Accident Compensation Amendment (Repayment of Dividends) Bill 2012

Written on the 17 April 2012

I am pleased to rise to make a relatively short contribution to the debate on the Accident Compensation Amendment (Repayments and Dividends) Bill 2012, and I do so for a number of reasons. After hearing the contribution of Ms Tierney I want to take the opportunity to dispute some of the outrageous remarks she made in relation to business concerns. I want to speak about what we as a government are undertaking to maintain the position of this state in light of what is happening right around this country. I refer here to some policy decisions made at a national level that are having massive impacts not only here in Victoria but in other parts of the country.

 


Going back to the bill, my colleague Mr Philip Davis, who has a tremendous knowledge of what has gone before in this place, contributed exceptionally well to this debate. He saw some of the reforms under the Kennett government, which he referred to, in relation to WorkCover schemes. There is no doubt that those on this side of the house are very supportive of such schemes, and we need to have those schemes in place to protect workers. I think Mr Davis mentioned the gas and oil industries and the agricultural industries in his contribution and that he was very aware of what the WorkCover schemes were designed to do. Similarly I am very aware of WorkCover and what it has done for people I know who have been injured in very serious farm accidents. There are industrial areas in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region where these sorts of schemes are very important indeed.

 


Clause 4 of the bill inserts new sections 33A and 33B into the Accident Compensation Act 1985, which provide that after consultation with the Victorian WorkCover Authority and the relevant minister the Treasurer may require the authority to repay capital to the state. This is not new, as has been outlined by other speakers. There have been other authorities, such as the Transport Accident Commission, which have also undertaken such repayments. The Assistant Treasurer, Mr Rich-Phillips, outlined that exceedingly well and said that this is not new to the Victorian taxpayer. The Victorian taxpayer is ultimately responsible for underwriting WorkCover, and therefore it is appropriate that the state receive a dividend.

 


I turn now to Ms Tierney's comment about this government being lazy. She said it a number of times in her contribution, and it seems to me that it has been lifted straight from 'ALP Vic news!' in which the shadow minister for WorkCover, the member for Preston in the Assembly, said a similar thing.

 


He also said the Baillieu government's financial management is reckless, but nothing could be further from the truth. This government is putting Victoria into a very sustainable and financially responsible state, and I commend all those involved in the budgetary process -- the Treasurer, the Minister for Finance and others -- on their stewardship of it.

 


Ms Tierney also said the repayment of capital was going to erode business confidence and its competitive edge. What I see as eroding confidence and the competitive edge of business is not this piece of legislation but a piece of national legislation, that being the introduction of a carbon tax. We hear constantly from businesses about the uncertainty it is going to cause, and I think come 1 July, when we find out what its impact will be, is when the confidence and the competitive edge might be discovered.

 


In relation to what already occurs, TAC is underwritten by and pays a dividend to the government, as I have mentioned. We have heard the scaremongering from the opposition. Mr Lenders said the government's process for determining what capital is involves saying, 'We could do with a bit more dough', and then taking it out of the authority with no checks and balances on the Treasurer. As was highlighted by Mr Philip Davis, when Mr Lenders was Treasurer he had no problem accepting dividends from TAC. There is a degree of hypocrisy in the opposition's argument regarding this legislation.
 

 

Members of the opposition have suggested that premiums will rise. The bill will not cause a rise in premiums. The fact that members of the opposition have stated this shows their lack of understanding as to how premiums are actually calculated. They are not based on financial year results; they are based on the projection of costs that will be incurred by the Victorian WorkCover Authority.
 

 

Further, as has already been highlighted, Victoria has the lowest WorkCover premiums in Australia -- 1.34 per cent -- whereas Queensland has a premium of 1.42 per cent and New South Wales has a premium of 1.66 per cent. There is no question about it; we have a good track record.
 

 

[Mr Tee] -- Who delivered that?
 

 

[Ms CROZIER] -- I take up Mr Tee's interjection. I do not know if Mr Tee was in the chamber when Mr Philip Davis made his contribution, but the setting of the premiums being at that rate was primarily due to the reforms undertaken under the Kennett government. The other interesting point Mr Davis made in his contribution to this debate was in relation to the additional $600 million in dividends paid under the Bracks and Brumby governments.
 

 

In relation to what the Baillieu government is doing and the responsibility of the Minister for Finance in discharging this piece of legislation, I assure businesses that premiums will not rise and that the safety of workers will be ensured. It is completely misleading to say that their safety will not be ensured and that premiums will rise.
 

 

In conclusion, I reiterate that business will not suffer, as stated by those opposite, that workers will be protected, that benefits will remain enshrined in legislation and that those who are injured will still be looked after by the scheme in the same way that they are currently. I commend the bill to the house and urge those opposite to support it.


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