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Wednesday, 19 September 2001
Page: 31056

Ms HALL (10:07 AM) —I rise to support the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Legislation Amendment Bill 2001. Like previous members, I see this as a piece of legislation that streamlines a bill that is already operating. The bill will specifically streamline the administration of the compensation recovery program managed by the Health Insurance Commission, make consequential changes to the act governing charges under the program and make consequential amendments relating to the changes from the AAT to the Administrative Review Tribunal.

This piece of legislation is refining the Health and Other Services Compensation Act 1996, a piece of legislation that was introduced to stop double dipping by successful claimants for compensation whereby they could receive both a Commonwealth and a workers compensation, or a compensation benefit of some sort. Whilst it has been a step forward, there were still some problems with it. A review was conducted by the former Insurance and Superannuation Commissioner, George Pooley, who was appointed in March 1999. He reviewed the operation of the act and recommended some changes that would make the legislation more workable. This is something that has had bipartisan support in parliament since its inception, but it has had some opposition from insurers and lawyers along the way.

Prior to becoming a member of parliament, I worked in rehabilitation with a lot of people who benefited from workers compensation or who were sometimes victims of the workers compensation system. One of the big problems these people had once they received a settlement was the waiting period, the long time they had to wait before they could access the money that had been awarded to them.

The original piece of legislation enabled 90 per cent of the compensation that they received to be paid to them, but 10 per cent was held by the Health Insurance Commission. If it was a small settlement, that quite often created a problem for those people. One aspect of this legislation which is particularly pleasing is the fact that people who receive settlements of $5,000 or less will be exempt. That will get around a lot of the problems that those in receipt of workers compensation have had. I am sure that members other than me have made many phone calls to the Health Insurance Commission, chasing up the 10 per cent that has been withheld. It really was a complicated administrative system that caused hardship. For those people that were involved in compensation, be it workers compensation, motor vehicle accident compensation or public liability compensation, it created hardship at a time when they needed to put it behind them and get on with the rest of their lives. Also, the complexity of the system actually increases the cost, not only to government but to all of those people involved in the process. Right from the beginning, when the original act was introduced in 1996, I think this legislation has been a step forward. I think that we really need to continue to focus on improving the system so that all parties involved in it can benefit from it.

Over the years people who have been involved in the workers compensation system have had to come to terms with a lot of problems and issues along the way. One of the main issues that they have had to come to terms with is the adjustment to their disability and to their changed life and circumstances. Allowing the payment to people involved to be exempt where it is only a small sum and streamlining the system will actually improve it not only for those who administer it but for those who are benefiting from receiving a workers compensation settlement. In conclusion, I would like to say that I am very happy to support this legislation because I see that it will make the system work better and will assist those people who have received compensation payments.