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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26557

Mr St CLAIR (12:37 PM) —I rise to support the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 and the importance of this bill to good government. The fact is that we really propose amendments to two acts: the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, the SRC act, which is the legislative basis for the Commonwealth public sector workers compensation scheme; and the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989, the ICNA act, which establishes a scheme to assess industrial chemicals imported to and manufactured in Australia for their health and environmental effects.

The amendments to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act proposed in this bill will improve the operation of the Commonwealth workers compensation scheme while at the same time ensuring that the act reflects the government's commitment to balancing the costs of work related injury with access to fair compensation and effective rehabilitation for injured workers. Again, it is about good, strong government. The amendments are largely of a housekeeping nature. They include amendments based on advice from the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission and amendments which rectify unintended legislative anomalies.

The bill proposes to streamline the act's currently complex and prescriptive licensing arrangements while closely paralleling existing arrangements. The five categories of licence now available will be replaced with a single generic licence, which will provide scope for both self-insurance and claims management. Applications for licences will still be determined by the commission but within a far less prescriptive framework.

Amendments are also proposed to streamline the funding arrangements for regulation of workers compensation and occupational health and safety in the Commonwealth jurisdiction by providing for one regulatory contribution. The Commonwealth scheme recognises the importance to both the employee and the employer of arranging a safe return to work as quickly as possible. I think that all of us who have employed people over a period of time are aware of how necessary and important it is to get people safely back to work as soon as possible. Particularly in small business—as you would know, Madam Deputy Speaker Gash, having come out of small business—if there is some sort of an accident where someone is away, they are always a valuable employee and, as a valuable employee, you do not want them away; you want them back at work, bringing their skills and their contribution back to the business to enable it to continue to grow. For those of us who may have only five, six, seven or eight employees, it is absolutely imperative that assistance is provided to get those people safely back to work as soon as is possible.

The act currently gives Comcare the responsibility of ensuring that rehabilitation providers have the qualifications, proven effectiveness, availability and cost efficiencies to deliver quality services to both employers and employees. The approval provisions protect injured employees by ensuring that persons providing treatment and services meet acceptable standards. Again, that will make a very strong contribution in enabling the work force to come back safely to work, which is what is important. The bill proposes to improve the current processes for approving new rehabilitation providers, provide a statutory basis for existing guidelines, enable a fee to be charged to cover the costs of the application process and ensure that the approval can be revoked if a rehabilitation provider is no longer able to meet the standards required, thus providing a safety valve to make sure that the best possible service is provided for the people needing rehabilitation to get them back to work safely. Other amendments will standardise the basis by which compensation is calculated for the first 45 weeks of a claim and clarify that dependants of deceased employees have access to common law—and we know how important that is.

This bill also includes minor or technical amendments to four other acts. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 is amended to correct a technical anomaly arising from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Act 1999. The Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 is amended to enable taxation information to be provided to Comcare as well as to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission. The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission Act 1985 is amended to reflect the change of name of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 is also amended, consequential upon the amendments relating to collection of premiums under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 which are proposed elsewhere in the bill.

This bill is yet another example of this coalition government helping employees in a practical and non-threatening way to employers. I think this demonstrates to the Australian business community and to those who are employees of that business community that there has to be a fair and equitable system in operation and one that provides good government. This side of the House feels that that is enormously important and has demonstrated that successfully over the last 5½ years or so. This bill implements what was parliament's original intent at the time the legislation commenced operation, during the previous Labour administration.

The original act requires a material contribution by employment to a disease before compensation is payable. However, case law indicates that the act has not achieved the parliament's original intent and this bill therefore includes an amendment to restore this intent by making it very clear that an employee's employment is not to be taken to have contributed in a material degree to his or her disease unless there is a close connection between the employee's employment and the disease. We all know how important it is to provide good government to make sure we provide adequate and proper assistance and rehabilitation to people who are injured at work, and to make sure they return to work as quickly and as safely as is possible. I commend the bill to the House.