PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS (2.04.2014)

Written on the 14 April 2014

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- I move:

That this house notes:

(1) the resolution of the Council of 30 October 2013 requiring the Leader of the Government to table in the Legislative Council by 26 November 2013 a copy of documents detailing the Country Fire Authority and the Victorian WorkCover Authority actuarial assessment and cost estimates to provide compensation for Victoria's firefighters injured or deceased as a result of exposure to carcinogens on the job;

(2) the letter of the Assistant Treasurer, dated 22 November 2013, stating that the government is not able to respond within the time period requested by the Council and would endeavour to respond by 10 December 2013; and

(3) that, as at 12 December 2013, the documents sought have not been provided;

and calls on the Leader of the Government or the Assistant Treasurer to explain why the documents have not been tabled and when they will be produced.

I put this motion on the notice paper in December last year because it had taken an extraordinary amount of time for the government to respond to this issue. Following the giving of that notice of this motion, I received a letter on 31 January that I find quite extraordinary. It says:

I refer to the Legislative Council's resolution of 30 October 2013 seeking the production of:

- a copy of documents detailing the Country Fire Authority and the Victorian WorkCover Authority actuarial assessment and cost estimates to provide compensation for Victoria's firefighters injured or deceased as a result of exposure to carcinogens on the job.

I also refer to my letter to you of late November 2013, advising that the government required additional time to respond to the resolution.

The government has conducted a thorough and diligent search to identify documents relevant to the Council's resolution. All of the relevant documents identified by the Department of Treasury and Finance, the Department of Justice, the Victorian WorkCover Authority and the Country Fire Authority have been withheld on the basis that releasing them would be prejudicial to the public interest. This is because release of those documents would reveal the deliberations of cabinet or high-level deliberations of government.

In order to facilitate public discussion, I have attached a summary of the information provided to government in relation to the VWA scheme and the CFA scheme.

I respectfully request that the Council not insist on the production of the documents.

I am quite astounded by this letter. The government has said quite publicly that this will be an extremely costly scheme. In other notes that I have been sent it has been said that the cost of adding the 12 deemed cancers to the volunteer compensation scheme for volunteer firefighters arising from future funding payments in respect of past exposures -- outstanding claims liability -- is estimated to be in the range of $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion, with a central estimate of $1.5 billion. If the government is going to put out figures like that, the only reasonable thing it can do is show how it arrived at them. Why is it that this government is so unprepared to be transparent on what are incredibly important matters?

The other documents I received go to some of the things that PricewaterhouseCoopers prepared -- cost estimates at the request of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) based on internal modelling information provided by the VWA for career firefighters.

PricewaterhouseCoopers considered that the modelling used by the VWA was reasonable. This model is based on estimating an exposed population for a new injury year, estimating the rate of incidence for each cancer and estimating an average cost per claim by each cancer. The cost estimate relates to a scheme of 12 deemed cancers as proposed under the bill.

A central cost estimate is provided as well as a lower and upper range, as is standard in the provision of actuarial assessments. The annual cost of the bill is estimated in the range of $7 million to $13 million, with $10 million provided as the central estimate. The cost of the bill arising from funding future payments in respect of past exposures is estimated in the range of $83 million to $161 million, with a central estimate of $119 million. PricewaterhouseCoopers notes that some of the assumptions underpinning the assessment are based on limited data. I would like to see that limited data.

How is it that even the people who are assessing what this will cost are asking: how can you do this with limited data? PricewaterhouseCoopers also notes that the ultimate cost impact is heavily dependent on behavioural factors such as propensity to claim, and therefore the range of possible outcomes is wide.

This is an issue I have been talking about in this Parliament for quite some time. We introduced a bill on it; we have just had a motion rejected, meaning we cannot proceed with the bill. We all know that firefighters -- either volunteer or career -- are at risk of cancer because of their work. Currently there is a barrier to them being able to receive WorkCover payments. If we want to push forward on this debate, one of the things we need to know from the government is how it assesses the costs. These costs seem outrageously high, and it is up to the government to prove how it came to those estimates. I do not think it is an unreasonable thing to ask for.

If, as this government claims, it is transparent and it wants to engage in this debate, it would assist by handing over these documents.

