a person who suffers such a permanent accident as that is that he is so often forced out of his own family environment. Notwithstanding the desire of parents and relatives to care for them in a home environment and to give them some kind of emotional and personal support to alleviate much of the suffering they have, they are forced out of that family environment. The value in those cases of lump sum awards is that it is possible for a family to alter a house to make provision for the needs of the quadruplegic. Only through the expenditure of a large sum of money can effective care be provided for the victim of the accident by the members of the family.
I see in this bypassing, as I see in other legislation, evidence of another example of what I think is a disturbing trend in social welfare legislation and something about which I intend to speak in this House on the estimates for the Department of Social Security, that is, the tendency to institutionalise our social welfare services. I think that far more emphasis should be placed on making provision to assist people to care for relatives who are victims of accidents in their family environment. I ask, in the context of this legislation, whether the Government ought not to give some consideration to the introduction of an amendment along these lines.
The honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) spoke of the constitutional difficulties of this legislation. I lend my very strong support to what he said. I am worried that this piece of legislation will become the subject of a constitutional confrontation with the States. I again plead with the Government to give consideration to this aspect in the interests of achieving the stated social objective of the Bill. Once again, it is a question of time. Time is needed to talk to the States. Time is needed to talk to the insurance industry. Time is needed for further response from the trade union movement. Time is needed to get an even wider community response.
If one is to take the Government at its word, and I do, it regards this legislation as socially important. That being so, I cannot understand why it is so obsessively necessary to rush it through in such a short period. I think that it would be a terrible tragedy if legislation which is as socially important as this legislation is, which is designed to cure anomalies in the existing legislation and to assist people less fortunate than us, is rushed through in such a short period.
I must confess quite honestly that I have not made up my mind on the subject of the abolition of the common law right to sue. I make no apology for saying that. I have made up my mind on one thing, that is, that there are groups of people in this community who are not covered adequately and who ought to be covered. That is as far as I can go at this stage. If that is a confession of weakness, well, I am prepared to make that confession of weakness. But I am disturbed that this legislation, though in some areas introducing improvements, obviously in other areas will introduce massive inequities and will result in deprivation to people who, under the existing law, would be able to recover substantial sums.
One of the reasons why this legislation is proposed is that there is an obsession by the Government with many of the faults of the existing system. I know that there are many faults. Having practised the law myself before entering this place, I know of a great number of them. I also know that there is a lot of selective quotation as far as the faults of the existing system are concerned. I know for example that in New South Wales approximately 90 per cent of all third party claims involving the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales are settled out of court. In most of those cases, process is never issued. In the strict legal sense, nobody ever goes to court. To suggest that in all these cases there is litigation neurosis and there are incessant delays and fat legal fees is just to be totally selective and to be totally unrealistic.
I support the stated objective of this legislation. I am deeply disturbed that the Government has decided to rush it through. I appeal to the Government at this time, in the interests of the stated objective of the legislation, to withdraw it and, in the terms of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Hotham, which I support, to establish the machinery whereby the provisions of this Bill can be comprehensively studied and a far more worthwhile piece of legislation produced to this House.
-Opposition members would get full marks for their oratory today. But a number of Opposition speakers would get few marks for accuracy. The Woodward Committee, as it is commonly known, travelled throughout the whole of Australia, considered 222 written submissions from various groups and made itself available to anybody who wanted to give evidence before it. That Committee produced a most comprehensive report. It has been before this Parliament since July, and every member has had the opportunity to peruse it. This Bill has been before the House for 3 weeks so that honourable members might have the opportunity to review the Bill and to consider their position.
Let me say right at the outset that the Government considers that this Bill should be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I consider that it is right and proper that this Bill should go before that Committee. The Minister for Compensation and Repatriation who has initiated this Bill is a senator, Senator Wheeldon. Surely he is entitled, if anybody is, to debate and discuss the findings of a Committee. We know that the Senate Committee will deal with the matter expeditiously and that its members are competent to consider the legislation that will be before them. We can have confidence in the report that they will bring down. I am quite happy that this Bill should be dealt with here and pass through this House to the Senate so that that Standing Committee may deal with it. In this way we might get some response to the legislation from those who claim so much pecuniary interest in the matter.
Members of the insurance companies group had in attendance at all hearings of the Woodward Committee, which were held in various parts of Australia, no less than a Queen’s Counsel. Yet, when that body was asked by the Committee to provide some facts and figures to assist it in its determinations, it refused to do so. The insurance companies remained aloof from the inquiry and its report. I am quite sure that, if this piece of legislation is passed through both Houses of this Parliament and becomes law, we will get the co-operation of the insurance companies and other interested parties to determine what ought to happen in the phasing out period, which will be a lengthy one, that the Government will allow insurance companies.
I do not give very much credence to the cries of the legal profession because its members are going to lose some of their income. What is more important to me is that a large percentage of the Australian people are not now entitled to any compensation in relation to accidents. I point out that 40 per cent of those who are afflicted as a result of motor vehicle accidents- which are the cause of a great deal of the unfortunate mishaps suffered by Australians- are not able to make any claim before our courts. I invite the House to consider the ludicrous situation of a young mother who is run down on a pedestrian crossing in one of our suburban streets. She may be able to proceed against the driver and obtain compensation for what possibly could be the considerable injuries she sustained. But if the driver happened to have sneezed at the time of the accident, the likelihood is that that woman would receive absolutely nothing at all from our courts. What a ludicrous situation that is.
What happens at present with respect to women, who make up 51 per cent of our population? Most of them are non-income earners. They do not receive any compensation payments at all if anything happens to them in the home. There is no return- no compensation- for what might happen to them. A great deal has been said about what happens to a child who has been injured. Let me give an example of what might happen. I refer honourable members to page 149 of the third volume of the report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation in Australia. This relates to the case of a 9 year old boy who was injured and suffered permanent organic brain damage to the front temporal lobe resulting in psychomotor epilepsy. I seek leave to have details of this matter incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Case: 8559/68 S. v. C.
Age and Occupation at Date of Accident: 9 year old schoolboy.
Particulars of Permanent Effects of Injury: Permanent organic brain damage to the front temporal lobe resulting in psychomotor epilepsy. Personality change and impaired intellect; lack of emotional control with susceptibility to erratic, violent and explosive attacks without any, or with minimal, provocation. Difficult to manage. Lack of concentration with a correspondingly poor educational standard and limited employment opportunities. Severe headaches.
Percent Incapacity According to AMA Guides: 70 per cent.
Assessment on Basis of New Scheme: Permanent Total capacity1: 85 per cent of Notional Earnings for 47 years: $114,300.
Notional payment allowing for taxation: S 1 1 4,300. 1 The claimant in this case would be treated as totally incapacitated as the benefit for permanent partial incapacity would exceed the benefit for total incapacity. See paragraph 397 (c) of Volume 1 and Clause 32 (3) of the National Compensation Bill 1974.
– I thank the House. This boy received an amount of $45,000 for his injury because he was able to make a claim. In other circumstances he may have got absolutely nothing. Under the scheme the Government is introducing he would be entitled, over the period that he may live and up to 65 years of age when social security payments take over, to receive $1 14,300, so he would be far better off with his 85 per cent disability under the Government’s scheme. I should like to see the amount greater but that would represent in the vicinity of $43 a week which is close to the amount that most people who claim compensation are able to get. The amount he was able to get through the court- this was a determination based on the Australian Medical Association scale- with interest and other gratuities taken into account, was only $45,000.
Some mention has been made of the constitutional position of the Government on this matter. Under the Chifley amendment to the Constitutionsection 51 placitum(xxiii) and placitum (xxiiiA)- there is no doubt that responsibility lies with this Government to initiate this type of legislation which is one of the greatest welfare proposals that has ever been introduced by this or any government for the people for which it is responsible. I should think that the Opposition would be prepared readily to concede that there is great need for this legislation. I should think it would be proper to accept the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs as an appropriate committee to look at this matter. I should think that Opposition members would be prepared to concede that this matter should be dealt with expeditiously so that insurance companies and other people who are involved will know the situation and be able to make proper plans for the de-escalation or rearrangement of their business.
It is hogwash for members opposite to say that they have not had sufficient time to examine this legislation. It has been before them for a long time and they have had every possible opportunity to examine it. Most of the objections by Opposition speakers have been in error. If they look properly at the Bill, examine it thoroughly and study the report they will discover that they have made an error of judgment and are not right. The Government is not responsible for this situation. It is the Government’s responsibility to present the legislation, to give adequate time to the Opposition to peruse it and to deal with it so that it can be included in the statute books. Then we will be able to proceed with other business. I have been asked to limit my speaking time so that Opposition speakers who want to do so will have an opportunity to speak. There is much business still to transact so I will abbreviate my remarks and say simply that as it stands at present the law is an ass as it affects those people who are afflicted by disability.
The Bill seeks to give, and undoubtedly will give, to the Australian people peace of mind and that basic and fundamental right to which they are entitled, namely, freedom from want that afflicts so many people. In closing I give an example of what can happen. This matter was referred to my office a few weeks ago. A carpenter engaged on a building job as a subcontractor to the builder erected a beam. A bricklayer who was working for a sub-contracting bricklayer on the job had grave damage done to his eye after the scaffolding had been erected and he was working on the job. He hit his eye on the beam. The solicitors acting for the bricklayer proceeded against the bricklayer who employed him, against the carpenter who erected the beam and against the builder who was constructing the job. Undoubtedly anybody would say that this was quite an ordinary case and the carpenter would not be in any way responsible for the fact that the man was injured, but, unfortunately, through some error that was made by his legal advisers, the first court case had to be abandoned and the carpenter now finds himself liable for court costs of $5,300 which he does not have. As a result he must proceed to further litigation and take action against his legal advisers. If he is fortunate he may win the case, but as a result of his concern and worry over this whole traumatic experience he has had a heart attack and is now incapacitated. These problems all arose because of the stupidity of the law that presently exists in Australia. Surely it is our responsibility to do something about it. I think members of the Opposition speak with tongue in cheek when they oppose this progressive legislation. I remind the House that similar legislation was introduced in New Zealand by a conservative government, probably not as conservative as our Opposition, because it recognised the need and was prepared to do something about it.
-It appears from what the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) has said that we may have been proceeding under some misapprehension. He said that it is contemplated that a committee of the Senate will consider this matter. I have the authority of the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) to say that if the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), who is sitting at the table, is prepared to give an assurance to the Opposition that what the honourable member for Cook said is correct, namely, that this Bill will be referred to a committee either of the Senate or of the joint Houses- we would prefer of the joint Houses- in those circumstances the Opposition will be prepared to withdraw its amendment. The misapprehension appears to be in two forms. First, the honourable member for Cook and other honourable members seem to ssume that the Opposition is deliberately adopting delaying tactics in order to defeat an important social reform and, secondly, because we were under the distinct impression that the Government was hastening this legislation, although we could not see why, perhaps the Special Minister of State may consider the situation and inform the Opposition after the suspension of the sitting.
Proceeding on the basis that the amendment is, in fact, before the Chair and that the assurance is not yet forthcoming, I should like to mention that in his second reading speech the Special Minister of State expressed the hope that there would be a bi-partisan approach to the debate on this Bill. I am sure that there would have been a more bi-partisan approach than the Government seems to believe has occurred had it not been for the fact that there appeared to be great haste in rushing through the many complex matters which this Bill contains. The honourable member for Hotham made this clear in his remarks which I certainly support, as I do his amendment at this juncture. This actually is a matter which the Opposition wishes to approach most constructively and not in a spirit of obstructionism.
In the Committee stage of the debate I will endeavour to make some comments of a constructive nature on particular clauses of the Bill, but meanwhile I want to raise some general matters of a kind not really referred to in the Minister’s second reading speech. One would not want to be critical of the Minister’s second reading speech. There was a limit to what he could say but there is a great deal on this matter not said in his speech. From what has been said by the honourable member for Cook it appears that some supporters of the Government at least believe that the Opposition is proceeding in a fashion that is determined to delay the Bill in order to frustrate the Government’s intentions. This certainly is not the case in terms of the general objectives of social reform but it is the case in terms of the way in which the matter has been approached and the manner in which the scheme may be implemented.
We believe that the Bill should be considered thoroughly as a Bill and not merely as an inquiry and should be examined by the persons who are most knowledgeable of the industry, that is, the insurance industry and the legal profession, which the Government seems to think have such a vested interest and such an interest in the status quo that they are totally against the Bill. This is not so. Both those areas have made it quite clear that they are not so diametrically opposed but they do have, nevertheless, strong views from their own experience about the way in which this matter should be handled. The Government would be wise, we believe, and the joint committee, if set up, would be wise to examine carefully the views of both the legal profession and the insurance industry.
It seems strange, on the face of it, to pass a Bill and then seek amendments to the Act which has been made rather than to have the Bill tabled and amended in draft form. This, of course, was done with the trade practices legislation introduced by the Menzies Government, and we would recommend that it be done now. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, this Bill is of great social significance. It is a social measure of great significance. For many years people have recognised the points made by the honourable member for Cook. It is wrong for him to think that the Opposition has not understood the essence of what he was saying. For many years people have been aware of the shortcomings of the law of negligence. As with the notion of fault in divorce matters, the notion of fault in civil proceedings is utterly unreal in a modern, complex, industrial society. Both the common law right and workers compensation actions have been the subject of legal fictions because the courts have striven to give compensation beyond the original boundaries of the rights of action. Even judicial interpretation of the most liberal kind could not extend compensation to victims of home accidents and criminal assaults. Nor could it cover congenital or other disabilities at least not without trauma, uncertainty, expense and more fiction. The object of this Bill therefore is most commendable and it is foolish indeed for the Government to force the Bill through the House when there are still so many glaring anomalies in its proposals.
I will endeavour to list some of these anomalies rather briefly at this point and in more detail later. I trust that the Minister will accept the comments in the spirit in which they are intended. If we raise matters which the Government has overlooked, the Government should be indebted to the Opposition. Equally if the Government can allay our fears or rebut some of our allegations, we are all somewhat the wiser. It is important that we look at the following questions and the Minister may well care to advise us, when he replies in this debate, bis attitude on these points. Firstly, I should like to know the reason for hurrying the Bill and whether he will give the assurance to which I have referred especially when Senator Wheeldon has stressed so often that the main thrust of his reforms in the area of safety and rehabilitation, and compensation, which is the content of this Bill, is seen to be the last resort when preventive and rehabilitative measures have failed. It is important that we understand why the last resort is being pressed through the House before the first 2 priorities.
