Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2013.

Written on the 1 November 2013

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise to speak on the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2013.

This is another significant piece of legislation that is being debated this afternoon, and I thank those members who have already contributed it, particularly those members opposite, Ms Pulford, Mr Melham and Ms Pennicuik, for supporting the bill and acknowledging the benefits it will provide, specifically the benefits for injured workers that have been maintained through this process. I also acknowledge my colleague Mrs Millar who clearly outlined the technicalities of the bill and how the recasting of the Accident Compensation Act 1985 and the Accident Compensation (WorkCover Insurance) Act 1993 will streamline the process and make for a much improved system.

This is a significant bill. It is one of the many pre-election commitments that the coalition government is delivering on, and I am pleased that we are doing so. The two acts that we are discussing, the Accident Compensation Act and the Accident Compensation (WorkCover Insurance) Act have a long history.

Combined, they are almost 30 years old, consist of hundreds of pages and over time have been subjected to more than 100 amendments or thereabouts. I know Ms Pennicuik has taken time to do a lot of research in relation to the bill, and I commend her for doing so and also for seeking advice from the department on this bill and on the previous acts.

It is well documented that the Accident Compensation Act has been criticised by the courts and its users for being difficult to read, difficult to understand and therefore difficult to apply. We have heard from other speakers about the reviews that have taken place in previous years, which were initiated by the previous government, and this bill brings those acts together.

Anyone who has had to deal with workers compensation claims or has tried to wade through the acts that the bill deals with will understand the complexity of the current legislation.

As I said from at the outset, the bill consolidates, or recasts, the Accident Compensation Act and the Accident Compensation (WorkCover Insurance) Act into a single piece of legislation, which will reduce the regulatory burden associated with workers compensation claims. The simplification of the legislation will be of enormous benefit to not only those who are injured or who are undergoing rehabilitation or receiving compensation for a workplace injury but also to their employers.

I have a thorough and personal understanding of some very significant workplace injuries, having been an employer, and, coming from a farming background. I am only too familiar with the many terrible injuries that occur on farms on an all-too-frequent basis. From my own experience I have an understanding of severe injuries such as broken necks and amputations and also exposure to harmful chemicals. I take into consideration the importance of protecting our workers in a whole range of industry sectors.

All of us in this place want to see workers protected while going about their daily work. I pay tribute to the WorkSafe campaigns for highlighting the importance of workplace safety. Those campaigns are particularly targeted and very powerful in their message, and having watched them over recent years I have found them to be very moving; they strike a chord. Anything we can do to ensure a safer workplace is a good thing.

The bill reduces the regulatory burden for injured workers as well as businesses and employers. Anything we can do to decrease regulation and make the process easier is good. From the information that was provided I note that the re-drafting of the bill makes the legislation easier to navigate and provides a more logical and structured sequence. It is user-friendly, and in their contributions both Mrs Millar and Ms Pennicuik mentioned the flowcharts, which will assist people to understand the various processes they should follow, the contact procedures and the legislation itself. While I have been listening to the debate I have gone onto the WorkSafe website and looked at the various elements of the flowcharts. They are very detailed and I am sure they will provide great assistance to people when they are trying to work out how to put in a claim or to get information. The flowcharts included in the legislation will also ensure an easier process for anyone trying to understand the legislative requirements.
When people are affected by a workplace injury, whether it is an injured worker or their employer, the ease with which they will be able to understand their rights and obligations will be of enormous benefit. That is very important, and the bill enables the easy navigation that I have just outlined to occur.

In relation to the easing of the regulatory burden, hundreds of hours are lost in overregulation. It is far too common across a range of business sectors. We are continually hearing that that is occurring here in Victoria and throughout Australia, and I am very pleased that the member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister in the new federal government, will be overseeing regulation in a whole range of areas.

I digress a little from the bill, but in relation to the burden on business of overregulation, the inefficiencies and loss of productivity are quite incredible. In a piece Josh Frydenberg wrote for the Australian recently he said that at a federal level the former government was responsible for introducing more than 21 000 additional regulations in the last five and a half years, despite a promise of a 'one regulation in, one regulation out' policy. That astounded me. It is understandable that businesses want a far more streamlined process.

