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Workers Compensation Bill 2012

Workers Compensation Bill 2012

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Published by Helen Westwood
Helen Westwood speech on Workers Compensation Bill 2012
Helen Westwood speech on Workers Compensation Bill 2012

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Published by: Helen Westwood on Jun 22, 2012
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06/22/2012

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Speech in NSW Parliament
 WORKERS COMPENSATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012SAFETY, RETURN TO WORK AND SUPPORT BOARD BILL 2012
The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD
[10.48 a.m.]: I oppose the Workers CompensationLegislation Amendment Bill 2012 and the Safety, Return to Work and Support BoardBill 2012. The manner in which these bills have been hatched and then introduced isreprehensible. Yet again, this Government is disrespecting the workers of NewSouth Wales. These bills are yet another illustration of the fact that the O'Farrell-Stoner Government holds the workers of this State in contempt. New South Waleshas historically led the nation in occupational health and safety reform and itcurrently has the lowest rate of workplace injuries since the WorkCover schemecommenced in 1987. That can be singularly attributed to the work of the LaborGovernment.In the year ending June 2009 there were 9,300 fewer work-related injuries reportedin New South Wales than in the previous year. That continues a downward trend inthis State. In fact, thanks to the strong policies implemented over the 16 years of theLabor Government, the number of deaths in workplaces fell by 3.4 per 100,000workers. In 1995 there were eight workplace deaths per 100,000 workers and by2009 that figure had fallen to 4.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. In the year or so sincethe O'Farrell Government was elected it has systematically attacked the rights ofworkers in this State. We will now have the weakest set of workers compensationlaws in the Commonwealth.Figures from Safe Work Australia show that New South Wales had a lower numberof workplace fatalities than Victoria and Queensland. Between July 2009 and May2010 a total of 19 workplace fatalities were reported in New South Wales comparedto 24 in Victoria and 23 in Queensland. It is a fact that New South Wales was
 
reducing the number of serious injuries and fatalities in the workplace. Between2004-05 and 2008-09 New South Wales had a 25 per cent improvement in thenumber of serious workplace compensated injuries and musculoskeletal claims. Allof those results show that the New South Wales system delivers the right balance ofprotection to workers. I refer to dissenting statements in the workers compensationreport at page 284, which state:Premiums have reduced by $1 billion a year since 2005, leading to areduction in costs for employers in the State by some $7 billion. It isunnecessary, as well as harsh and unfair, that the entire burden ofreform should fall upon those who are most vulnerable: namely theinjured workers.I found that the issues paper released by the Government and the subsequent reportreleased last week are overly preoccupied with the notion that injured workers aresomehow to blame for the state of the scheme. There are various references to theneed for further financial disincentives as a means to encourage injured workers toget back to work. These inferences appear to be that, if workers' entitlements areslashed, it is more likely they will return to work sooner. This is an overly simplistic,ignorant view of the overall return to work process. Not surprisingly, it divertsattention away from the more pressing and substantive issues which are responsiblefor the deterioration in the scheme's performance. I refer again to the dissentingstatements in the report at page 283:The Scheme actuary discloses that half the deterioration in the schemefinances is due to external economic factors. The evidence taken bythe committee overwhelmingly indicates that the role of the schemeagents (insurers) has been a key factor in the deterioration of thescheme through claims management functions and failures to getinjured workers into appropriate rehabilitation sufficiently soon.All important stakeholders and the committee accept that there needsto be a thorough review of the Scheme and the role played by theScheme agents and we believe that this should occur rather thanembarking upon wholesale slashing of the benefits to injured workers.
 
We note in this regard that compensation payments to injured workershave fallen by almost 20 per cent from 2002 to 2010.And:We believe that in particular having regard to the significant reductionin premiums over the last 7 years, modest premium increases couldoccur to stabilise the scheme while a more thorough review of neededsystemic reforms such as the role played by scheme agents and theirperformance can be reviewed and developed.That was a view I heard expressed by Associate Professor Brian Owler, whois a neurosurgeon and vice president of the Australian Medical Association.Anyone who heard Associate Professor Owler speak to Linda Mottram on 702ABC yesterday would have heard him talk about his concerns about theproposals in this bill. He said it was a missed opportunity. He agrees thatthere is a problem but says that, instead of going after the benefits of workers,this Government should have been looking at how the system is administered.He talked about the sorts of decisions by agents
that is, the insurers
thatwe heard evidence of from workers before the committee. It is insurers whohave caused the blow-out in costs of this scheme. It is they who need to havetheir management approach and their administration structures addressed.We heard from him and from workers about the high turnover of casemanagers, decisions being made by people who have no medical training,who are not clinicians and who do not understand the needs of injuredworkers, who have no understanding of how long it takes for workers withvery serious injuries to recover or the sort of treatment they need and supportthey need to get back to work. That is the main problem with the scheme but,in keeping with all that this Government does, what does it do? It attacksworkers. It takes away workers' rights. It slashes their benefits. That is whatthis Government does. It is never willing to look at the real cause because theeasy target is workers and their representatives, both in the trade unionmovement and in this place.

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