Secondly, what are we to make of Senator Wheeldon ‘s assurances to the Executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions? This is very important for all employers around the country. A news release from the Department of Repatriation and Compensation states:
Senator Wheeldon assured the Executive that there would be no provision in the Bill which would preclude the possibility of employees entering into arrangements with employers to provide payments in excess of the statutory 83 per cent.
What are we to make of that? First of all, we can envisage more industrial relations pressures and trauma when some persons now on 100 per cent of average weekly earnings get 85 per cent under the proposed scheme and press their employers for the remaining 15 per cent. Then we will get great inequities for those on 85 per cent and who are unable to get 100 per cent by pressuring their employers. That surely defeats one of the most important aspects of the Bill. Thirdly, why is the Government determined to administer the scheme by public servants? Does the Government not recognise that, firstly, the community does not want any more huge inefficient Government departments, and secondly, that there will be widespread retrenchments in the insurance industry if the workers compensation and common law rights of action disappear from the field of the insurance industry? More people will be unemployed in the insurance industry, more Australian insurance companies will be in financial difficulties, more expertise will be wasted and there will not necessarily be, as far as one can see at the moment, any cost saving as a result of this scheme being administered by a Government department which would now have to be formed.
When one is talking of costs, will the Minister undertake to give the Parliament a costing of the 4 major national schemes which are now proposed, these four being the Bill which is now before the House, and those which will follow concerning safety and rehabilitation, and health, training and superannuation? Will the Minister inform the House later in this debate the attitude of the Government to many matters raised by the Law Council of Australia? Some of the Council’s specific criticisms will be raised in the Committee stage but it would be helpful to know before we enter into Committee whether the Government has considered the forceful points made by the Law Council in respect of a citizen’s right to compensation being decided by public servants, bearing in mind that these are public servants of the Department funding the scheme. Furthermore they are public servants exercising wide delegated discretion in private, not in open, session as courts are always held. Many of the matters upon which the departmental officers are expected to rule have caused our courts great difficulty over the years.
It is very easy for members of the Government such as the honourable member for Cook to criticise the courts, but the courts and their rights to public hearings with representation of witnesses is surely one of the most cherished parts of our entire social and judicial structure. One hates to say it but one would be most naive not to warn the Government that if it allows wide discretion to be exercised and the reasons for the decisions to remain secret, it will have created a serious possibility of graft in the Public Service. Our Public Service has an excellent reputation for integrity but it would be foolish to ignore the lessons of other countries and to depart too readily from all of the traditions associated with the assessment of damages. The courts often are criticised for their formality but statutes and other traditions have sometimes obliged the courts to follow procedures which are degrading to witnesses and to parties. Acts of Parliament can remove the necessity for these degrading aspects. Indeed in this legislation we are going part of the way towards that, but to abandon them altogether in favour of a bureaucracy empowered to cross- examine an unrepresented person flies in the face of all that we cherish in our judicial system. The fact of there being an appeal to a quasi-judicial tribunal is of little comfort when such a major right is taken away in a Bill which would otherwise be introducing some commendable new rights.
In the Committee stage I will comment on some of the more commendable features. I do not have at the moment a well-considered alternative to the administrative matters which are proposed by the report and the Bill, but given more time I believe that many contributions from this side of the House could be made to make the scheme operate more equitably and more practicably. Furthermore, I believe the Minister ought to inform the Parliament whether the Law Council’s other comments have been taken into account by the Government. I repeat that the Law Council has firmly supported the introduction of a national compensation scheme to provide compensation regardless of fault, but it has added 2 very important reservations about the manner of introducing such a scheme. I quote from a letter sent to all members of Parliament by the Law Council of Australia. It states:
It is the view of the Law Council that in making such a basic change to the rights of the seriously injured, by the introduction of an untried scheme of uncertain operation, existing common law rights should not be extinguished at this stage. Until the new scheme is given a fair period of trial to demonstrate that it is in the public interests for it to operate alone, the injured should remain entitled to recover damages at common law (after giving credit for amounts received or receivable under the new scheme). Only in this way can the community feel confident that the scheme to give compensation to all is not being introduced at the expense of the seriously injured.
I might add that, like the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), I am personally uncertain about the validity of those observations, but I believe that the establishment of a committee of this House or the joint Houses to examine this question would be a very wise move before adopting a scheme which abolishes a right which has evolved over many years. It seems to me that the statement of the Law Council is reasonable and requires a reasonable reply.
Another matter on which I believe the Minister should inform the House relates to the insurance industry. In his second reading speech the Minister, and also the Treasurer (Mr Crean), three nights ago made it clear that Australian companies would be hurt because at the moment they have 80 per cent of the workers compensation and motor vehicle third party insurance. But this will now be taken away from them. It was made clear by the Minister and by the Treasurer that a committee has been established by the Government for liaison between the insurance industry and the Government and that one of the first matters to be dealt with is the impact of this Bill on the industry. It is important to note that the Government said that it was committed to the principle of this Bill. One would like to know whether the principle referred to merely concerned the administration of the scheme or whether it was the principle of the absence of fault in the granting of compensation to all persons irrespective of how they came by their disabilities. If, in fact, it is conceivable for the Government still to talk to the insurance industry about the administration of the scheme, all members of the House will obviously be most relieved to know that the Government is not irrevocably determined to establish a huge bureaucracy and is not determined to turn its back on the expertise available in the insurance companies, which could well act as agents for the Government in the administration of the scheme.
I should like to raise many other matters. I again repeat my belief that it is desirable to guarantee a reasonable income to all disabled people and to bring them much closer to the standard of living of the industrially injured and persons who otherwise suffer accidents and are compensated. But we have not had enough debate on the method of doing this. One has to ask about the method of assessment which is proposed. How, for example does one assess the handicap suffered by a person with a congenital disability and that of a person who was born without a disability but has subsequently suffered one? How would a former taxi driver who has since become a clerk be assessed? Also, one has to ask why we are tied to the question of economic evaluation. One feels that the Bill contemplates people being economic units rather than people. How again are we to deal with the problems of headaches and backaches which people say they have? True, the Bill provides for only long term illnesses, but if someone tells a doctor he has a recurring headache or backache, of course the doctor has no way of actually knowing whether the person is telling the truth and there will be many dilemmas if these problems arise.
– What is the position now?
-The position now is that the person has a right of recovery at common law or as workers’ compensation.
– Or they get nothing.
-They recover now if they prove fault, and I have agreed with you that fault is unnecessary. A person recovers now for pain and suffering when a doctor says: ‘Yes, he says he has a headache or a backache and I have no way of knowing whether this is so. ‘ Finally, from a philosophical point of view, we have the dilemma of how actually to compensate people without removing an incentive to overcome a handicap. Just compensation provided expeditiously without removing dignity and without being condescending is very important. We must recognise people as people and not merely as economic units, and not merely pay them when they are unable to work and say: ‘Because you are unable to work those who are able to work will provide for you’. This can add to the disgruntlement, the self-pity and the psychological problems that exist. In the Committee stage I shall make more specific comments. I support the stand taken by the honourable member for Hotham and I repeat his undertaking that the Opposition will withdraw the amendment if an assurance is forthcoming from the Minister that the matter will be dealt with either by a committee of the Senate, this House or of the joint Houses before the Bill proceeds further.
Debate (on motion by Mr Coates) adjourned.
Industries Assistance Commission Report
-I table comments by the Industries Assistance Commission on the report by Martec Pty Ltd titled ‘Evaluating the IAC’s Demand Projections’ which I tabled after question time this morning. Copies of the IAC’s comments are available in the papers.
– I shall be relatively brief in my comments. I have entered the debate because of some of the comments made by the Opposition. The Opposition must have had a rather fiery debate in its Party rooms over this legislation. This is the impression I have gained from the range of comments that have been made. Initially we had the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) who had pressed his angry button and attacked the Government without really debating the philosophy of the compensation scheme itself. But then later in the debate we had fairly reasonable speeches from the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) and others. It will be interesting to see what is the outcome of the Opposition ‘s claim that it will allow the Bill a second reading if a committee investigation is carried out. Perhaps to begin with I should refer to the paragraph in the summary of the Woodhouse report on national compensation headed ‘The Philosophy’. Mr Justice Woodhouse and Mr Justice Meares say:
If there is to be a co-ordinated response to the many levels of the problem of physical and mental incapacity, there must be a basic framework of coherent and interlocking principles. A comprehensive scheme designed to support all incapacitated persons demands the application of several essential requirements. There must be responsibility universally accepted and shared in return for rights comprehensively available and enjoyed. There must be effective rehabilitation and compensation offered to all. And the assessment and distribution of benefits must be achieved on a basis that is efficient, consistent and just.
The Opposition has accused the Government of indecent haste. Other speakers for the Government have pointed out the length of time since the tabling of the report and the wide opportunities that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation, Senator Wheeldon, has offered to everyone in the community to comment, apart from their initial freedom to make submissions to the inquiry. Yet Opposition members say there was indecent haste. What they are forgetting is that during all the time before this scheme comes into effect, bearing in mind that it will be another 18 months before it is implemented, there are people who will be disadvantaged by the existing system. We want those people who are disadvantaged to come within the umbrella of this scheme as soon as possible. It is of no use saying: ‘Let us look 6 years ahead’. That is no comfort to those who are injured within the next couple of years. It is no comfort at all because they will still have to suffer the problems in the existing system.
There are at the present time a great number of problems involving common law damages. I am glad that some members of the Opposition acknowledge this. First of all, we have a system which largely is a pretence. We have a system of insurance companies arguing between themselves without people being involved. Insurance companies argue between one another about people’s lives, incapacities and compensation. I think that sort of system is a pretence. I think it was the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) who said that the important thing that he supported was personal care- individual care. But what is the individual care that he is talking about? Some people insure themselves against personal injury, and of course we have compulsory third party motor vehicle insurance and workers compensation. But I cannot see how there is personal care, particularly when there is already compulsory insurance. The personal care on the part of the insurance company is not personal care. I think the honourable member of Chisholm tried to suggest that there was some sort of close relationship, a deep personal relationship, between a man or an employer and his insurance company. I think that is complete rubbish.
What we have to have is a universal scheme covering everyone in the community and covering them for 24 hours of the day. The 24-hour cover is an important thing. One reads so many reports of workers compensation cases that involve legal argument about such matters as whether the employee took too long to get home, or went the wrong way or went in the back door of his house instead of the front door and therefore had already arrived home and was no longer eligible for compensation. We hear of other types of injury. I remember a woman who came to see me not many weeks ago whose husband was killed by a bus. The husband was deemed to have been partly responsible- I think SO per cent responsible- and hence the damages were reduced by that percentage. The damages would have proved inadequate even if they had been given to the woman. But then it was decided that as the woman had happened at the time of the accident to have a casual or temporary job she was not dependent on her husband and therefore was not eligible for any compensation. Her children were provided with compensation but they were not to get it until they were 2 1 years of age. At the moment I think they are 8 years and 6 years old. There is just no adequacy about the existing system.
Of course it must be remembered that 40 per cent of those who are injured or killed on the roads these days get nothing because of the problem of proving fault. It is not as if the so called wrongdoer himself pays anyway. There are those who would argue that there must be some form of penalty involved. It is not as if the wrongdoer pays because it is the insurance company. So we have a partly community shared compensation scheme at the present time anyway, but it leaves out a large proportion of the population. It leaves problems about deciding on the amount of damages. It provides very often for once only lump sum payments which are not inflation proof. Let me remind the House that under our proposed compensation scheme there will be regular payments updated from year to year according to the consumer price index plus a percentage and the minimum and maximum amounts payable will be updated by changes in average weekly earnings. So the protection is there for the whole community. I think it is an overall community responsibility. I would like to quote paragraph 254 of the Woodhouse report in relation to the criteria for a new scheme. It reads:
There is the initial principle of community responsibility. For three main reasons the community must accept the obligations that are clearly owed to every person who has been struck down by sickness or by injury. First there are the civilised reasons of humanity. Next, there are the economic reasons of self-interest. If the well-being of the work force is neglected the economy soon will suffer injury and society itself thus has much to lose. Finally, there is the plain fact that rights universally enjoyed must be accompanied by obligations universally accepted. The scheme proposed is a national scheme. It involves a national responsibility. It must be organised as a responsibility of the State.
It is the only way that it can be done. It has been claimed that under workers compensation an employer would have that much less care about safety but I do not see that the argument really holds much water, that there has to be this financial inducement to an employer to be safe in his working conditions. If there is inadequacy in the law covering safety requirements, let that inadequacy be corrected. But there is not the financial inducement even now because of the fact that there is this insurance and pretence about there being a case between the employer and the employee.
The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) suggested that there would be widespread retrenchments in the insurance industry. There seems to be a wide variety of opinion in the insurance industry as to the effect that the proposed scheme would have on the industry. There are sections of the insurance industry which are all in favour of this scheme. There are some which are not. I acknowledge that. I have not heard anybody suggest the numbers that would be affected by our proposed scheme. It has been suggested to me that the result will be that sections of the industry will be able to cope quite well and will be able to branch out into other forms of insurance. The honourable member for Balaclava mentioned the usual Opposition argument about there being a bureaucracy and about the bureaucracy deciding things. But there is provision for appeals. The honourable member accused the Government of saying that reasons for decisions taken would not be divulged, but that is wrong as well. A particularly important aspect that will be covered under the new scheme is congenital injuries- injuries from birth. This is certainly a great protection that has been needed for a long time.
I would like to conclude my remarks prior to the dinner break so I will wind up by saying that I think this debate has illustrated the basic difference between the Government and the Opposition. The Government as a progressive Party believes that it should not have to wait to be pushed by the community to do something for the benefit of the community. We believe that a government has a responsibility to lead. In comparison I think the Opposition believes that a government should wait to be pushed by the community and that delay does not matter. The fact that there are people disadvantaged at the present time not properly compensated and without the community properly sharing equitably in their coverage is all right according to the Opposition, but the Government disagrees with that. The principle of community responsibility embodied in this legislation and the fact that the rights of people are universally covered and that there is 24-hour cover for everyone in the community are aspects of the scheme which must receive the support of this House, and Parliament as a whole and also the support of the community which when they see the benefits that they will receive under this scheme will welcome it with open arms.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– I want to join with my colleagues who have been fortunate to speak in this debate in expressing the concern of the Opposition at the extremely limited time that has been given to members of this House to debate a measure of such social magnitude. The second reading debate on this Bill was commenced at 2. IS p.m. today and I understand that it is the desire of the Government to complete the Committee stage of the Bill this evening. That does not allow very many hours of consideration by this House of a measure aimed at removing completely the common law system of providing damages for persons injured by industrial accident, road accidents or by accidents resulting from the negligence of others, for example medical negligence within a hospital or in a doctor’s practice or other activities whereby personal injury can be caused by the actions of other people. It is intended to remove completely the workers compensation systems that operate in all States of Australia and, as I have said, the common law system that operates in all parts of Australia. Yet we have been given a limited amount of time in which to consider a matter of this magnitude.
