Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15557

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (12:31 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations, I present the report of the committee entitled Back on the job: report into aspects of Australian workers' compensation schemes, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLYBack on the job: report into aspects of Australian workers' compensation schemes should provide interesting discussion in all sectors of the workers compensation industry. The aim of a workers compensation scheme should be to provide workers with a meaningful and sustainable outcome following a workplace injury. The majority of injured workers are committed to an early and successful return to work. The committee's inquiry was timely, as there are substantial human and economic costs of work related injuries. Premiums for employers have increased, notwithstanding a reported drop in injury rates, and there are important changes to the labour market. The challenges for the workers compensation industry over the next decade include changing work arrangements, the ageing of the work force and changing lifestyles.

The committee received 84 submissions and heard evidence from 82 witnesses across Australia. While the committee could not quantify the significance of fraud within any sector—that is, employees, employers, service providers, lawyers, insurance companies or workers compensation schemes—there was quite a degree of difference of opinion on the part of those who made submissions. It appeared that the level of employee fraud was generally considered to be low, although some who made submissions considered that there was a significant level of fraud. The committee has therefore made strong recommendations about data collection in order to be able to quantify whether fraud is significant within the workers compensation industry. There are also enhanced strategies suggested in the report to identify employer noncompliance and the need for increased accountability of service providers.

There are currently 10 different schemes operating in Australia for nine million employees. A move towards greater national consistency would provide opportunities for the various schemes to review their current activities in terms of best practice. The committee is concerned at the extent to which there appears to be cost shifting to the Commonwealth, either covertly or overtly, from state based workers compensation schemes. The primary responsibility for workers compensation should remain with the states and territories. There needs to be a network of memoranda of understanding to ensure that employees injured in one jurisdiction are not left without cover in another. Social security was not established to subsidise state based workers compensation schemes. The committee recommends a study to determine whether injured workers who have received workers compensation subsequently access income support entitlements. The extent to which Medicare is subsidising the workers compensation industry also needs to be determined.

It was generally agreed that there is inadequate data to support analysis of some national trends. The committee has a number of concerns about a national database on fraudulent activities. Also, the advice offered by lawyers may not always be in the best interests of the clients in achieving the goal of a timely return to work. Common law can often be a barrier to successful injury management or return to work. The committee believes that educational material on the various options available and the possible associated pitfalls should be forwarded to injured workers. Financial counselling and support should also be offered through Centrelink, with a view to ensuring a timely return to work where possible. The committee is particularly concerned by the level of suicide amongst injured workers and believes that this is worthy of further attention.

There are advantages to be found in the implementation of nationally consistent rehabilitation and return to work practices and in the measurement of rehabilitation outcomes to identify best practice. It was plainly evident to the committee that there is a great deal of knowledge and expertise in what is best practice in every aspect of the workers compensation industry. The committee believes that greater cooperation and liaison between the various partners would enable a number of improvements to the workers compensation industry.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who assisted the committee during the inquiry. My thanks particularly go to the committee for their work on this, their first report, and to the deputy chair, who worked very hard with me and other committee members to bring forward the report. I would also like to thank the secretariat for their assistance. (Time expired)