They want to have red tape cut and the regulatory burden decreased, and this bill goes to ensuring a decrease in regulatory burden in relation to the very important issue of workplace safety and workers compensation claims.

I am pleased -- and I think it was acknowledged by those opposite -- that the framing of this legislation was informed by consultation done with a wide range of important stakeholders, including from the legal and medical professions, a number of unions, I am led to believe, and importantly from employer groups. Bringing all those stakeholders together to discuss the issues was very important.

Mrs Millar in her contribution went through a number of issues in relation to the minor amendments contained in the bill. One of those was ambiguity and the need for this bill to remove ambiguities.

I note that in Mr O'Brien's contribution to the second-reading debate he gave a very clear example of how the changes would benefit a worker who did not provide a medical certificate when lodging a claim form after he or she had suffered a workplace injury. Under the existing legislation that worker would have to attend court to get an outcome, but under the new legislation they will be able to attend conciliation to resolve their claim. I think that demonstrates the simplification of the system this legislation will effect. It was a very good example that I think all members can identify with and agree to be a desirable change. We do not need people who are injured or undergoing rehabilitation, who are already stressed and dealing with a number of other considerations, to have to present to court. If they can go through the conciliation process and lodge their claim, that will be a far more efficient and easy process for all concerned. As I said, there are a number of other technical amendments, which I will not go into, as other members have covered those very clearly.

As I said, there has been consultation with stakeholders in relation to a number of other areas. The introduction of the legislation will not change the type or rate of benefits available. A worker who is currently entitled to benefits will be entitled to the same benefits after the commencement of the legislation. I think that is important to note. I also note that all claims made after the commencement of the legislation will be lodged under it irrespective of the date of injury.

In conclusion, the bill provides for changes that will reduce costs, improve administrative efficiency and reduce the regulatory burden for employers, the injured workers and those legal and health service providers involved in the claims process. A number of people are normally involved in the process when there is an injured worker.

As I have just outlined, the streamlining of the system will result in significant benefits, including an increased ease for workers in navigating the claims process and an improved understanding of how to make a claim and have it dealt with in a timely fashion, so I am sure these changes will be well received by those affected, whether they be workers, who provide so many benefits to our Victorian economy, or those employers who have to deal with these issues on a daily basis.

Victoria continues to lead the way in Australia in a number of areas, and this piece of legislation will ensure that when it comes to workers compensation legislation Victoria leads the rest of the country. As has already been noted, Victoria has the safest workplaces, at the lowest average cost -- of 1.298 per cent on average of their premiums -- to business. We have a very good track record on that. Ms Pennicuik discussed claims in relation to injuries and discussed dreadful outcomes that sometimes occur that are not captured in the data. Nevertheless, I think the statistics are still very significant and worthwhile and should be put on the record, and I think we all in this chamber can be very pleased that Victoria continues to lead the way on this. We should all do as much as we can to ensure that we have the safest workplaces in the country. I congratulate Minister Rich-Phillips for his work in this important area, and with those words I commend the bill to the house.
Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) -- I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2013. Reading through the bill, the briefings and various other commentaries, including Hansard from the lower house, brought back many memories of the 18 years that I served in the vehicle industry. When I reflect on those 18 years I recall many instances of workplace injury.

On the production lines at Ford, Toyota or Holden down at Fishermans Bend the major injuries sustained were through repetitive work. We had carpal tunnel, sprains and strains and very serious wear and tear on the spine. If I think of the truck plants, where the componentry was much larger and the mechanisation more limited, I think of the injuries that we saw there where fingers, hands or arms were amputated in equipment. I think of the smash repair shops that I either worked in or visited, the use of chemicals and how those chemicals impacted on the lung performance and skin of those who worked with them. I think of the times that I have visited friends and workmates lying in bed in hospital. I also think of all those workers I knew and continue to know who are going through rehabilitation and working very hard to make sure that they can re-enter the workforce and contribute more to their family life.