The legislation before us not only seeks to remove the means by which people are compensated for injury but it will inevitably lead to a major change in the social fabric of the nation. It is intended to alter the system whereby persons who are hurt in the ways that I have mentioned can take their individual cases before the law, pressing their case before the courts to the full extent of the remedy which the law presently gives to them. The Government seeks to replace the present system with a system which will be managed, administered and funded by the Commonwealth of Australia through what must and can only be described as a bureaucratic system, a system administered by public servants clothed with the widest discretionary powers, which have already been referred to by my colleagues. I emphasise again that this is not a system whereby the individual can go before the law and pursue his own case for his own individual remedy and to seek the full extent of the remedy that the law provides for him. I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that he will be at the mercy of the administrators of the proposed scheme. He will be classified and placed in his pigeon hole. He will have to front up to the counter- not to a judge- of the authority which is to administer this scheme. The great problem he will have will be to jump over the counter and obtain the true measure of compensation to which he is entitled.
We ought not delude ourselves, and in particular the Government ought not to delude itself, by believing that this scheme will really be any more efficient, cheap or just than the system that presently operates in Australia except in regard to those persons who are hurt but presently do not have a remedy at law because of the necessity to establish negligence and who under this scheme will be given a measure of compensation. The proposed scheme will not necessarily be more efficient because of the very bureaucratic machine that must operate to administer it. It will not be cheaper because the individual will still have to employ lawyers, for example, to establish his or her case where they wish to challenge the very basis upon which the administrators have given compensation.
I will mention some of the aspects where there are serious and grave legal questions which must inevitably bring their own litigation and their own cost. It is said that the proposed scheme will more justly provide compensation for the injured, sick and disabled. What is meant by ‘justice’ in this context. How is justice measured in a case like this? Do we measure it by the amount of compensation that is given? I think we must. That is a fundamental measure of justice in this scheme as compared with what people may already receive at common law or by way of workers compensation. It is again true that the Government can rightly point out that its scheme is more just because it will include people who presently are excluded. I refer again to those people who do not have recourse to compensation because they cannot prove negligence as the cause of their injury. But justice surely in large measure is what the injured or sick person will receive at the hands of the community. There is in very significant areas an absence of justice in the sense that what people will receive under this scheme will be less than they can receive at law at present.
I know that the Government- and Government supporters have used this type of argument in debate this afternoon- accuses the Opposition of pursuing only the interests of certain selfinterested groups. Examples are the legal profession, which is the profession to which I belong and the insurance industry because undoubtedly that industry will suffer greatly by the shifting of compensation from there to within this state sponsored scheme. But when the very carefully prepared document of the Law Council of Australia is looked at one can immediately see that this body is not concerned to promote the self-interest of the profession but is really concerned with the rights of an individual under this scheme. The Council makes a most pertinent observation in the summary which accompanied its review. It said:
While fault has been removed as a prerequisite to entitlements, the Bill introduces new moral and value concepts which seem to be unfair. These new concepts have these effects:
The people of Australia would do well to mark this-
People under eighteen are not entitled to compensation unless they are earning.
People over 26 get no compensation for loss of potential increased earning capacity in the future.
This provision is modified somewhat by the amendments which have been foreshadowed this afternoon on behalf of the Government but substantially that observation is correct. The common law system at the present time embodies the fundamental principle of compensation that we must compensate the individual for loss of potential earning capacity. Yet this scheme would deny it. If a man or a woman of 25 years of age is injured in a way which directly affects his or her earning capacity in the future, why should not the community compensate them for that loss? Why is it that the Government denies to all people in Australia over 26 years of age the right to be compensated for loss of future earning capacity? The Law Council goes on to state:
Self-employed people get no compensation for temporary partial incapacity.
As a self-employed person, as a barrister, I knew that whilst I was not working I was not earning. Why should I or anybody in a position similar to mine be ineligible to receive compensation simply because I am self-employed and I suffer only temporary partial incapacity? As the Law Council further points out:
Shop-keepers, farmers, plumbers, music teachers and others get no compensation when they are recovering from broken limbs or car smash injuries.
Widows under 36 lose benefits after 12 months unless they have to support children or aged relatives.
Lump sum compensation is payable (with minor exceptions) only for severe disfigurement. Lump sum payments are treated by the Report generally to be bad for accident victims.
The administrator of the scheme has a discretion as to what is or what is not to be treated as a severe disfigurement. The Law Council states:
Accident victims lose existing rights to challenge unfavourable evidence on the basis set out in the Report that any ‘ contest ‘ is bad for their rehabilitation.
Anybody who has practised in the jurisdictions of industrial accident or motor vehicle accident law knows that it works both ways. Certainly, the idea of having a contest puts back the opportunity to rehabilitate the injured person. But we also know how much those injured persons demand the right to be compensated to the full under the law. The Law Council goes on:
A person is not compensated for loss of his livelihood, but only for loss of capacity to work. A small permanent injury, such as the loss of a big toe, is not compensated, even though in the case of a footballer or a ballet dancer, it could represent a loss of thousands a year.
But let us not look exclusively at the footballer or the ballet dancer; let us take the tradesman. What concerns me as much as anything in the scheme as proposed is the notion of incapacity, because by virtue of the operation of clause 35 of the Bill, the Bill equates impairment with incapacity. Again I draw on experience. Anybody who has practised in this field of motor car injury or industrial accident will know that you cannot and you ought not to rely upon the assessment of impairment by a doctor. I say that quite deliberately because I know from experience that a doctor may say: ‘Well, because this man has hurt his elbow, he has lost 30 per cent of the efficient use of his arm’. But the actual impact of that injury and resultant incapacity upon the individual’s ability to work is such that his loss of efficient use is not 30 per cent but 75 per cent.
Let us take another case of a tradesman. My learned colleague, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), referred to the case of a rigger. I think, for example, of the plaintiff for whom I acted who was a rigger working on high towers. He had to be lowered down one of the cable which supported the tower. Unfortunately, when his fellow workers pulled him up, they pulled his back apart. The guide to the evaluation of permanent impairment issued by the American Medical Association, which is the basis upon which a doctor makes his assessment of impairment shows that either for restricted motion for injury or impairment of flexion or extension of the lumbar region, the loss of impairment may be from one per cent to 9 per cent according to the degree from which flexion moves from the neutral position. So the poor man who has had his back stretched and who might be able to get 45 degrees of flexion simply cannot go back to bis job as a high tower rigger earning big money. Under this scheme that man is limited in what he can recover. He is limited to 85 per cent of the average earnings that he received during the preceding 12 months.
One can go on and on citing examples of incapacitated tradesmen. I think of the carpenter who has injured his thumb, who cannot hold the hammer or who cannot work the plane or the fitter and turner who has injured his hands. The percentage loss under this impairment classification in no way compensates them for the actual loss of capacity to work. There is also limitation of compensation to the person over the age of 65 years. Those lawyers who are so glibly condemned by Government supporters have handled hundreds and thousands of cases of people over 65 years of age who have suffered serious back injuries, injuries to limbs and other parts of their bodies. They are compensated by the law at the present time for pain and suffering and what we call loss of amenities, loss of enjoyment of life and the inability to pursue their lives to the full as they could have done before. Those people- men, women and elderly people- in the community who are injured on the roads or at work are denied by this scheme compensation to which they are presently entitled.
I know that Government supporters will say: ‘Oh, but those persons have to establish fault. They have to establish negligence in some person before they can recover’. I think any fair examination of the operation of the system at the present time will show that the proportion of people who are compensated without having to establish fault is very high indeed. It is impossible to give the exact figure in this area, but it may be as high as 90 per cent. I know that in my own State it is a rarity for a case to go to court on the issue of negligence at the present time because there are settlements of claims which give to the people I have mentioned compensation which they would be denied under the present scheme.
I am one of those who, from long experience, have seen the weaknesses of the system of fault liability. I support wholeheartedly a genuine effort to remove from the system of compensation the necessity to establish fault. I think I would be at one with every one of my colleagues on the Opposition benches in desiring a system of that kind. What we say is that the system proposed in the Bill, which denies to people who are presently entitled to receive what I might call full compensation for the total effects of injury, is a completely inadequate system.
Previous speakers have referred to various aspects of the Bill and have pointed out the inadequacies and inequities of the system which the Government is introducing. Yet the Government is patting itself on the back for having had the fortitude to introduce this new scheme. The Opposition genuinely desires to co-operate with the Government in finding a more efficient, cheaper and more just scheme for compensating those who are injured or who are sick. Yet because of the way in which this House is managed and because of the limited time which is available to the Opposition to debate this Bill, the Opposition will not be able to co-operate with the Government to produce a good Bill and to produce a good scheme. It is not enough to leave it to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs to look into the Bill, as the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) suggested. I think it is a shame that the honourable member should denigrate this House, the House of Representatives, the House which is supposed to represent the people of Australia, and that we in this House should be denied a full and ample opportunity to debate and consider this Bill. If there is to be a committee of Parliament to consider this scheme, I consider that it must be a joint committee having members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate and from both the Government and the Opposition. Only when we have a consideration of the Bill in full measure in that way can we come up with a scheme for the people of Australia which will be more efficient, cheaper and more just than the present system of law which operates in Australia.
-I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Speaker.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. I am lucky that I have in front of me the green carbon copy of my speech this afternoon. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Viner) claimed that I said that questions should be referred only to the Senate Committee. I can quote to him what I said this afternoon:
I agree with the honourable member for Wentworth that it is a great pity that we do not set up this sort of committee consisting of members of this House because there is no terribly good reason why the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs should be the only one that gets involved with the actual details of this legislation.
– This is an enormous Bill, Mr Speaker, and I say that not only because of the thousands of millions of dollars involved but also because of the impact of the Bill on the whole structure not only of our social services but also of Australian society. I remember when a much less important Bill relating to compensation for Commonwealth employees was introduced by the previous Government. I remember the way in which that Bill was argued and referred back in draft from time to time. The present Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) at one stage produced an entirely new Bill. A tremendous amount of time was given by this House not only to debate but to reconsideration after debate, and that was a trivial Bill compared to the Bill that is now before the House.
I must confess that I feel some doubts about this Bill. It has many good features and many that I would support; but I believe that it has some inherent defects and I should like to hear a great deal more argument to clear my own mind as to the correct course to take. I think that perhaps on a parliamentary scale, not on an industrial scale, I would have more experience in this area than anybody at present in the House. As I have said, I do not feel confident enough at the present moment to say exactly what should be done. I know there are many good features in the Bill before the House but I believe there are many bad features also.
I want to point out an implication which may have escaped my friends in the Government opposite. This is a Bill which goes to the root of our whole social service structure. Invalid pensions, for example, are paid for the most part to people who qualify after they have reached a mature age; that is the majority. So most of the people qualifying for invalid pensions from now on would be qualified for benefits under this Bill. But under this Bill payments are going to be made in relation to income. Would honourable members opposite have supported the proposition that invalid pensions should be paid at a higher rate to those people who had had a previous higher income? That is what they are supporting in this Bill, and they have not realised it. They have not realised that they are saying that invalid pensions should be paid at a small rate to a poor man and at a high rate to a rich man. That is inherent in the structure of the Bill and because honourable members have not had time to go over it I am quite certain that my friends opposite do not realise what they are voting for. They do not realise that they are voting for a change in social service structure which means that pensions will be payable at a high rate to rich people and at a low rate to poor people.
Taking widows pensions, the same principle applies. I look to the second reading speech of the Minister and I find in it these words:
The Bill provides for payment of benefits to widows and other dependants of persons who die from injury or sickness.
As for people under the age of sixty-five, I do not know of anybody who dies from anything else except injury or sickness. It is almost equivalent to one honourable member saying that imports come from abroad. So we are talking about everybody who dies; we are talking about all new qualifying widows, and we are saying that for the future the widow of a rich man is going to get a high pension and the widow of a poor man is going to get a low pension. That is in the Bill as it is, and I am quite certain that this was not appreciated by honourable members in the Government opposite.
– It is a compensation Bill.
-Exactly, it is a compensation Bill, and the principles of compensation have been extended by this Bill to the whole of the social service structure. Honourable members opposite do not realise what they have done, because I am quite certain that they would not have done this if they had realised the implications of what is in the Bill.
I am simply saying that these things, which are matters of major principle, have got to be reconsidered. In a sense, this Bill is the most regressive taxation Bill that has ever been brought into an Australian parliament. I do not say that it is necessarily good or necessarily bad for that reason. All I say is that this aspect of the Bill has not been appreciated by honourable members opposite who have sponsored it. No doubt with the best of intentions, and I think most of us in this House have good intentions, the Government has rushed into something ill-considered and ill-conceived. The Bill does have some very good features which should be supported, and this is the difficulty in which all honourable members find themselves. I do not say that a government can be all wise and can bring in a major Bill of this character which is right at first pop. It may well be wrong on the first draft, but with these Bills which are fundamental to our social structure the ideal procedure is that they should be debated inconclusively, lie on the table perhaps for 6 months, and then after representations have been made by all the interested people they should be reconsidered and perhaps redrafted. That is what should happen with this Bill.
Among those bodies which will be interested mainly are the trade unions. Very often the trade unions interfere in matters in which they are not competent and where they have not got authority, but in this Bill the trade unions have a very real function and a very real part. This is a Bill which affects their members in ways for which they are responsible. The question of compensation for union members is something which is properly dear to the heart of every trade unionist and they have not had adequate consultation as yet. I do not know what view they would be pressing. I do know that some of them have been consulted but many have not, and many of them are now expressing doubts that something that has been put over them. I do not use that phrase in a bad sense. The trade unions just have not understood because, in its haste, the Government is rushing this Bill through without adequately considering what is involved in it.
Did the Government know? I do not think it did. I do not think it realised the feature of regressive taxation in this Bill. I do not think honourable members opposite realised that they were proposing to pay widows’ and invalid pensions at a high rate to rich people, at a low rate to poor people. Then there are extraordinary capricious features in the Bill. The top $500 a week is contrasted with the miserable $50 a week that is going to be the base of computation for a woman or a housewife. It is a quite ridiculous spread. The difference between $500 a week and $50 a week is too great to be covered by this Bill.