 

Hon. R. A. DALLA-RIVA (Eastern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to speak on behalf of the government to Ms Hartland's motion. In Ms Hartland's contribution she noted that she gave notice of this motion on 12 December last year; it is now 2 April, and in the meantime there has been some level of movement, as was correctly pointed out by Ms Hartland in her contribution -- --
Ms Hartland -- To say no.

Hon. R. A. DALLA-RIVA -- Ms Hartland interjected, 'To say no'; that is not quite correct. In terms of the request . . .

Ms Hartland interjected.

Hon. R. A. DALLA-RIVA -- I will get to Ms Hartland's interjections.

On 30 October 2013 Ms Hartland sought from the Legislative Council by 26 November a copy of the documents detailing the actuarial assessment and cost estimates to provide compensation for Victoria's firefighters. If you read the literal resolution of the Council of 30 October, you will see it uses the same words as in Ms Hartland's motion today at paragraph (1), which refers to Ms Hartland's request for:

- a copy of documents detailing the Country Fire Authority and the Victorian WorkCover Authority actuarial assessment and cost estimates to provide compensation for Victoria's firefighters injured or deceased as a result of exposure to carcinogens on the job. There is also a notation in paragraph (2) about the Assistant Treasurer saying the government is not able to respond.

Let us look at the context of the initial request, which Ms Hartland herself addressed by providing the letter that was tabled in this chamber in February. The Clerk announced that he had received a letter dated 31 January 2014 from the Assistant Treasurer headed 'Order for documents -- cost estimates for firefighter compensation', together with attachments. The letter and attachments are on pages 52 to 54 of Hansard of Tuesday, 4 February. I have a copy of the letter, and Ms Hartland correctly read out parts of it. It said the release of the documents would reveal the deliberations of cabinet or high-level deliberations of government.

As Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips, the Assistant Treasurer, wrote in the letter -- and I reiterate what Ms Hartland went to:

In order to facilitate public discussion, I have attached a summary of the information provided to government in relation to the VWA scheme and the CFA scheme.
Ms Hartland read into the record the central cost estimate from one of the summaries of actuarial assessment -- the one prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Victorian WorkCover Authority, which is attachment 1. It says:

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) prepared cost estimates at the request of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA), based on internal modelling information provided by the VWA for career firefighters ...

This modelling is based on:

- estimating the exposed population for a new injury year;

- estimating the rate of incidence for each cancer;

- estimating an average cost per claim by each cancer.

The cost estimate relates to a scheme of 12 deemed cancers as proposed under the bill. Ms Hartland also read this, and I will read it as well:

A central cost estimate is provided as well as a lower and upper range -- as is standard in the provision of actuarial assessments. The annual cost of the bill is estimated to be in the range of $7 million to $13 million, with $10 million provided as the central estimate.

The cost of the bill arising from funding future payments in respect of past exposures is estimated to be in the range of $83 million to $161 million with a central estimate of $119 million.

I turn to attachment 2, headed 'Summary of actuarial assessment prepared by Bateup Actuarial and Consulting Services for the Country Fire Authority'. It says:

This modelling is based on:

- an assumption that there is no restriction on claims by date of injury or diagnosis;

- estimating the rate of incidence for each cancer;

- estimating an average cost per claim by each cancer.

The cost estimate relates to the scheme of 12 deemed cancers as set out under the Commonwealth Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Act 2011.
Again it refers to a central cost estimate as well as a lower and upper range. It says:

The annual cost of adding the 12 deemed cancers to the volunteer compensation scheme (VCS) administered by the CFA for volunteer firefighters is estimated to be in the range of $90 million to $170 million, with $130 million provided as the central estimate.

The cost of adding the 12 deemed cancers to the VCS for volunteer firefighters arising from funding future payments in respect of past exposures (outstanding claims liability) is estimated to be in the range of $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion, with a central estimate of $1.5 billion.

I put that on the record because the request was for an actuarial assessment, and I have just read out two actuarial assessments -- one provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Victorian WorkCover Authority and the other provided by Bateup Actuarial and Consulting Services for the Country Fire Authority.
The second part was a request by Ms Hartland regarding the Council's resolution on 30 October 2013, and it was for the cost estimates. I have just read in some detail the cost estimates outlined in the actuarial assessment in terms of providing compensation for Victoria's firefighters who have been injured or who have been exposed to carcinogens while on the job.

