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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15558

Mr BEVIS (12:36 PM) —I too rise to speak on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations report Back on the job: report into aspects of Australian workers' compensation schemes. I congratulate and thank the committee secretariat, headed by Richard Selth, and especially the inquiry secretaries, Cheryl Scarlett and Julia Morris. I place on record my thanks to the chair, De-Anne Kelly, for conducting the inquiry and the committee's proceedings as a whole in a very professional and parliamentary manner.

The report makes a number of significant findings and recommendations that would not have been possible but for the professionalism of the people I just mentioned. Unfortunately the same professional parliamentary approach was not exhibited by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Abbott, who sought to railroad the inquiry into a partisan political witch-hunt of workers that was totally improper, leading Labor members to issue a rare, if not unprecedented, press release entitled `Abbott wrecks parliamentary committee'. Unlike most members of the parliament, Minister Abbott has not worked out when to behave like a parliamentarian and when to be a politically partisan head kicker.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Brisbane will come back to the report.

Mr BEVIS —It was very much part of the inquiry. Committees are not part of the executive and are not playthings of ministers; they are essential and unique forums that enable the parliament, not the executive, to inquire into matters of current importance. The executive has the entire Public Service bureaucracy at its disposal to do that. We should fiercely guard the independence and the authority of the parliamentary committee system.

Partly as a result of Minister Abbott's conduct and decisions, the committee adopted a suitably wide interpretation of the terms of reference and has tabled a useful contribution to the debate on workers compensation systems in Australia. It is important to recognise that, whatever our prejudices and notwithstanding the occasional anecdote to the contrary, the overwhelming weight of evidence makes clear that fraud—particularly workers fraud—in our workers compensation system is not a major issue impacting on the overall operational costs of the system. A number of references cited on pages 26 and 27 of the report refer to this fact. I quickly refer to a couple of those. The report states:

The Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association pointed out that all official inquiries over the last two decades have been unable to identify cogent evidence that there is widespread claimant fraud.

The Queensland Government stated that the incidence and associated cost of fraud is difficult to quantify but estimated to be relatively low.

... ... ...

The Western Australian government ... concluded that the incidence of fraud in that jurisdiction is negligible.

And the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth's own Comcare, Barry Leahy, gave evidence that fraud is not a significant issue as far as Comcare is concerned.

The incidence of employer fraud, too, was seen to be very low, although it is interesting to note that the evidence would seem to indicate a more significant problem. The evidence from Queensland WorkCover cited at page 43 is that `hundreds of penalties are imposed every year for noncompliance'. That is interesting to compare with the figures that were given by Mr Leahy of Comcare. He noted that, out of some 18,000 active claims each year, 23 were the subject of investigation last year and, he believed, 22 the year before that.

The SPEAKER —I indicate to the member for Brisbane that the time allotted for the debate has expired. I will allow the member to make a few concluding remarks if he wishes to do so.

Mr BEVIS —Mr Speaker, I am happy to continue my remarks later.

The SPEAKER —Does the member for Dawson wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated at a later time?

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (Dawson) (12.40 p.m.)—I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 102B, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a future sitting. The member for Dawson will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.