If one looks at clause 27 of the Bill one will see that it provides for the income to be based on the earnings over a period of 4 weeks. What about the poor unfortunate man who happens to be changing his job or out of work for three or four weeks? What is to happen to him? This is a matter of detail, of course- capricious. I notice that sickness after the age of 65 years does not qualify one for a benefit. I do not know whether this means continuing a benefit or a new benefit. I think that probably- again the drafting of the Bill is a little sloppy and I am not quite clear as to what it means- it means only new benefit, qualifying benefit. But an injury after 65 years of age apparently still counts. Here we are getting into the whole question of the age pension structure and how that is affected.
I think that the most fundamental mistake has been the endeavour to extend into the social services field principles which have been worked out in relation to the workers compensation field and the motor car accident field. The Government has not realised that in trying to bring in those principles that are applicable to workers compensation and motor car accidents it was making a fundamental mistake, perhaps the greatest mistake that has ever been made in the structure of our social services. I do not quite know how that escaped the Government’s attention, but apparently it did. Then we have the question of no fault. Of course, that is something which is desirable and which I, at first glance at any rate, would support. It may be hard to work out in detail. But this concept of a pension variable in relation to earnings, appropriate for compensation purposes as it is, and accepted as such for compensation purposes in the various arrangements that have been made in the States and elsewhere, seems to be inappropriate when one is talking about widows pensions and invalid pensions. The Government should have a careful look at that.
Above everything, of course, this is a Bill which must be examined thoroughly in the Committee stage. I think that in the first run-through, which will start in the House in a few moments time, we should look very carefully at each individual clause. If the House is to do this Bill justice it will take many hours and perhaps days to do that. This is some of the most important and far-reaching legislation that we have ever had and we cannot, injustice to ourselves, rush it through. In the Committee stage of the debate we should look at every clause. In a sense this is a Committee Bill but it is not a Bill which, even when we have been through it in Committee, we should try to finalise now because when we start to look at the detailed clauses we will find- I have given some instances- that there will be matters of major principle arising and we may have to re-think some of* our major principles in our consideration of details.
We should surely adopt the principle that we have always adopted in the past when Bills which go right to the root of our social structure are under consideration by the House, namely, we should look at this Bui carefully, debate it, talk about it, and go through it in detail but not finalise it. Do not let us finalise it. Let us leave it on the table for a while to enable the interested bodies, particularly the trade unions, to have a chance of putting forward their views. This is a field in which it is very appropriate and proper that the views of the trade unions should be listened to. I support very much the idea that, after debate in this House and examination of the clauses in Committee, this Bill should go to a select committee. I think the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) suggested that it should be a joint committee of this House and the Senate. I hope that the Government will see fit to move in that direction. I believe that we have to spend time on this matter. This is one of the most important Bills we have had before us in which matters of detail are of crucial importance because from those matters of detail will also emerge matters of major principle.
– in reply- This has been a very lengthy debate. Some 16 speakers have contributed to it. The Government has been very anxious to encourage debate on this Bill for the very good reason that the Government did not want it to be thought that it was trying to prevent discussion on the Bill. That seemed to be the main theme of the Opposition speeches. ‘What is the hurry’, they asked, ‘about this Bill?’ It just does not stand up to an examination to say that there has been a hurry about the Bill. The fact of the matter is that the Government, of its own initiative, established the Committee of Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation in Australia to inquire into and report on this matter. The Committee took some IS to 18 months to prepare its report. The 2 members of the Committee were the most reputable, responsible and experienced people one could find. One was Mr Justice Woodhouse of the New Zealand Court of Appeal, who also had experience of the New Zealand precedent, and the other was Mr Justice Meares of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, one of the most experienced lawyers one could find. So as to the bona fides of the Government, despite all the obvious talent in the Opposition, the facts are that the Committee did make a very detailed, extensive examination of the problem of the injured and the sick, and one is underprivileged if one is injured or sick.
I turn to what the Committee recommended. The Committee even prepared the draft Bill. One could not get anything fairer than that from the point of view of being put on notice. It was included in Volume I of the report. The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon), whom I have the honour to represent in this chamber, has been I would say the most considerate Minister I have ever seen from the point of view of being dedicated to try to get this outstanding piece of social legislation on the statute book of Australia. He has encouraged most open and frequent discussion. Looking at it as a professional politician, it might have been better perhaps if he had not encouraged the 46 amendments. It probably would have been just as effective to have moved them in the Senate, but because he has encouraged discussion and because it was suggested that the Bill would be improved by 46 amendments, most of which are formal, he circulated them. They have been the subject of criticism. The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation gave copies of the amendments to the Opposition on the basis that the Opposition might understand them. The information he gave to the Opposition as to what each amendment meant was in plain English. That resulted in the Government being criticised for not giving the Opposition the detailed legal wording of the amendments as well. That information was not given for the very simple reason that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation knew that apparently there were some printing problems. But the Opposition should not look at this matter from the point of view of not having bona fide intentions. The real issue is this: The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation encouraged Mr Justice Woodhouse to speak to members of the Opposition who were interested in the matter.
– What does that mean?
-I think it means that if the honourable member for Moreton were interested he would have met him. Apparently that is the difference. The honourable member did not bother to meet him. I cannot explain that.
– What appalling logic.
-Well, the honourable member for Moreton asked what it meant and what it meant is this: When Mr Justice Woodhouse met Senator Greenwood and others who were interested in the matter, including the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), some time ago I imagine that these matters would have been discussed in a cool, impartial atmosphere. On that basis, Mr Justice Woodhouse met IS members of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Party Welfare Committee some time ago. Discussions related to this Bill, took place over a long period and most detailed information which had been gathered over 18 months was given to the members of the Opposition, who were interested in this matter. The Judge even talked to Liberal Party committees and to anybody whom the Liberals wished to introduce into their meetings.
– He had his mind made up.
-I know that the honourable member is most upset about the standing of the Judge. He said so here this afternoon. That is a matter for his own assessment. Do not put the argument on the basis that the Government is rushing the matter through -
– Well, you are doing that today.
-No matter what I say to the honourable member, I will not convince him. The fact is that this inquiry took 1 5 months to 18 months to complete. The report was compiled in that period. Further, His Honour met members of the Opposition and members of the appropriate Opposition committee by arrangement. All of these matters were then the subject of open discussion. Any suggestion that we are rushing the Bill through cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged because nothing could be further from the truth.
I think that now I must answer the specific matters raised in the course of this debate. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) who led for the Opposition gave the game away as to his true position. He showed his position of opposition to be what we felt it would always be. All we are endeavouring to do in this legislation is to give people who are not entitled to compensation under the present statutory arrangements applying throughout Australia an entitlementquorum formed). I was making the point that we on the Government’s side are convinced that the main thrust of the Opposition’s argument may be put in this way: Yes, it supports the Bill but because existing insurance arrangements will be affected it will not accept the fact that this is a piece of legislation which will be beneficial. This legislation will affect insurance companies. But, in our view, that is not the issue here. The issue is that some people are not able to receive compensation at present. We want to expand the present statutory rights to guarantee that everybody is covered. Therefore, from our point of view, the private enterprise aspect of private insurance companies making a profit goes by the board. From the point of view of the Opposition, that is an issue on which it must oppose the Bill.
The Opposition then turns to the cost of our scheme and asks: ‘What is it going to cost?’ It asks further: ‘What about this socialism that you are introducing here?’ All we are trying to say to the rest of Australia is that for once we want to get away from these excessive legal arguments, particularly the apportionment of responsibility or fault basis. What justification is there for this Parliament to say to a quadraplegic: ‘You were to blame and therefore you will get nothing*? That is a double penalty. What does that do to his wife and children?
All that Opposition members are saying in respect of this legislation is that they are not convinced that the cost of the scheme that we have in mind will be less than the sum that is now collected from the community by way of insurance premiums. That is the main thrust of the Opposition’s claims- that the only uncertainty is as to cost. The argument continues that taxation may need to be increased. Perhaps it might. In terms of the argument from the Opposition, what it says is that as taxation must not be increased somebody has to suffer. That is not our philosophy. We have always accepted the principle that people in need do require financial assistance. In this case -
– Give something to the farmers.
-Well, I am delighted; that is one of the most intelligent interjections made tonight. Under the provisions of this Bill, the farmer, the self-employed man, becomes entitled to compensation for the first time. So, I hope that members of the Country Party will come over to this side of the chamber to vote with the Government in support of this legislation. We will be able to go to every Country Party electorate and say: ‘Here we are offering something to you as a farmer, as a self-employed man, to give you compensation entitlements for the first time in your life. But we are still a bit puzzled as to what the attitude of your Party is’. We had one speaker from the Country Party.
If the argument from the Opposition is as I have put it, let me convince honourable members opposite as to the true position. The statistics show that, unfortunately, in Australia each year 1 million of our kith and kin are either injured or suffer illness. I understand that that figure can almost be divided in half to determine those who suffer injury. So, this year, half a million Australians will suffer injury. The amount to be collected by the insurance companies in premium payments this current year on the basis that there will be injuries and that they will have to meet claims is $665m. A statistical analysis shows this scheme which will cover all the people- not just those who are the subject of insurance cover- 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, in the first year, on present day costs, will cost $176m. I contrast the $665m with the $176m. The amount is arrived at using present day costs. After all, we are talking about present day costs when we speak of the collection of $176m this year.
Let me correct a wrong impression gained by the honourable member for Hotham. He said that most injuries suffered are permanent ones. Fortunately they are not. Only 2 per cent of injuries are permanent. That 2 per cent factor is built in to the amount for the first year and it escalates each year thereafter. These people will be covered in each succeeding year for a given period. We know that the normal expectation of life for these people is estimated to be 20 years.
Working on that basis, we recognise that after 20 years, on present day prices, the cost of our scheme will have doubled. This means that those injured persons would have been picked up as permanent recipients of compensation payments and after a 20 year period there would be what is called a cost plateau. If the argument of the Opposition is based on the cost of the scheme, the figures that I have set out show that the Australian people this year will be paying in premiums twice as much as our proposed scheme could possibly cost for all those now injured. Our scheme would cover everybody. The insurance companies are providing cover for a mere 60 per cent of those who are injured; 40 per cent of those injured receive no cover at all. It does little credit to any bar association, law society or other body to write letters or make representations through the mouths of Opposition members. It was said tonight: ‘But if you are drunk and you are injured why should you get anything?’ The question of fault is not to be removed. Anxiety to encourage the double penalty is not the way to approach the problem if one is considering the position of a person who is injured. He needs help because he is injured. The fact that he was drunk could, of course, be the subject of a minor penalty in a court.
– His family needs help.
-Of course it does. He suffers the penalty of being drunk. He should not suffer the permanent penalty of not being able to earn a living and therefore not get any assistance. This matter should not be considered on the basis that because it will benefit unfortunate people who cannot protect themselves nothing should be done. They will be well within the cost structure. The honourable member for’ Hotham also questioned the cost of the proposed 46 amendments to improve the Bill. He returns to the basis of his argument that although there may be some improvement there should be no improvement if a cost factor is involved. He asked the cost of the additional amendments. The cost of lump sum payments for minor injuries- this is the amendment to sub-clause (2) of clause 35- will be $2m. The minimum wage provision, which is proposed new clause 39A, will cost $3m. These amounts total $5m.
– What will the whole scheme cost?
-In the first year of operation the whole scheme will cost $176m. At this stage one ignores the sickness factor which will not come into operation until 1979. No cost analysis has been made of that proposal. We are talking about the injury factor. We are talking about the cost as against premiums. Honourable members should consider the beneficial aspects of this legislation. It has been wrongly interpreted that if a skilled surgeon is injured he will not get proper compensation. The amendments clearly indicate that this aspect will be taken into consideration. A person’s earning capacity is taken into consideration. The main benefit is that compensation will be paid immediately. Let us consider the merits of the proposal as compared with common law legal action and how long that takes. Persons familiar with the law will know that it is an elementary fact that if a person suffers permanent damage a period of time must elapse before the extent of permanency can be determined and before action can be taken at common law. Victorian figures show that 96 per cent of those injured get nothing in the first year because they are still waiting for their medical condition to stabilise. They receive no payment. After a period of 2 years 71 per cent are still waiting to commence actions. This situation obtains for a period of 5 years although admittedly there is a declining percentage of persons waiting for payment towards the end of that time. Some people have received no payment after four or five years. Under the Government’s scheme there is an immediate payment. There is a guaranteed source of income which will alleviate the worries of the families concerned.
As the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) pointed out, 97 per cent of third party insurances cases are settled. The courts throughout Australia could not possibly deal with all cases involving injuries. Many learned justices over the years have suggested the introduction of a different method of assessing a person’s incapacity so that those affected might more quickly get the benefit they need. If the only objection to this Bill is based on cost, the Government wins hands down. If cost is the real issue, there can be no further argument. However, some other good arguments were put. One was put by -
– Do your homework.
-The honourable member suggests that I should do my homework. He was not here when I gave the relevant figures. I suggest that he should do his homework and read the Hansard report. There could be a constitutional challenge to the legal position, but is that not all the more reason to pass this Bill so that a challenge can be made?
-When it is a good Bill.
