Workers Rehabilitation And Consultation (Scheme Review) Amendment Bill

01 May 2008 archivespeech
This speech is in relation to the Workers Rehabilitation And Consultation (Scheme Review) Amendment Bill. This bill is regarding the issue of the WorkCover Corporation.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (12:23): I am pleased to follow that passionate contribution by my colleague the Hon. Stephen Wade. When elected to parliament in 2003, one of the issues I raised and was told I was a bit odd for raising as a serious issue that we needed to be addressing was the issue of the WorkCover Corporation. As members would be aware, my background immediately before coming to parliament was working for the aged care sector, which has a significant number of injuries, so it was an area very much in the forefront of my mind as I entered this place.

I pointed out at the time that the liability rate when the Liberal Party left office was only some $56 million and, at that stage, 1 July 2003, it had blown out to $400 million. If that was not a warning to the government to fix things, when we are looking at close to $850 million as at 30 June last year, I do not know what is. This is chapter and verse a story of the fact that nobody, including Labor's own constituency, can trust Labor with governance where money is concerned. It is reprehensible of people who have been supported and elected to this parliament by working people and the unions to be sacrificing their own and will not even fix the problem, as the Hon. Robert Lawson pointed out in his contribution. It will not fix the problem but will just save this government from some embarrassment. I am so tired of ministers both in this place and another place, because lock, stock and barrel they are incompetent and you would not get them to organise a children's birthday party.

In an interjection yesterday I made a point to the Leader of the Government here that the scheme was in fairly good shape when we left office, and he pointed out that we dropped the average rate. In a presentation provided to the Liberal Party, we indeed dropped the rate and it has remained static at 3 per cent. However, in comparable states—Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland—the rate is lower and in each consecutive year from 2004-05 those rates have been dropped. In New South Wales in 2004-05 the rate was 2.57 per cent and was dropped 12 months later to 2.44 per cent, then 2.06 per cent and 1.77 per cent. Victoria has the same story:

 2 per cent in 2004 05; the following year, 1.8 per cent; the year after that, 1.62 per cent; and the year after that, 1.46 per cent. In Queensland in 2004-05 it was 1.55 per cent (half South Australia's rate at that point), and it dropped to 1.43 per cent and subsequently was 1.2 per cent and then 1.15 per cent.

Our system is clearly non-competitive with comparisons interstate, and the fact that other states were able to reduce their rates over those years should have been a signal to this government that it has not been achieving its goals with a scheme of so many millions of dollars. There should have been early warning signs and other action should have been taken.

We have also fallen well short of our strategic plan targets for injury reduction, so presumably, as in other areas of State Strategic Plan targets that have not been met, as the Leader of the Government in this place has referred to on previous occasions as stretched targets (a bit like non-core promises), one assumes that they will be adjusted so the Premier will be able to make a positive announcement at some point in future. This comes at a time when we have had a 50 per cent increase in the number of workplace safety inspectors, so one must question the value of that strategy on behalf of the government.

The primary objects of the WorkCover Corporation Act are:

 (a) To reduce the incidence and severity of work related injuries;

 (b) To ensure as far as practical the prompt and effective rehabilitation of workers who suffer work-related injuries;

 (c) To provide fair compensation for work-related injuries;

 and (d) To keep employers' costs to the minimum that is consistent with attainment of the objects mentioned above.

I read those objects in September 2003 and, as far as I can comment, objects (b) and (d) have not been met. Much has been said about the need for early intervention, and people I know who work in the industry in assessments and so forth say it is fairly obvious.

In residential aged care the actuarial calculations show that injuries to workers that cause the worker to spend more two weeks away from work result in more than 85 per cent of claims costs. Obviously, some people would need to spend more time off for whatever reason in relation to their injuries. This has been identified time and again over the years. It is fairly obvious that we ought to be looking at the longer term injuries and trying to get people back to work as quickly as possible. The way the scheme has been operating, it is so bureaucratic that injured workers can have trouble getting hold of their case manager. They are told constantly to make an appointment, and so on. It is not always easy to get appointments with particular specialists.

A case that I have been made aware of involves a lady who had to make a stress claim, which could not be accepted without a psychiatrist's report. She had to make several phone calls in order to obtain one and was not successful. When she finally got hold of her case worker, she was told that she absolutely had to have this report. She was not able to obtain any Centrelink income and she ended up having to flat with a friend, because she had no source of income at all.

I question whether those sorts of situations give any evidence that this government believes in social justice, which is an area that I have complained about before. Quite frankly, there is more protecting of minister's backsides in relation to particular strategies that are taken by this government than caring for people with genuine needs in our community.

I think the issue of the disability payments for equipment highlights that fact. When I was first elected to this place, the government was not even going to match the commonwealth contribution to the Home and Community Care program. In mental health, and in a whole range of areas, this government does not look after the vulnerable; it looks after itself.