The government's view is that it has dealt with the matters as requested. It is also important to note that a question on notice, no. 9829, was included in matters considered by the Council on 5 February 2014.

It was headed 'Assistant Treasurer: Firefighters Assessment Panel'. Ms Hartland asked the Assistant Treasurer:

In relation to the Firefighters Assessment Panel which, on 20 August 2013, the government announced will be established to assist in the management and assessment of career and volunteer firefighter cancer-related claims, and will comprise expert medical, technical and claims specialists:
 

(1) When will this panel be established ...

I do not propose to read out the whole question because Ms Hartland asks 16 subquestions about the panel and its structure et cetera. I think it is fair to say that the response provided by Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips, the Assistant Treasurer, was quite detailed. If one were to look at the notes -- --

An honourable member interjected.

Hon. R. A. DALLA-RIVA -- Nothing has changed in terms of the writing. I thank Mr Davis.

Ms Hartland says that is a different issue, but I think it is about the assessment panel. It is about the amount of detail the government has provided, in particular the Assistant Treasurer, to a level requested by Ms Hartland, in response to not only previous motions but also the motion before the chamber. While I understand the importance of the motion, and Ms Hartland has continued to provide assistance in trying to achieve a resolution, the fact is that the Assistant Treasurer has provided the documents as I have outlined, and it is fair to say that an adequate amount of detail has been provided.

It is also worth noting that on 13 August 2013 Ms Hartland requested that the freedom of information commissioner review her FOI request to the Victorian WorkCover Authority, which denied her access to part of the documents she sought. I think it is fair to say that the government has been very open about providing as much information as possible. Having made that point, I do not believe Ms Hartland's motion has merit as it stands today.

 

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria) -- The Labor Party will be supporting Ms Hartland's motion seeking these documents, and as indicated in the debate immediately preceding this one, it also supports the endeavours of firefighters, both career and volunteer, across the length and breadth of Victoria who seek a resolution of the issue around access to workers compensation for firefighters who have been exposed to carcinogens in the work they do keeping Victorians safe.

I would like to refer briefly to the final report of the Economy and Infrastructure Legislation Committee's inquiry into the Accident Compensation Legislation (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011. There were elements of this report that we spoke to in the debate preceding this one, but on this occasion I will refer to the evidence the committee heard from the Assistant Treasurer, Mr Rich-Phillips. He indicated in making a case about Ms Hartland's bill not being an appropriate bill to proceed in the Legislative Council that on the question of cost -- I am quoting from the report:

... in relation to the VWA scheme, some actuarial work has been done by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the preliminary figures suggest the cost to the scheme would be in the order of a $10 million annual cost and a liability impact on the scheme ... the whole of life cost ... calculated in terms of the future liabilities against the scheme. That has been assessed at around $120 million impact on the liability.

Ms Hartland's endeavour to get this information for a public discussion around the cost and benefits associated with providing presumptive rights to workers compensation for firefighters with cancer has some of its origins in the information that was presented to the committee quite some time ago. This was evidence taken by that committee on 29 May 2013 -- not quite a year ago, but almost -- in which it was revealed that the government has actually crunched the numbers on this.

I note the correspondence to the Clerk from Minister Rich-Phillips and the attached summaries that Mr Dalla-Riva referred to extensively in his contribution. What is clear is that the government has looked into and considered this issue. As I have said on behalf of my colleagues in the Labor Party on many occasions, this is an issue that is not going away; it is an issue that Parliament needs to consider. The motion that Ms Hartland brought to the house today seeks to make public the information that will enable that debate to occur.

Victorians are incredibly well served by our firefighters; they undertake extraordinary risks on behalf of all of us. As members of Parliament we have a responsibility to properly explore the question of presumptive rights to workers compensation for firefighters, as has occurred in other jurisdictions overseas and in other states of Australia and indeed the commonwealth. The Baillieu and Napthine governments have continued to drag their heels on this issue. Members of the opposition believe this issue is important for Victorian firefighters and that it is an important issue for the Parliament to consider, and the release of this information will enable that debate to occur.