-It will never be a good Bill according to the Opposition because it might offend some insurance philosophy. Insurance companies will not be concerned much longer with workmens compensation. In fact, they virtually abandoned third party insurance a long while ago and left it to government insurance offices. The honourable member for Wentworth should know that in New South Wales 98 per cent of such business is with the Government Insurance Office. No one else wants it because it can result in a loss. We are virtually asking people to make a compulsory contribution now, and they do it through licence fees. The motorist has to make a contribution which is increasing all the time. From the point of view of the community we could alleviate the burden of some of the costs and taxes that are imposed. In fact, they need not pay third party insurance.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-by leave-As I said earlier, the Opposition believes that not enough representations and submissions have been made about this Bill by interested organisations. Several Opposition speakers have indicated that they are not necessarily against the concepts of the BUI. In fact, many speakers have said that they have great sympathy for much of the philosophical thrust of the Bill. The Opposition is not being obstructionist but it sincerely believes that the Bill should be referred to a select committee as was the New Zealand Woodhouse Committee report. Paragraph (b) of standing order 22 1 states that:
Immediately after the second reading-
a motion ‘That this Bill be referred to a select committee’ may be moved;
I give notice that at present it is my intention so to move. If the Special Minister for State (Mr Lionel Bowen) wants to respond and indicate his reaction to that proposal we will grant him leave. I suggest that there should be no necessity for him to push this Bill through to a second reading division tonight. I would suggest that if the Bill is referred to a select committee its terms of reference should be reasonable. It should examine whether there are any alternatives to the Woodhouse proposals; it should examine the validity and accuracy of the Woodhouse report’s statistical and costing assumptions and consider alternative methods of funding, because the Government has not yet determined its own ideas on funding; it should examine the effects of any such scheme on the insurance industry together with proposals to offset such effects; and the committee should be given a reasonable time tin which to conduct its inquiries. The Committee could be a select committee of this House or, if the Minister prefers, a joint committee of both Houses. The committee should not be expected to report within any ridiculous time such as a month or 6 weeks. Although many Opposition members support the concept and philosophical thrust of thus Bill and its proposals to care for people who have no adequate cover, I do not think any honourable member would be prepared to vote for it as it is presently presented to the House. For those reasons I hope that the Minister will respond, and respond with sweet reason.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmithSpecial Minister of State)- by leave- I appreciate the position of the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) raised this matter. I have discussed it with the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) and I can indicate that the Bill will go to a Senate committee. That is the arrangement he has made. We are convinced, for all the reasons I have mentioned, that there has been an adequate examination. We are very suspicious of the fact that we are meeting so much objection. We would have thought that this Bill could have gone through.
– I was not political in my statement. Play the game.
-No, I said suspicious. We are suspicious. The best test of the Government’s position is in the Senate when we will see what the Committee recommends. That will be the best test.
-It would not matter what was said here. It is natural we have researched this Bill and we are dedicated to it. Any committee established here would merely confirm us again as to the merits of the Bill but in the Senate it will be a good test for the Opposition to show whether it is genuine and is prepared to approve the Bill or, as the Minister has authorised me to say to make some amendments that he feels would be appropriate and acceptable to the Senate. The Bill would then come back here for discussion. As far as we are concerned there is no point at all in delaying the matter any further. The suspicion comes with the delay. We feel there has been more than adequate examination. The intention is that the Bill will go through tonight.
– It is strange pushing it through in one day.
-I know it upsets people but it has to go through tonight so it can go to the Senate and the Senate, in its wisdom if it thinks fit and feels it has not already got enough information about the Bill, obviously will send it to the standing committee. That is the position that was made clear. I notice there has been a shift from the position put by the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee).
-Oh, yes, the honourable member for Balaclava said he would be hoping to see it in a committee in the Senate.
– No he did not. He said a joint committee.
-Well I think he meant any committee. He would accept a Senate committee because he said a Senate or a joint committee. He mentioned that. The Minister in the Senate who is responsible for this legislation has agreed, as I understand it, with your representative -
– Oh, how kind of him.
-Well, here you are complaining about it. I cannot delay the matter any further. The position is quite clear. There can be an investigation by a further committee. The Government is not prepared to allow this matter to be delayed any further, but there would be some short arrangements for discussion.
– How long?
-Say 3 weeks.
– Three weeks.
-If members of the Opposition want to make the issue political and to fight it in some other forum we will take them on. It is as simple as that.
– You will be welcomed and accommodated.
-We will take you on. Question put:
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Chipp’s amendment) stand pan of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
That the Bill be read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-In conformity with the Standing Orders, I move:
I shall not detain the House for long, but I want to make a fundamental point of principle. I join with the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who advocates that this Bill should be referred to a committee of this House. I hope I am not misrepresenting him. I join with the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) who today also said that he wants it referred to a committee. I speak on behalf of all honourable members on this side of the House when I say that this question should go to a committee for the reasons that I have given previously. I ask: Why is the Government suddenly shy about forming a select committee of this House to inquire into something of such significant social importance? We would settle for a joint committee of both Houses. Here we have a Party that denigrates the Senate, that is always speaking against Senate committees and alleged Senate interference with the rights of Parliament, that is dedicated to the abolition of the Senate -
A Government supporter- Oh, shut up.
- Mr Speaker, will you not ask for that to be withdrawn?
-Order! I do not know which honourable member uttered that interjection. It is completely out of order. I ask that such interjections cease.
– We have been pondering why the Government is so reluctant to have this House set up a House of Representatives committee to investigate this Bill. It is not a simple Bill. It is not a machinery measure. By the Government’s own costing this scheme is estimated to cost this nation at its plateau level $ 1,700m per annum. Also, as I think my friend the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and other speakers have suggested, it can change the whole social fabric of this nation. There has not been sufficient time for this House or the community of Australia to contemplate and discuss the ramifications of this legislation. The report was tabled in July. As I said before, in New Zealand it was something like 2 or 3 years after the proposal went to a select committee before the legislation was presented for a vote in the Parliament of that country. This Bill was not presented here until 3 October, just 3 weeks ago. It was not until 11 o’clock this morning that I received the 47 Government amendments to this
Bill which would appear to add massively to the cost of the scheme. I thought that as an opposition we were being reasonable in saying: ‘Look, why do you not refer this to a committee of the House to investigate the fundamental things that this Bill tries to do? ‘ I cannot understand why the Government is reluctant to accept our proposal. Is the Government fair dinkum about having a look at this?
– Yes, my word.
-Why do you want the Bill put through tonight if you are fair dinkum? What purpose is served by ramrodding this through this House tonight and saying that you will send it to a committee for 3 weeks? How fair dinkum are you?
– You are using sick and injured people for political purposes.
-Order! The honourable member for Barker will remain silent while I am addressing the chamber. There are too many interjections. I ask the Minister not to interject across the table.
– If honourable members opposite think that we are going to fall for a confidence trick like that and that the Opposition will support this legislation without a vote and without a fight at this stage and then be able to throw that up because of some cheap, tawdry, insincere deal involving sending this to a committee for 3 weeks then they have bargained wrongly. I wonder whether this device, this lolly or this sugarcoated pill is not a move to allow the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to go out at the next election, which Bob Hawke tells him he can expect in April, and say to the people that here is another instance of Senate obstructionism. Why will the Government not put this matter to a committee of this House? What is the reason for suddenly having this obsession about senatorial rights and the rights of that chamber? I will mention one of the many examples which have been given. As my friend the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) said today, ‘Do the provisions of this Bill add to the cost of providing benefits for people who are injured?’ Does it add to the delay? I thought the honourable member put a very persuasive and eloquent argument to indicate that it does add to delay and that it does add to the cost. The more reasonable people on the Government side of this House would concede that there might be some validity in that view. We do not know; we suspect it. But why not find out by sending this to a committee first? The
Government does not want this legislation to operate until 1 July 1976. Yet it is asking us with one hour’s notice to pass it in about 3 or 4 hours in this House after 47 amendments. We are sincere and we test the opposition to this measure. We test the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). We test the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn). We test them on this occasion to vote in favour of the motion that this House appoint a select committee, which it has the power to do under the Standing Orders.
-Is the motion seconded?
-I second the motion. This legislation is one of those fundamental changes in the structure of our social welfare system which cannot be lightly accepted. More than any other piece of legislation that has come into this Parliament over the course of the past 20 years, this Bill will change fundamentally the rights of every individual Australian. It does not lightly do it. It is a piece of legislation which on the figures and calculations provides a benefit for every person who after 1 July 1976 is subject to an injury or an accident. We have only to a minimal degree discussed in this chamber tonight the substance of the Bill.
We on this side of the House are concerned with 3 aspects of the legislation. The first and most important is the welfare and wellbeing of the men, women and children of Australia in the future who are going to be entitled to the benefits which this Bill is designed to provide. The second is the degree to which this country can best provide those benefits. Is it through the medium of a system so radically different from anything that has existed before? Is it by the means of this system or is it perhaps by some modification of the system which the Government has introduced? The third aspect is: How much is it going to cost and to what degree is the cost to be balanced against the benefit? What we are proposing- this is my reason for seconding the motion moved by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) -is not that the measure be rejected out of hand, not that the measure be referred from this chamber where the ultimate responsibility for the Government of this country lies, but that the measure be referred from this chamber- the paramount chamber of the Australian Parliament- to a select committee and that it be deliberated within that committee, that it be considered and that the terms upon which an analysis of the cost benefit to the individual citizen, to the public exchequer and to the future generations of Australians can be best acquainted.
We do not put this lightheartedly. It is not with any spirit of political malice that we seek to defer the consideration of this Bill in this chamber. We seek this because we believe that we cannot fundamentally change the rights of the Australian citizenry without permitting those who are the elected representatives of those Australian citizens to deliberate adequately upon the measures which are provided in this Bill. We do not lightheartedly propose that this matter be referred to a select committee. We do this so that the cost benefit to the individual- the benefit and the cost- can be related in a fit and proper and meaningful fashion. Every member of this House, be he on the Government or Opposition side, has tonight spoken of the necessity for social change. But the members of the Opposition say that it is necessary to cost that social change. The members of the Opposition say that we should analyse and digest the amendments which the Government has intimated tonight should be made to this Bill.
This measure was introduced only 3 weeks ago. The Government has already introduced 47 amendments. There have been 47 amendments in 3 weeks- Are we to have a committee, a nebulous committee over which we in this chamber will have no control? Is there to be another committee of inquiry which may or may not recommend changes? There will be no time to examine this matter adequately. There have been 47 amendments in 3 weeks. I ask you, Mr Speaker: Is it unreasonable that we in the House of Representatives, the paramount House of the Australian Parliament- the House that even the members of the Labor Party consider should be the only House in the Australian parliamentary system- should ask that this House should have some say in the reference of this matter to a committee that this House should perhaps set the’ terms of reference for this committee; that this House should have some accountability for the costing to the individual and to the public exchequer? Of course it is not unreasonable. It is essential that this House has the responsibility. That is why I have seconded this motion. I believe that every honourable member on the Government side, if he is honest to himself and honest to the charge which his electoral rights bestow upon him, would also support it. I believe that this is the only sensible way by which this complicated and difficult matter can be adequately resolved. I therefore commend it to the wisdom, the wit and the sympathy of the members of this chamber.
-The Government opposes the proposition. The delaying tactics used by the Opposition at this stage give weight to what I was saying- that is, the Opposition really does not want to help everyone who is sick and injured. The Bill gives a 100 per cent cover for injury 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Members of the Opposition have said that the only problem is in regard to costs. I have already said that the cost will be $176m in the first year and $350m when the scheme reaches the plateau. At present insurance companies are collecting $655m from the public for a 60 per cent cover. Does the Opposition want to set up a select committee again because it wants to protect the insurance companies?
The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) asked about the cost of the amendments. I have already said that the amendments will add an extra $5m. Of the 46 amendments of which members of the Opposition purport to have no knowledge thirty are merely formal and the remaining seventeen are basic to good principles. I offer the challenge that the Opposition when we go into Committee will not oppose any one of those 17 amendments. These amendments increase the opportunity for people to receive improved levels of payments. They seek to extend the age beyond which potential earning capacity will not be a factor from 26 to 3 1 years. They include foster children under the benefits of the legislation and take out the onus of proof provisions. They guarantee that full, detailed reasons will be given to every applicant. Every one of these amendments is beneficial.
The big issue put forward by the Opposition is that they were not given enough time to study this legislation. As I have said, the Woodhouse report took 15 to 18 months to compile. The Committee took evidence from all over Australia. It interviewed every State Premier and every Attorney-General. It interviewed people including members of the Opposition. What are the facts? From the facts given to me it is quite clear that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) gave members of the Opposition every facility and help. Sir Owen Woodhouse spoke to a meeting in Hobart arranged by Senator Wright. This meeting was attended by Senator Wright and a number of other prominent Opposition members. On 27 August Sir Owen Woodhouse met Senator Greenwood and his Liberal committee. On 26 September Sir Owen Woodhouse met 1 5 Liberal members in a joint Party meeting. What did members of the Opposition discuss on those occasions? Six or seven most detailed discussions were held over a period of time with members of the Opposition and Opposition committees.
Members of the Opposition have the audacity to come into the House at this late stage and say that they do not know enough about the Bill. Did the honourable member for Hotham ever write to the Minister and say that he wanted further time? No, he did not. On 3 October departmental officers and 2 statisticians briefed the Opposition Welfare Committee. How insincere can you get? Where is all the evidence that you must have got or were you dumbstruck by the validity of the Bill about which you say you could not get any information?
– When was the schedule given to us?
-Order! The Minister will address the Chair.
-I am addressing the chair.
– Well, you are not looking at me.
-If I have to look at you, Mr Speaker, I will do so. The point I make is this: We have had a long debate here tonight and 17 honourable members have spoken on the second reading. The detailed amendments have been clearly put out in English. However, the honourable member for Hotham said that he wanted them put out in legal phraseology. The next time we put forward amendments we will put them in legal phraseology and we will see whether this makes them any clearer.
– You will probably give it in Greek.
-Well, it will not help you because you could not understand them in plain English. What I am trying to say is this: The Bill has to pass the Committee stage tonight. If honourable members do not want to be sitting here till midnight -
– Why do you have to get it tonight?
-The Opposition is not prepared to pass this Bill. This is a test of its sincerity. Let us see what action it takes in the Senate. The honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) suggested that this matter be dealt with by a Senate Committee only because the Minister responsible for this Bill is in that place. When I look at the discussion that has taken place it would appear that the only people on the Opposition side interested in this matter are Opposition senators. I cannot explain that. The honourable member for Wentworth (Mr
Ellicott) obviously is a member of one of the Opposition committees concerned with this matter. He is a qualified lawyer and was the SolicitorGeneral. He would have had plenty of opportunities to put all the questions that have been raised here tonight.
There is no argument about the cost of the scheme. The Opposition has lost the case on cost. It has lost the case on injuries. What is the real reason for the Opposition delaying this Bill? The Government is not prepared to accept this delay and we oppose the motion.
-Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
That the motion (Mr Chipp’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Declaration of Urgency
– Pursuant to standing order 92 I declare that the National Compensation Bill 1 974 is an urgent Bill.
-Order! The question is that the Bill be considered an urgent Bill.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Allotment of time
– I move:
-Mr Speaker, this is quite one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of Parliament. Government supporters are shouting at me now. The bellowing of poddy calves has never worried me. The fact remains that the House is invited to deal with 1 14 clauses in 65 minutes. Never let any honourable gentleman opposite ever protest in this Parliament about the authority of the House of Representatives. The simple truth remains that the Government is reducing the Parliament to an absolute travesty. And why, Mr Speaker? Why the hurry? No explanation is given by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) as to why the Government needs this Bill passed this evening, not one explanation at all. The only conclusion that one can draw is that the Government wants this Bill to go into the slot as a double dissolution Bill. It wants it through this Parliament.