We all know that it is one thing not to be able to be at your workplace because you have sustained an injury and another to suffer the tremendous impact that it has on your personal life and that of your family. That is why it is so important for government and legislators to be highly aware of the issues around workplace safety. It is not just a matter of making sure that the policy framework is accurate. The very specific, finer details that particularly impact workers need to be studied and examined to the nth degree, because it is quite easy to see the detrimental impact that one line or two words can have on workers, employers and the families involved. That is why I have taken a particular interest in speaking today, because I know the impact of workplace injury and rehabilitation.

As we have heard from previous speakers, Labor's amendments have been agreed to by the government in the other place, and I also wish to reiterate that the opposition now supports this bill.

However, it must be mentioned that when the bill was introduced in its original form, Labor saw that there were significant issues contained in it, and we believe that those issues, if not amended, would have adversely affected the rights of injured workers in this state. The rights of workers and their safety goes to the heart of the Labor Party and the broader labour movement. That is largely because we have unfortunately had direct experience. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Napthine government and other conservative governments. The original form of this bill is testament to that. It has taken the opposition and other organisations, such as the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Law Institute of Victoria, to set it right.

With this in mind, I mention the shadow minister for WorkCover, the member for Preston in the other place, Robin Scott. I congratulate him on his work in relation to these amendments. His considered approach and persistence have led us to where we are today.

I also acknowledge the work of the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Law Institute of Victoria for independently bringing their views to the government in respect of the original bill. It is their diligence, resources, time and absolute commitment to these issues which need to be recognised as we hopefully see the passage of this bill today.

For all Victorians who go to work each day, the most important thing for them and their family is that they return home safely and uninjured. In 2013 more than 28 000 Victorians have been injured at work and lodged claims with WorkCover, and of course the year is not over. More than 42 000 workplace inspections have been conducted in that same period. In relation to injury in the workplace, this is significant and important work because the impact of suffering an injury in the workplace is enormous.

In my opening statement I talked about some of the experiences I have witnessed, but debilitating pain from workplace injury can also lead to stress, depression, feelings of uselessness, frustration and anxiety. All those states and conditions can lead to further problems in the home and affect the entire family. As well as the devastating human impact, workplace injury is responsible for significant detrimental impacts on the Victorian economy, as well as the local workplace. The effects of workplace injury are widespread; it affects everyone.

To go to the specifics of this bill, to put it in its most simple form, it seeks to bring together two very important, complex and large pieces of legislation. That in itself is a major task. The detailed work that needs to be done in terms of crossing off and making sure that the meaning and the sense of both pieces of legislation, when incorporated into one, is correct and accurate and will stand the test of time cannot be underestimated.
I thank those who did a lot of the groundwork and background work leading up to this bill.The minister stated in his second-reading speech that the original draft of this bill was a no-benefit-change bill. As I mentioned earlier, a number of significant institutions, organisations and law firms disagreed with the Napthine government's position and conveyed their comprehensive apprehension to the bill, in particular three specific areas -- they were clauses 200, 269 and 313 -- and presented those problems to the opposition as well as the government.

I thank them for raising those matters with us, and previous speakers have gone to the various points that were raised.

Given that I understand the guillotine is about to occur, can I say whilst I applaud the government for picking up Labor's amendments and making this a piece of legislation that Labor is happy to vote for, I do not think it is too unfair to wonder whether the government would have acknowledged or accepted those amendments if it were not the fact that a statutory majority was required for the passage of this bill. I cannot understand why these three areas were not picked up. At best, you could say that with these three areas it might have been laziness or a failure to get the language right, but at worst it could be said that it was a deliberate attempt by this government to diminish the rights of Victorian workers who have been injured at work whilst publicly stating that the bill was a no-benefit-change bill.

In conclusion I say that the opposition is pleased to support this bill in its amended form because the Labor Party will always support legislation that protects a worker's right to work in a safe workplace as well as protecting all people who have been injured at work. The Labor Party will always support the rights and expectations of workers to work in a safe workplace. If people happen to get injured at work, the Labor Party will always work to ensure that the workers receive compensation so that they can still provide for their family whilst they receive rehabilitation.

Along with the opposition's amendments, which I am again pleased to say have been accepted by the government, I commend the bill to the house.

 


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