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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 331

Senator CROWLEY —My question to the Minister for Finance in his capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters follows a question asked yesterday by Senator Coates concerning a claim by Dr Mackey of Tasmania that repetition strain injury is a hoax, a form of mass hysteria and a relatively unknown disease that is not recognised in other countries and for which there are no diagnostic criteria. In passing, one wonders whether those criteria apply to Dr Mackey's view of the relatively new disease acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Given the very high number of RSI sufferers in the Commonwealth Public Service, can the Minister report what steps the Public Service is taking to address this disease, which it clearly acknowledges is real?

Senator WALSH —In my extreme ignorance of this matter until a couple of weeks ago I thought that repetition strain injury and tenosynovitis were the same thing. I am advised, and I have had this confirmed by my colleague Dr Grimes, that that is not correct; that, firstly, tenosynovitis can be diagnosed with a high degree of precision and, secondly, has identifiable anatomical causes which, to put it in layman's language, could be likened to the inner cable of a bowden cable being rusty. That is, there is friction. In other words, friction develops between the tendons and the sleeve in which they move. I was once a shearer of sorts. There was a complant called shearer's back-which is not to be confused with Forbes's back which is something shearers acquire nocturnally rather than during their working hours. I do not know whether shearer's back would qualify.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister was asked a question about public servants. I suggest that he talk about public servants rather than shearers.

Senator WALSH —The point I want to make by way of clarification is that there is an important difference between tenosynovitis and RSI, for the reasons I have given.

On 11 October my predecessor announced the establishment of a Task Force on Repetition Strain Injury in the Australian Public Service. The task force is to make recommendations concerning the incidence, cost, prevention and further study of the issue. The task force includes representatives from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, government agencies and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. It is expected to report in the first half of this year.

The Public Service Board is presently conducting a comprehensive review of keyboard occupational structures, in consultation with departments, individual staff and staff associations. The review is intended to provide, among other things, a structure which will facilitate better job design in keyboard areas and lower the incidence of RSI.