I would have thought that, having regard to what was said during the debate this afternoon by several honourable gentlemen opposite, there would have been some measure of protest within the Government Party itself at the ramming through of a Bill of this highly complex nature in a matter of, as things go now, 65 minutes. I just turn to one illustration of the complexity of this Bill. I take clause 88. Let me read it to honourable gentlemen. I will read it to the House and through this chamber I hope to the country, and let the honourable gentlemen opposite explain this. Clause 88, dealing with variation of benefits says:
cb (Honourable members interjecting)-
-Order! The motion before the Chair is in regard to the allotment of time. I think the honourable member is a little bit wide of the motion.
– I was simply illustrating the complexity of the Bill. My argument, with great respect, is that the House is being asked to deal with a Bill of very great complexity in a time that could only be described as scandalous. The Government may win on this occasion, but I warn the Special Minister of State that when the Opposition gets the opportunity to get the Government to the country we will put a brand on its hide that will be there for years to come.
-Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question put.
That the motion (Mr Lionel Bowen’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Honourable J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
- Mr Chairman, I now seek the co-operation of my friend. It would be convenient if I could move the amendments in toto. That would enable more time for discussion.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Clauses to be amended-
1 ) In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears- deceased person’ means a person, whether his usual place of residence was in Australia or not, as to whom the Director-General is satisfied that he died as the result of personal injury or sickness suffered-
This Act does not apply to or in relation to personal injury or sickness occurring on a ship, boat or aircraft on or in the water or air-space above the continental shelf of Australia, or to death as the result of personal injury or sickness so occurring, unless the ship, boat or aircraft is registered in Australia or the operations of the ship, boat or aircraft are based on a place in Australia.
1 ) Benefit is not payable in respect of personal injury that occurred before the commencing date, unless the injury resulted or results in-
1 ) Benefit is not payable in respect of sickness that occurred before the date fixed under section 2 1 , unless the sickness resulted or results in-
1 ) In the application, by reason of section 20, of-
If, during the period of 1 year ending on 30 June last occurring before his incapacity commenced, a person derived earnings as a self-employed person but did not derive earnings as an employee, his weekly income for the purposes of this section is-
1 ) The weekly income of a person-
If a medical practitioner certifies that the percentage of a beneficiary’s incapacity has increased, the rate of benefit payable to the beneficiary, as from the date of the certificate, is the rate ascertained in accordance with the formula rx _ , where- r is the rate of benefit payable immediately before the date of the certificate; x is the percentage of the beneficiary’s incapacity as certified by the medical practitioner; and y is the percentage of the beneficiary’s incapacity used in the calculation of the rate of benefit payable immediately before the date of the certificate or that would have been payable but for sub-section 33 (3).
1) A benefit is payable to a child (including an adopted child) of a deceased person who died on or after the commencing date or of the spouse of such a person at a rate per week-
if the deceased person was not in receipt of benefit immediately before his death or was in receipt of benefit at a rate ascertained otherwise than under paragraph 39 ( 1 ) (b)- that would have been payable to him under that paragraph if he were totally incapacitated before his death; or
A benefit is payable to a child of a person who died before the date at the rate of $13 per week or, if both parents of the child have died, at the rate of $26 per week.
For the purposes of this Part, where a woman, although not married to a man, lived with him on a permanent and bona fide domestic basis immediately before his death and-
from the time when the injury or sickness occurred until his death, whichever period is the shorter; or
In dealing with a claim or other matter under this Act, the Secretary shall act with as little formality and technicality and with as much expedition as the requirements of this Act and a proper consideration of the claim or matter permit.
If the Secretary has determined that the incapacity, whether partial or total, of a beneficiary is permanent-
1 ) A person shall not-
In a prosecution of a person under this Act for, or in relation, to, making a false or misleading statement, or for, or in relation to, presenting a document that is false or misleading in a particular, it is a defence if the person charged shows that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the statement or document was false or misleading, respectively.
Nothing in the law of a State or internal Territory operates so as to prevent a person from furnishing information, or making any books, documents or papers available, to the Secretary or an Appeal Tribunal for the purposes of this Act.
Where a reference is made in a provision of this Act to a person being in receipt of a benefit, or to a benefit being paid, or payable to, a person, the operation of that provision is not, unless the contrary intention appears, affected by the operation of sub-section 107 ( 1 ) or paragraph 108(l)(d).
Clause 1 10.
E807 Railway accident of unspecified nature
Includes: found dead on permanent way, NOS: injured on permanent way, NOS: railway accident NOS.
E8 19 Other motor vehicle traffic accident
Includes: motor vehicle traffic accident NOS: traffic accident NOS: found injured on public highway.
This Part includes injuries in: suicide and attempted suicide self-inflicted injuries, intentional
E9S0 Suicide and self-inflicted poisoning by solid or liquid substances
Includes: by any solid or liquid substances specified in items 4 1 -SO
E998 Occurring after cessation of hostilities
Includes: injuries due to operations of war but occurring after cessation of hostilities by any means specified in items 190-197 injuries by explosion of bombs or mines placed in the course of operations of war, if the explosion occurred after cessation of hostilities
At the end of clause IS, add the following sub-clause:-
In clause 24, sub-clause (1), omit paragraph (b), insert-
Omit clause 29, insert the following clause:- 29. (1) The section applies in relation to the weekly income, for the purposes of benefit in respect of total incapacity, of a person-
Omit sub-clauses (4) and (5), insert the following subclause:
In clause 36, omit sub-clause ( 1 ), insert the following sub-clause:-
1 . After sub-clause ( 3 ), insert the following sub-clause: - (3a) Benefit under sub-section (3) is not payable-
In clause 32, after sub-clause ( 1 ), insert the following sub-clause:- ‘ ( 1 a) Pension under this Part is not payable to a widow-
The first amendment is to clause 4.I point out that the amendments have already been circulated, Mr Chairman. It is important that I explain them. The amendment to clause 4 is a formal amendment necessitated by the change in the title of the Permanent Head of the Department to administer the scheme. The amendment to clause15 seeks to add a new sub-clause to ensure that proposed sub-section ( 1 ) does not exclude from the application of the Act to the continental shelf a person whose usual place of residence is in Australia; a member of the defence forces, a person temporarily absent from Australia in connection with employment or for the purpose of receiving education or undertaking research; or the spouse of, a person dependent on or a member of the family of one of these person. The explanation in relation to the amendment to clause 17 is as follows: Paragraph 19 (b) (i) provides that benefits in respect of personal injury which occurred before 1st July 1976 will be payable from a date to be fixed by proclamation. The amendment of paragraph 1 7 ( 1 ) ( b ) is to bring the date for payment of benefits in respect of retrospective injuries- that is, injuries which occurred before 1st July 1976 and which extended beyond that date- into line with the intended staging of the introduction of the scheme.
The explanation in relation to the amendment to clause 22 is as follows: Paragraph 22 (4) (b) (i) provides that benefits in respect of sickness which occurred before the date fixed under proposed section 2 1 will be payable from a date to be fixed by proclamation. The amendment of paragraph 22 ( 1) (b) is to bring sickness- that is, sickness which occurred before the date fixed under proposed section 21 and which extended beyond that date- into line with the intended staging of the introduction of the scheme. The explanation in relation to the amendment to clause 24 is as follows: Paragraph 24 ( 1 ) (b) has been deleted and a new paragraph substituted. The new paragraph retains the provisions of the previous paragraph and extends it to provide that benefits in respect of sickness which occurred before the date fixed under proposed section 21 will be payable from a date to be fixed by proclamation. This brings the date for payment of benefits into line with the intended staging of the introduction of the scheme. A new paragraph 24 ( 1) (c) is inserted which provides for commutation of benefits to a lump-sum payment in cases of sickness unless a benefit is not payable because of the operation of the provisions of sections 22 ( 1 ) and 22 (2).
-Yes. The point is that we had the explanations already circulated. I take it from what the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) has said that he would like copies of the explanations I am giving. I will arrange for that to be done.
– Straight away?
-If possible. The explanation in relation to the amendment to clause 28 is as follows: The amendment to paragraph (a) of clause 28(2) brings that paragraph into line with paragraph (b). The explanation in relation to the amendment to clause 29 is as follows: In ascertaining the weekly income of a selfemployed person the income for the year ended 30 June may not be considered as fairly representing the persons earnings and provision is made for this income to be based on the previous 3 years if it more fairly represents the earnings. This alternative allows avoidance of fluctuations in occupations, such as farming, which might be affected by seasonal and other influences. The figure ascertained as the weekly income of an employee or self-employed person under this clause is then used under the following for the calculation of benefits payable: Clause 33(3) for permanent partial incapacity; paragraph 39(1 )(b) for total incapacity whether temporary or permanent and which extends for more than 4 weeks from the eighth day after the day on which the incapacity commenced. The new clause contains the same provisions for the calculation of loss of prospective earnings as the clause which it replaces except that the maximum age has been extended from 26 years to 3 1 years, and the Secretary is now required to determine an amount which fairly represents the amount a person’s weekly earnings would have been if he had not been incapacited at the age of 3 1 years in addition to 2 1 years and 26 years as previously required.
The amendment to clause 34 is a formal amendment which seeks to provide that the ascertainment of the rate of benefit payable is to be made by the Secretary rather than being automatically payable on presentation of the certificate of a medical practitioner. This brings the clause into line with the other provisions of the Bill.
Sub-clause (2) of clause 35 is being amended to include provision for the payment of lump sum benefits in certain prescribed cases at prescribed amounts in respect of injuries occurring on or after 1 July 1976 where the percentage of incapacity specified in any such cases in a medical certificate is 10 or five. Sub-clauses (4) and (5) of clause 35 are deleted and replaced by a new sub-clause (4) of clause 35. The effect of this amendment is to eliminate the specific requirement for a medical practitioner to take into account a person’s physical or mental disability and also the extent to which his personal efficiency and ability to lead a normal life have been impaired. If these factors are significant, the Secretary is authorised to take them into account in arriving at his determination under clause 36.
I turn next to new clause 35(a) which provides in sub-clause ( 1 ) that the percentage of a person ‘s incapacity is that percentage a medical practitioner certifies in writing. As certificates may be submitted by more than one medical practitioner, clause 35(a) ( 1 ) provides that the Secretary may act upon whichever certificate he considers the most appropriate. This new clause provides in sub-clause (2) that a claim includes a claim for benefit at an increased rate because of an increase in the beneficiary’s incapacity.
The amendment to clause 36 is made as the previous provision has been expanded to ensure that the Secretary, in determining that the rate of benefit payable to a person following assessment of the percentage of his incapacity is less than it should be, shall have regard to the extent to which the person’s personal efficiency and ability to lead a normal life have been impaired by reason of his incapacity. New sub-clauses (2a), (2b) and (2c) of clause 36 provide a formula whereby a person who has a permanent partial incapacity can receive a benefit in respect of loss of earning capacity if the benefit for which he is otherwise eligible does not meet this eventuality.
– Can you explain that?
-I can. The position is quite clear. It means this. If one is a surgeon and suffers some loss of earnings because of an incapacity to perform work as a surgeon, that will be taken into consideration now and no limit will apply up to $25,000 per annum. In other words, the capacity is taken into consideration. The question has been raised whether a person would be deprived of receiving what might be termed the equivalent of the lump sum in the common law action. Now, such a loss in his earnings can be made up in relation to his skill and not in relation to the actual physical loss.
The amendment to clause 37 permits a person to appeal against the medical certificate to which the Secretary has had regard in determining the rate of benefit payable for partial incapacity under section 33 of the Act or the increase in degree of incapacity under section 34 of the Act. Clause 38 provides that the weekly benefits payable to an employee under this clause are up to one half of his weekly income ascertained for short term periods. Young people in special circumstances having regard to maximumminimum figures receive in effect a convalescence allowance. It is designed to encourage the offer and acceptance of suitable work where the employee concerned can only do light work or work on a limited basis until final recovery from a temporary incapacity or during a period of convalescence that follows a period of total incapacity. Its purpose is to subsidise or make up the wages of the normal weekly earnings for that job. The Committee considered that a similar allowance should not be paid to self-employed persons on the grounds that they usually are able to organise some suitable work for themselves. An employee on the other hand has to discover both the work and an employer prepared to engage him.
New clause 38a is a formal clause to ensure that benefits are payable in respect of total incapacity calculated as provided for in clauses 39 and 39a. This results from the introduction of clause 39a providing for additional benefits to persons on low incomes who are totally incapacitated. The amendment to clause 39 is consequential to the introduction of clause 38a which covers total incapacity benefits as provided for in this clause and the new clause 39a. New clause 39a has been introduced to provide that a person who is employed full time and who suffers total incapacity will receive a benefit not less than the minimum wage or his income, whichever is the less. ‘
Sub-clause ( 1 ) of clause 39a ensures that the new provisions apply to any person in full-time employment before the day on which his incapacity commenced. Sub-clause (2) of clause 39a authorises the Minister to specify by notice in the Gazette an amount as being the minimum weekly wage for the purposes of the section. Subclause (3) of clause 39A provides that where 85 per centum of the weekly income of a person calculated in accordance with the various provisions of the Bill, is less than the amount specified by the Minister under sub-clause (2) of clause 39a, then the amount specified by the Minister is the weekly rate of benefit payable to that person. Sub-clause (4) of clause 39a provides that where the weekly income of a person calculated in accordance with the various provisions of the Bill, is less than the amount specified by the Minister under sub-clause (2) of clause 39a, then the rate of benefit payable to that person is his weekly income.
The amendment to clause 41 provides that where a person has been receiving a benefit for partial incapacity and then receives a higher benefit for partial incapacity or a benefit for total incapacity this clause operates provided that the benefit originally being received is no longer payable. In effect it becomes absorbed in, and becomes part of, the new benefit payable as the assessment of incapacity relates to the incapacity of the whole man. The new incapacity assessed in effect incorporates the incapacity arising from the first occurrence.
New clause 41a is inserted as it is required to ensure that death benefits in respect of death which has resulted from sickness are payable only from the same date in respect of which benefits for incapacity as a result of sickness are payable. This provision accords with the proposed phased introduction of the scheme.