I am sure that sooner or later the Parliament will be able to have a debate on this matter, but this government's continual efforts to frustrate the advance of this issue does it no credit. The government has clearly considered the issue and provided some very brief summaries of the information it has received. It is appropriate that this information be released so that the Parliament, and indeed the Victorian community, can consider at what cost it is reasonable to provide the type of compensation rights that exist for firefighters in other jurisdictions where the relationship between their firefighting work and the incidence of cancer is able to be demonstrated.

 

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise to speak on Ms Hartland's motion. I have been listening to the contributions to the debate made by other members, and clearly we have had an earlier debate in relation to firefighters.

I know that Ms Hartland has a longstanding interest in the welfare of firefighters, and I believe all members have a very strong interest in the work that firefighters do for the community. Many of us have personal connections with people who are members of the Country Fire Authority (CFA), and we are very concerned about the work that firefighters perform on behalf of the Victorian community on a regular basis. I commend firefighters for their work.

Turning to Ms Hartland's motion, it asks the house to note:

(1) the resolution of the Council of 30 October 2013 requiring the Leader of the Government to table in the Legislative Council by 26 November 2013 a copy of documents detailing the Country Fire Authority and the Victorian WorkCover Authority actuarial assessment and cost estimates to provide compensation for Victoria's firefighters injured or deceased as a result of exposure to carcinogens on the job;

(2) the letter of the Assistant Treasurer, dated 22 November 2013, stating that the government is not able to respond within the time period requested by the Council and would endeavour to respond by 10 December 2013; and

(3) that, as at 12 December 2013, the documents sought have not been provided and calls on the Leader of the Government to assist and to explain why the documents have not been tabled and when they will be produced.
Clearly some time has elapsed between the time when this motion was placed on the notice paper and the current debate. I will make a few points about the information that has been provided, because members opposite have said that the government has not been transparent.

I believe there is a degree of confusion around this motion exactly because other members who have preceded me in the debate have misunderstood the detailed response given to this house by the Assistant Treasurer, the Honourable Gordon Rich-Phillips. I remind members that Mr Rich-Phillips did provide information to the Council dated 31 January, which was within the time frames stated in the letter. I note that on 4 February the Clerk said:

I have received a letter dated 31 January 2014 from the Assistant Treasurer headed 'Order for documents -- cost estimates for firefighter compensation', together with attachments.
Obviously that letter, which has been referred to in the course of this debate, highlights the fact that the government has conducted a thorough and diligent search to identify the documents relevant to the Council's resolution.

That is very relevant to what we are speaking about today, because in this letter the Assistant Treasurer also stated:

In order to facilitate public discussion, I have attached a summary of the information provided to government in relation to the VWA scheme and the CFA scheme.
That goes to the attachments that were discussed in relation to the cost estimates prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). The summary states:

PWC considered that the modelling used by the VWA was reasonable. This modelling is based on:

- estimating the exposed population for a new injury year;

- estimating the rate of incidence for each cancer;

- estimating an average cost per claim by each cancer.
 

The actuarial and consulting service went on to say that it was providing its information based on internal modelling information provided by the VWA, which was based on an assumption that there is no restriction on claims by date of injury or diagnosis and an estimation of the rate of incidence for each cancer and an average cost per claim by each cancer.

Turning again to Ms Hartland's motion, which asks for the cost estimates and actuarial assessment, in this instance the Assistant Treasurer has been very forthcoming and very transparent and has provided the information to the house, which was tabled on 31 January. The Assistant Treasurer should be commended for the work he has done. He stated that obviously some time would be required to undertake a thorough and diligent search to identify those documents, and he spelt that out very clearly in his letter and then provided additional information, which I will not restate to members because Mr Dalla-Riva stated that information very clearly. Ms Hartland also referred to those attachments in relation to cost estimates.

It is also relevant to say of the documents identified that some of them have been withheld on the basis that releasing them would be prejudicial to the public interest. We all know that it is the case that these documents would reveal cabinet deliberations or high-level deliberations of government, and it is normal cabinet practice to withhold such information.