I turn next to clause 43. The current provision of sub-clause ( 1 ) of clause 43 of the Bill is restrictive, and the amendment ensures that foster children are eligible for children’s benefit. The amendment to sub-clause (3) of clause 43 is a formal one to rectify the omission of the word ‘commencing’ from the Bill presented to Parliament. No changes result from this inclusion. It is simply a drafting amendment. The new subclause (3a) after sub-clause (3) of clause 43 provides that children’s benefits are not payable in respect of a period before the dates fixed by proclamation where the person who died has died as a result of personal injury before 1 July 1976 or, in the case of death as a result of sickness, the date proclaimed for the extension of the Act to include sickness. This provision is necessary as a result of the phased introduction of the scheme.
Paragraph 43 of sub-clause (3a) provides in sub-paragraph (a) the means of ascertaining the date from which benefit may be paid in respect of a person who died as a result of personal injury suffered before 1 July 1976 and subparagraph (b) provides the means of ascertaining the date from which benefit may be paid in respect of a person who dies as a result of sickness suffered before the date fixed for the extension of the Act to include sickness.
The amendment to clause 47 seeks to bring the date for payment of benefit under the clause into line with the intended staging of the introduction of the scheme. Where the disfigurement was caused by personal injury occurring before the commencing date, a benefit is not payable before the date fixed under sub-paragraph 19 (b) (i). Where the disfigurement is caused by sickness occurring before the date fixed under clause 21 for extension of the Act to include sickness a benefit is not payable before the date fixed under sub-paragraph 22 (4) (b) (i).
The amendment to clause 50 is a formal one seeking to insert the appropriate clause numbers in place of clause 17, previously appearing, which was not the appropriate clause. Sub-clause (2) of clause 18 lays down the age limit for benefits in the case of personal injury and subclause ( 3 ) of clause 22 lays down the age limit for benefits in the case of sickness. The amendment to clause 51 provides that each reference to ‘the commencing date’ in Part VI- ‘Widow’s Pensions’ is, in relation to a person who died as the result of sickness, a reference to the date fixed under clause 21. This brings the date for payment of widows’ pensions in respect of a person who died as the result of sickness into line with the intended staging of the introduction of the scheme.
The new sub-clause (1a) of clause 52 is inserted after sub-clause ( 1 ) and provides that the pension payable to a widow is not payable in respect of a period before the dates fixed by proclamation where the husband died as a result of personal injury before 1 July 1976 or, in the case of death as a result of sickness, the date proclaimed for the extension of the Act to include sickness. The provision is necessary as a result of the phased introduction of the scheme. Paragraph (a) of sub-paragraph (1a) of clause 52 provides the means of ascertaining the date from which pension may be paid in respect of a husband who died as the result of personal injury suffered before 1 July 1976. Paragraph (b) of sub-clause ( 1a) of clause 52 provides the means of ascertaining the date from which pension may be paid in respect of a husband who died as the result of sickness suffered before the date fixed for the extension of the Act to include sickness.
The amendment to clause 55 provides that where the husband died on the commencing date and is survived by more than one widow benefits are payable. Under the previous provisions of the Bill, no benefits would have been payable if the husband had died on that day.
The amendment to clause 56 is a formal one following the substitution of ‘commencing date’ for ‘proclaimed date’ throughout the Bill. This substitution is to facilitate the phased introduction of the scheme. The explanation of the amendment to clause 65 is that this amendment requires the Secretary to deal with a claim or matter with as much expedition as possible having regard to the real merits and justness of the claim or matter. I understand that those words were proposed for insertion at the request of the legal profession.
The amendment to clause 65 ensures that the Secretary will take action on a claim or, in the event of him not taking action within a specified period, an alternative procedure is invoked to determine the claim. Sub-clause (2) provides that if the Secretary does not inform the applicant within 21 days after lodgment of a claim of the decision he proposes to make, the applicant may request that the claim be dealt with by an appeal tribunal.
Sub-clause (3) requires the Secretary, following receipt of the request under sub-clause (2) to refer the claim to an appeal tribunal at the expiration of 7 days unless he informs the applicant before then of the decision he proposes to make.
Sub-clause (4) requires the appeal tribunal to consider the claim and give a decision on it and in doing this has all the functions and powers of the Secretary in relation to the claim. Sub-clause (5) provides that no appeal lies from the decision of an appeal tribunal given under sub-clause (4).
Sub-clause (6) provides that the proceedings of an appeal tribunal in regard to a claim dealt with by it under this clause shall not be in public Sub-clause (7) provides that either the Secretary or the applicant may appeal to the Superior Court of Australia from a decision of an appeal tribunal made following action under this clause, on a point of law, and the provisions of clause 86 relating to these appeals, apply.
– Can you explain those amendments more simply?
-Yes. What the amendment clearly states is that an applicant will not be delayed. It provides that he must get a decision within 2 1 days and, if it is not given, he has the right to go to the appeal tribunal within 7 days. The amendment could not be clearer. New clause 65a permits the Secretary to determine that a benefit be paid to a person pending the making of a decision on a claim lodged by that person and provides for the action to be taken following the decision. Sub-clause (1) provides for the Secretary to determine that a benefit be paid, and the rate of that benefit pending the decision on the claim. Sub-clause (2) provides that, if under the decision, no benefit is payable or a lower rate of benefit is payable, the benefit already paid is not recoverable. Sub-clause (3) provides that if the decision is that the benefit payable is at a higher rate than that already being paid, the additional amount of benefit is to be paid to the beneficiary.
The amendment to clause 78 requires the appeal tribunal to deal with matters and questions with as much expedition as possible having regard to the real merits and justness of the matters and questions before it. New clause 84a allows an appeal tribunal to determine an amount which should be paid to an applicant in respect of costs and expenses of the proceedings before the tribunal and to direct payment of that amount. The Secretary is then required to pay that amount. This provision is of some benefit because it guarantees that the legal profession can get paid in respect of matters before the appeal tribunal.
The amendment to clause 92 provides for the deletion of sub-clauses (5) and (6). Similar provisions to those which are now being omitted, are to found in a number of clauses of the Bill. These are now being deleted and similar provisions included in the Bill in a new clause 98a to cover all circumstances and eliminate the need for individual provisions. The first amendment to clause 98 amends sub-clause (1) (b). The deletion of the requirement for the secretary to inform the beneficiary in writing of the decision he proposed to make is in line with the deletion of this provision in other clauses. The new clause 98a now provides similar rights, in all circumstances, in the one clause. The second amendment to clause 98 relates to sub-clause (2) and permits a beneficiary to request the Secretary to make a determination that his incapacity, whether total or partial, is permanent. Under the original provision, no such specific right accured to the beneficiary. The third amendment to clause 98 proposes to omit sub-clauses (3) and (4) and to insert a new sub-clause (3) and is similar to that being made to other clauses, to omit certain requirements which are now covered for all circumstances in the new clause 98a.
New clause 98a makes similar provisions to those that were to be found in a number of clauses in the Bill and they have been deleted. The new clause replaces these separate provisions by one provision which applies in all circumstances. Clause 98b is a new clause requiring the Secretary to make available to a claimant on request all the information on which the Secretary based his determination. This avoids any criticism of decisions being based on secret documents not available to the claimant.
The amendment to clause 100 now requires the offence to have been committed with fraudulent intent. This ensures that where any of these matters or statements are done or made in good faith, a person will not be liable to prosecution. As a result of the amendment proposed to clause 100 to include fraudulent intent as an element in the offence, clause 10 1 is no longer necessary. In other words, the onus of proof is on the Crown.
-I thought the honourable member would appreciate it. The amendment to clause 105 clarifies the situation with regard to the furnishing of a report in circumstances to which the clause relates. A formal amendment to clause 109 seeks to insert the appropriate reference in place of the reference previously appearing. The amendment to clause 1 10 proposes the omission of sub-clauses (2) and (3). Similar provisions to those which are now being omitted, are to be found in a number of clauses of the Bill. There are now being deleted and similar provisions included in the Bill in a new clause 98a to cover all circumstances and eliminate the need for individual provisions.
Clause 8 defines a ‘personal injury’ to mean a physical or mental injury or other physical or mental damage or effect that is caused by an occurrence specified in, or is caused in circumstances specified in, the schedule. The amendment to Part I of the Schedule deletes part of item 8 since being ‘found dead or injured’ does not enable a distinction to be made between ‘personal injury’ and ‘sickness’. Clause 8 defines a ‘personal injury’ to mean a physical or mental injury or other physical or mental damage or effect that is caused by an occurrence specified in, or is caused in circumstances specified in, the schedule. The amendment to Part n of the Schedule deletes part of item 18 since being ‘found injured on public highway’ does not enable a distinction to be made between ‘personal injury’ and ‘sickness ‘.
A formal amendment is proposed to item 133 in Part XVI of the Schedule to insert the appropriate item reference in place of the reference previously appearing which was incorrect. A formal amendment is proposed to item 178 in Part XX of the Schedule to insert the appropriate item references in place of the references previously appearing which were incorrect.
-The leisurely and lucid exposition of the amendments given by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) has placed us all very much in his debt. I am sure that all members of the Committee have a thoroughgoing comprehension of all that is involved. Those perchance who are listening- if people do listen to Parliament- must be positively thriving on the understanding and knowledge that has been given to them this evening by the Minister. It was done with such becoming eloquence and with an elan of language. It was really something and it has made this day most memorable. There are some questions I should like to raise with the Minister- questions which I know, with his instinctive disposition to courtesy, he will unfailingly answer. I refer first to the definition clause. There are many aspects of that provision to which I should like to refer. I am delighted to find that Australia includes the continental shelf. I would like to know whether this covers the continental margin or the continental shelf in terms of the Geneva Convention of 1955 or what. More and more people are operating on the continental shelf and, as I pointed out in my speech at the second reading stage of the Bill, I am somewhat distressed to find out that it is possible on a broad reading of the BUI for a person to suffer alcoholic poisoning on the continental shelf and yet be a recipient of a benefit under the Bill.
– He could be in a Qantas aircraft.
-That is so. I do not mention that by way of levity of inquiry at all.
– It covers a man in flight.
– Thank you very much. It also covers the man who is engaged in subterranean activity.
– Yes, skin divers.
– Well, that is a magnificent relief. I move on to something which is probably a little more important- the definition of employment. The definition of employment under this Bill is:
For the purposes of this Act, a person referred to in the definition of ‘employee’ in sub-section 4(1) shall-
– Section 44 of the Constitution states, among other things:
Any person who-
Holds any office of profit under the Crown, or any pension payable during the pleasure of the Crown out of any of the revenues of the Commonwealth. . . shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
– That is not a pension and you know it.
– ‘This is a not a pension’ says the honourable gentleman. I am most interested to hear the honourable gentleman say that this is not a pension. I invite the honourable gentleman to consider the case of our colleague whom we miss desperately, the Leader of the House (Mr Daly), who broke his arm while he was out walking his dog. That behaviour should be reported to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The honourable gentleman, if he broke his arm would be entitled to compensation under this Bill as an Act.
– Permanent incapacity first.
– Did he not already have that?
– I shrink from making such a severe assessment. I ask the honourable gentleman: Who is going to be the guinea pig in this? It is all very fine for my friend to say that this is not a pension.
– No, it is not.
– Oh, is it not indeed? Some enterprising gentleman takes the view that the Leader of the House is not entitled to a pension. I send him a cheerio call at this hour of the night; that will probably put back his recovery a week or two. Who is going to be the guinea pig? We are not comforted. The splendid assurance given by the Minister in this House is not going to be received by the High Court of Australia.
– Yes it is.
– The honourable gentleman is putting himself not merely in a state of grace, he is putting himself so close to God it does not matter. I skip over the administration. I would have thought it unbelievable that the Australian Parliament, manned by men and women with normal cerebral processes, would ever have put in an Act of Parliament something like the words contained in clause 7:
Where the exercise of a power by the Secretary is dependent upon the opinion, belief or state of mind of the Secretary in respect of a matter and an officer is authorised under this section to exercise that power, the officer may exercise that power upon his own opinion, belief or state of mind in respect of the matter.
Why does the Government not simply say to him that he can do what he jolly well likes?
– Yes, but you have to give him statutory support.
– That encourages no end. I go a little further to clause 1 1. My time is fast running out -
– It is too.
– I know it brings cheer to the honourable member’s soul. It is meagre in charity but we are working on him. Clause 1 1 states:
For the purposes of this Act, the contracting, acceleration, aggravation, exacerbation or deterioration of a disease as a result of personal injury is also personal injury.
The honourable gentleman would know that if a plaintiff appears in court with a condition and it is raised that there is a pre-existing condition, it is on the defendant to show the extent of the preexisting condition. In other words, if a man has an impairment, to use this blessed word which has crept into our existence, he has to show, if there is an impairment of 60 per cent of a limb, whether there was 30 per cent before. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill dealing with this. If we relate clause 11 to clauses 17, 18 and 19, upon whom is placed the onus? Can the Secretary make a judgment capriciously?
– No, not capriciously.
-He cannot? I bet he will. The last clause I wish to deal with is the cheer-up clause, clause 14, which states:
The application of this Act does not extend to or in relation to death by judicial execution.
Really and truly. I will read it again-
The application of this Act does not extend to or in relation to death by judicial execution.
Fancy a Labor Government putting that in a Bill.
– We are worried about State governments. They control death.
– What State government has the honourable gentleman got in mind?
– What about Queensland?
– Judical execution; really and truly. There is one last matter I wish to raise with the Minister because my colleagues want to take advantage of this most detached, dispassionate, leisurely exercise in legislative processing. Why does the Government come down so heavily against widows?
– It does not
– The Minister can answer me later when he has massive time at his disposal. The fact remains that a class B widow, a woman 43 years of age, gets a lump sum payment of $1,000 and assistance for 12 months. The Government says, if her husband is run over by some drunken driver, that she will get assistance for 12 months. The husband may have been the most brilliant surgeon in the country or one of the most accomplished fitter and turners working at Whyalla, Port Augusta or Cloncurry. All the widow gets is $1,000 which would not even be a decent bet for the Minister at the Randwick races. She would get only $ 1 , 000.
– If it happened at home she would have got nothing. We have extended the cover.
– For how long have you extended the cover?
– It covers the whole range.
– It does not.
-I think that one member at a time should address the Chair.
– My time has run out. I know that is the only cheerful news the Minister has.
– I too wish to draw attention to clause 4, the interpretation section, which relates to the definition of incapacity. It states: incapacity’, in relation to a person, means the impairment of-
One may ask, useful or gainful to whom? This is a most important point. Is it useful or gainful to the community, or useful or gainful to the person in spiritual and satisfying terms? The second part of that interpretation states:
One may well ask whether the incapacity referred to in clause 20 of the Bill extends to women whoare pregnant. This Government introduced maternity allowances, and I would appreciate on behalfof the women of Australia, some clarification about whether this definition of incapacity in clause 20 extends to the maternity leave situation. Many women in Australia need to work for economic reasons and tend to work as long as possible into their pregnancies, often to the detriment of their health, simply because they require the extra money. The Government, having been prepared to introduce maternity leave, should now confirm that in fact the physical or mental disability mentioned in clause 20 applies to maternity situations.
One has to ask why the qualifying age for benefits in the interpretation clause of the Bill is specified to commence at 18 years of age and what situation justifies it stopping at age 65. In clause 18 is a clear provision that benefits shall stop at the age of 65. One has to ask again whether people are being seen as people or simply as economic units in the community. What about the situation of someone with a congenital illness who is unable to get employment and who becomes compensated only when he is 18 for the incapacity he has suffered, but is apparently never compensated for the lack of learning before age 18? One of the difficulties about abolishing the common law right is in this area. In the case of injuries to children, will the administrative apparatus ever be as fair and respected as the judicial apparatus and will the Bill extend retrospectivity to an assessment of injuries and illnesses suffered by children before they reach the age of 18? Will children have to wait until they are 18 to collect any compensation, and then what amount will they get? Will they receive training and rehabilitation before they are 18? Will their parents receive money to help them to provide additional items that normal children do not require? Or is the injured or congenitally ill child to be written off and pensioned as an uneconomic unit? Do doctors have to keep a record on the child until he is 18? How else can they prove the extent of the disability? These are questions that I believe need answering.
Certain exemptions are provided in clause 13 of the Bill. It states:
The application of this Act does not extend to or in relation to any injury suffered by a person in the course of committing, or of attempting to commit, any of the following crimes, unless the injury results in death: murder, maliciously or wilfully wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm; piracy; an act done with the intention of endangering a person on board a vehicle, vessel or aircraft; or revolt against the authority of the master of a ship or the commander of an aircraft.
One has to ask why this list is so confined. It would be of interest to know the reasons behind it. It is commendable that under this Bill persons will receive compensation for injuries suffered as a result of criminal activity. But it would be interesting to know what has led the Government to that decision. I may mention also in respect of clause 18 that presumably, seeing that the magical retirement age in the Commonwealth Public Service seems to be 60 now and as there is certainly a trend in the community’ towards a retiring age of 60, the age of 65 contained in that clause presumably will undergo some change. But again we ask why this is the age specified. Why does clause 22 (3) specify that a benefit in respect of sickness is as restricted as it is? There was no explanation in the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). Presumably one who is injured at the age of 65 will receive payment until he is 69 if he receives -
– That is right.
-The Minister indicates that that is so. Perhaps the Minister could explain why that is so.
– There would be a common law right now, of course.
-A common law right now, but a common law right if a person is injured at 72 now, which would not exist under this scheme.
– Yes, for the 4 years.
– A person injured at the age of 69 can be covered for another 4 years? That presumably must have some relation to the expectation of life, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s explanation.
I turn now to clause 28 and clause 33 which relate to the assessment of income and the rate of benefit for partially incapacitated persons. There seems to be a slight inconsistency in the wording in these clauses in the way the amount is related to average weekly earnings. Clause 28 provides that the amounts arrived at for employees and self-employed are to be up-dated in accordance with subsequent movements in average weekly earnings to arrive at an income level. Presumably it does not mean there will be any rigid application of average weekly earnings as an index; it presumably is like clause 33 which provides that the Secretary or the Tribunal shall have regard to average weekly earnings in making his assessment of the amount to be paid to a person.
Without being totally critical of the Bill I should like to repeat what I said before and what I think the Minister chose to ignore when he replied generally to the Opposition’s case. I for one, and many others, have stressed that we support very strongly the notion of the removal of fault for compensation purposes. Also, I should like to say how much I support the notion of clearing up the problem of de facto situations, as provided in clause 44. For many years there has been a grave injustice which has been corrected now by clause 44 of the Bill. It is to the credit of the Government that that is so. I conclude by referring to clause 42 in relation to funeral benefits. Again, one would ask: Are these funeral benefits to be as absolute as appears to be so on the wording of the clause?
– I think that if Robert Browning had been in this House he would have referred to the blessed mutter of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). No doubt the Minister got through the amendments and explanations as quickly as he could. But really this is the first we have ever heard of these explanations. We are supposed to take them all in. The Minister is treating the Committee with utter and complete contempt. It is worse than that. This Bill does not become operative effectively until July 1976. There is not any real hurry or urgency. The Minister and the Government are using the sick and injured in this community as a stalking horse for their plans in the Senate. It is one of the most contemptible and roguish things that could possibly be imagined.
In spite of the patching up of the Bill by these 47 amendments- it is almost like one of the Heinz advertisements- the Bill is still very sloppy. I refer, purely as an example, to clause 27. It states:
If, during the period of 4 weeks immediately before the day on which his incapacity commenced, a person derived earnings as an employee … his weekly income for the purposes of this section is one-quarter of the amount of his earnings as an employee during that period.
What happens to a man who is employed for one week out of those four? He still comes under the operation of this very sloppily drawn clause. I do not imagine that the Government meant this. It is just bad draftsmanship. He comes under the operation of that clause and he loses three-quarters of his entitlement. Hundreds of things in this Bill should be thus corrected.
I turn to clause 14 of the Bill which my friend, the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee), mentioned a moment ago. I think that it goes beyond even what he was saying. Clause 13 removes the benefits of this Bill, not from persons who are the victims of crime but persons who commit certain crimes. A person who commits murder, malicious wounding or piracy, or endangers life on a vehicle or commits mutiny against the master of a ship or aircraft, does not benefit under this Bill. But a person who is injured in the course of committing a crime such as theft, rape or some other crime not named in the Bill- perhaps highway robbery- is apparently eligible for benefits under this Bill. Can you have anything more ridiculous? I do not know whether the people who drew up this Bill really meant that Surely it is the height of absurdity to think that a person who is injured committing a crime can be the recipient of benefitsperhaps quite considerable benefits- from the public purse. I suppose he will be able to plead his income as a burglar as the foundation of his benefit and that he would be able to say: ‘If I committed the Great Train Robbery I am entitled to very considerable benefit. ‘
– It will depend upon his earnings.
-No doubt the honourable member for Hunter has read the Bill as carefully as I have and he will know that it depends on the person’s earnings. This comes under clause 28 of the Bill. The person’s average earnings over the past year is used as a basis for determining weekly earnings. So if a burglar has had a very, very successful year and happens to fall from the second storey of a building and injures his back he will be on a pretty good pension for life under the provisions of this Bill. The thing is utterly absurd. I,do not know whether the draftsmen of this Bill meant this or whether they were just being careless.
But the real trouble is this. We are not allowed in this chamber to examine the Bill. Only a few minutes remain until the time allotted by the Government for the consideration of this Bill in this chamber runs out. We have no opportunity of examining and correcting these many and monstrous errors of drafting occurring in this Bill. For example, what about the qualifying age in clause 4 of the Bill. Why has nothing been put in in regard to the position of a full-time apprentice, for example? Anyone would think that a good trade union would be looking after the apprentices, but apparently an apprentice does not come within these provisions unless he is over the age of 18 years or he has a certain income. I do think that it would improve the Bill to put just the simple words ‘an apprentice’ into the definition clause. Maybe these are constructive and minor things, but there are many of them.
I am wondering about the definition of ‘employee’ which includes a member of the defence forces. This means, for example, that an officer on a higher salary would receive a much greater compensation for injury than a private. It may be that this is what the Government intends. I suppose you could even argue that it was right and proper, but I do not think that the members on the Government side understand quite what they are voting for in this regard. It has usually been thought that there is some kind of equality and comradeship in the defence forces.
I am not happy about the date of commencement of the provisions of this legislation. It has been pointed out in this place that there is some constitutional doubt as to the validity of this Bill and that if the High Court decides that the Bill does not abolish common law rights and clauses 92 and so on of the Bill are therefore invalid, very grave consequences will occur to the Australian economy. I am wondering whether the suggestions of the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) about the commencement of the legislation might not have received more consideration from the Government. But basically it comes down to this. I will not go through the very, very many matters of detail which could be raised and should have been raised if there had been time for adequate debate. The Government is doing something phoney and dishonest. The Government has put in a completely dishonest motion which says that this is an urgent Bill. It is not an urgent Bill at all. Under the Government’s own plans it does not operate until July 1976.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable gentleman will not reflect on the decisions of the House.
– Indeed, I find myself well rebuked in that matter. One must not reflect on the decisions of a House which is the creature of the Labor Caucus.
– The honourable gentleman will not reflect on decisions of the House.
– I am saying that I must not reflect on the decisions of a House and I am being very careful not to do so. But the Minister reflected on the House when, anticipating its decision, he said: ‘We are going to get this Bill through tonight’. He put forward this threat to the House- which he is able to carry out because he has the numbers- and this has been done with callous disregard of the interests of the sick and the injured.
– I suggest that the honourable member may debate the clauses in the Bill but he may not debate motions which have already been dealt with in the House.
– I am taking the Bill as a whole. I am pointing out that quite dishonestly the Government is using this Bill as a stalking horse against the Senate to make a threat to the
Senate, and this is a contemptible thing. The Government is acting very contemptibly.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I just want to reply briefly to a couple of matters that have been raised, particularly those raised by the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee). One would think that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and the honourable member for Balaclava were not in the same team. The point at the moment is that the questions raised by the honourable member for Balaclava did have some merit. He raised the question of pregnancy. He asked whether it was deemed to be an injury. Pregnancy is not an injury. That was a valid question. There can be complications with pregnancy and serious results which are deemed to be an injury are therefore covered. As to another matter raised by the honourable member for Balaclava and which I answered by interjection, in respect of a pensioner the Bill refers to a period of 4 years irrespective of age. This sort of coincides with the fact that even though a pensioner is injured he is entitled to get some money and one would not want to deprive him of that right.
In relation to a young child, it is admitted that the child would be able to get a lump sum payment in a common law action. But bear in mind that if the same child had been very seriously injured at home he would get nothing. So if one wants to equate the comparison it is more than favourable. In addition, a handicapped child will be able to get all the additional facilities of aid. Another matter raised was funeral benefits. This is flexible. There is a discretion. I think the same thing applies to the matter raised by the honourable member for Mackellar in relation to a person who works one week within a period of the 4 weeks referred to. There is a discretion there.
– Another question is why you want the Bill tonight?
-The reason we want the Bill tonight is that we do not think you want it at any stage and this is one way of testing you. We will see what you do in the Senate. I am convinced that you will oppose it in the Senate. We will be able to test this Bill in another forum.
– Everybody agrees that this Bill is a very complex piece of legislation. It is a very confusing piece of legislation. There are many things left unexplained by this totally unsatisfactory debate. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chippp) by interjection a moment ago raised the point which is left with the greatest lack of explanationthat is why this Bill has to be passed tonight. There is no satisfactory -
-Order! The time allotted for the Committee stage has expired. The question is:
That the amendments and the new clauses be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The question now is:
That the Bill as amended be agreed to and the Bill be reported with amendments.
The Committee divided: (The Chairman-Mr G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Adoption of Report
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) agreed to:
That the report be adopted.
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-Before I became the victim of the gag I was asking a very pertinent question. Out of all the complexities, the doubts and the unanswered question that arose in the debate tonight, the great question that remains unanswered is why the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) found it necessary for this legislation to be passed tonight. The very words he used were: ‘We have to have the Bill tonight’. Throughout the debate the Special Minister of State has avoided explaining to this House why it is necessary in terms of the social objectives of this Bill, which we on this side of the House support notwithstanding the comments that were made by Government supporters in this debate, for it to be passed tonight. We do not seek to obstruct or delay its passage. We merely seek a reasonable opportunity to give proper consideration to a matter of enormous social significance.
During the course of my remarks on the second reading I alluded to what I regarded as a constructive amendment to this legislation. I asked the Government to consider whether it might be possible to include in the legislation some option for people to capitalise the benefits under the legislation because I believe that in some circumstances capitalisation of the benefits is of far greater use to people who suffer complete and total incapacity than are regular weekly benefits. The Committee stage of the debate was such a total farce that I had no opportunity of raising this objection then. For the Government to chide members of the Opposition and to say that members of the Opposition are being obstructionist towards a matter of social significance, and yet in the next breath to allow a totally farcical period of time for a Committee debate on such an important piece of legislation, I think lends weight to the argument that was put forward by my colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), that indeed the Government is using natural sympathy in the community for the sick and injured as a stalking horse for its Senate plans.
I again remind the House that the members of the Opposition recognise the enormous social significance of this legislation. We recognise that there are large numbers of people in the community who wrongly and unjustly at the moment are without benefit. We do not object to a scheme that will give them benefits We do not object to a scheme that will legitimately remove the anomalies that presently exist; but what we do object to and what we will continue to object to is the fact that this Parliament is asked to rubber-stamp such a significant piece of social legislation without the merest semblance of a serious debate.
If there is any sympathy and concern on the other side of the House about a serious parliamentary consideration of national problems, the Government will even at this late stage, if it is possible, allow a serious debate on this legislation. Time and time again in the past when matters of social significance to the country have been brought to this Parliament we have been allowed a serious debate. Yet the second reading debate for this legislation commenced this afternoon and as the afternoon unfolded we found that the second reading stage had to be completed by about 9 o’clock. Members on the Government side dropped out of the debate. That is how interested they are in a serious consideration -
-Order! I remind the honourable member that he is speaking on the third reading. I have allowed quite a lot of latitude. He should relate his remarks to the clauses of the Bill.
-The great difficulty about this third reading debate is that we are not allowed an opportunity to give a detailed analysis of the clauses of the Bill. I defy any member on the Government side to assert seriously that with such a farcical restriction of time it is possible to give any serious consideration to such a massive piece of legislation. I do not think that anybody who is listening to this debate could fail to be impressed by that incredible clause 88 that was quoted by my friend the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), a clause that would probably take a battalion of English grammar professors to explain, let alone the members of this House during a very cursory third reading stage.
I again record the great disappointment and indignation of the Opposition that such a mammoth piece of social legislation has been treated in such a contemptuous fashion by the Government. In asking this House to make a great social advance, a social advance that we support -
– Order! The time allotted for the remaining stages of the Bill has expired.
That the Bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
House adjourned at 11.22 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 October 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1974/19741024_reps_29_hor91/>.