Mr Dalla-Riva also mentioned in his contribution to the debate that last year Ms Hartland requested the FOI commissioner to review her original FOI request to the Victorian WorkCover Authority, which denied her access to part of the documents that she sought. I am led to believe that at this stage the commissioner is yet to make a decision on Ms Hartland's application, and the government does not want to pre-empt any decision that the commissioner might make based on those issues.

As I said, it is pretty clear that the Assistant Treasurer has provided the information asked for by Ms Hartland's motion. As I said at the outset, some time has elapsed since this request was made, and it has become clear as time has progressed through the past few months that Mr Rich-Phillips, in his capacity as Assistant Treasurer, has provided the necessary information requested.

I should also point out that the Assistant Treasurer points out in his letter to Mr Tunnecliffe, the Clerk of the Council, the very fact that I have just stated in relation to the relevant documentation identified by the Department of Treasury of Finance, the Department of Justice, the Victorian WorkCover Authority and the Country Fire Authority -- that is, that the documents have been withheld on the basis that releasing them would be prejudicial to the public interest. Release of these documents would reveal deliberations of cabinet and high-level deliberations of government, as I previously stated.


I think the Assistant Treasurer has explained clearly his decision to take that stance.

In terms of the attachments he provided to his letter, he points out in his letter very clearly what the estimates requested by the VWA were based upon, and it is pretty clear, as others have said, that the cost of the bill arising from funding future payments in respect of past exposures is estimated to be in the range of $83 million to $160 million, with a central estimate of $119 million.

PWC also goes on in its assessment to say that the assumptions are based on limited data and significant judgement is required.

I think it has been able to do that in its modelling. The actuary also stated:

The cost estimate relates to the scheme of 12 deemed cancers as set out under the commonwealth Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Act 2011.
 

In the document provided it says:

A central cost estimate is provided as well as a lower and upper range -- as is standard in the provision of actuarial assessments. The annual cost of adding the 12 deemed cancers to the Volunteer Compensation Scheme (VCS) administered by the CFA for volunteer firefighters is estimated to be in the range of $90 million-$170 million, with $130 million provided as the central estimate.

The cost of adding the 12 deemed cancers to the VCS for volunteer firefighters arising from funding future payments in respect of past exposures (outstanding claims liability) is estimated to be in the range of $1.3 billion-$1.6 billion, with a central estimate of $1.5 billion.
It goes on to note:

- that the ultimate cost impact is heavily dependent on behavioural factors such as propensity to claim and therefore the range of possible outcomes is wide. Bateup also notes that some of the assumptions underpinning the assessment are based on limited data, which increased the uncertainty of the cost estimates.

Nevertheless, Bateup is very forthcoming in how it has come to those figures, being open and transparent in relation to the estimates that it has provided based on the data it has gained. I think it is clear that that information has been provided to the house, giving members the information they sought. I think that should be noted for Ms Hartland's information in relation to the openness of the Assistant Treasurer. I said, if the time had not lapsed and this motion had been debated sooner, some time frames might not have been excluded from this but, as the motion states, as the time has lapsed these documents have been provided, and the Assistant Treasurer has responded within the time requested by the Council.

Ms Hartland -- The documents haven't been provided; that is why the motion is happening today. Talk it out; don't let it go to a vote.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! Ms Hartland!

Ms CROZIER -- As I said, the Assistant Treasurer has responded.

Ms Hartland -- He has not responded. We do not have the documents.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! Ms Hartland!

Ms CROZIER -- Through you, Acting President, the Assistant Treasurer has explained that the government has conducted a thorough and diligent search to identify the documents relevant to the Council's resolution, and that is exactly what we have been discussing in this debate -- the information that he has provided to the Clerk outlining the modelling from PricewaterhouseCoopers and from the Bateup actuary. They have explained the estimates and the modelling that were provided, and they have provided the figures in the attachments that have been provided to the house. I think that goes to the position of the Assistant Treasurer, who has been able to look at this issue in a genuine manner and provide the information as requested. As I said, it is unfortunate that we are debating this motion in April when it refers to dates from last year -- 12 December 2013, as paragraph (3) of the motion states -- but I again make the point that the Assistant Treasurer needed to conduct . . .

Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.

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