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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1357

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Has the Minister seen an article in the Age newspaper today referring to the success of Repco Australia in Launceston in managing repetitive strain injury in that company by joint action by management and unions? The plant manager, Mr James, states that the rehabilitation and prevention program has reduced working hours lost due to repetitive strain injury from 3,960 in 1982 to nil so far in 1985 and has saved $14,000 a year by halving the company's workers compensation payments. Can the Minister comment on this success story, particularly in the light of the reduced costs to industry and the encouragement for further employment, as well as the satisfactory outcome for workers? Can the Minister draw the attention of this program to the Public Service task force which is looking at RSI?

Senator WALSH —I have no knowledge of this matter, but I will see that a report of the results of that study are referred to the Public Service Board task force which is inquiring into the matter. On the question of repetitive strain injury, I must say that I think it should be approached in a calmer way than it has been by a number of people. Given that for RSI, as distinct from tenosynovitis, there is no precise medical diagnosis of the condition, nor is there any easily explainable anatomical cause, a good deal of caution should be exercised in making judgments about this.

There is a belief-I pass no judgment on whether it is correct or not-that the complaints are partially psychosomatic. If there is any truth in that belief I do not think it does any good at all to talk up the question, particularly when there are clearly some commercial interests who stand to gain if the problem which exists is exaggerated beyond its true proportions. Some obvious examples of those who have a potential interest because of the potentially larger market are those who supply paramedical services and equipment and what is delightfully known as ergonomic furniture. However, I will certainly make sure that the results of that study Senator Crowley outlined are referred to the Public Service Board task force.

Senator CROWLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the Minister make a comment about the reduced costs to industry and the encouragement for further employment that these figures present? I resist asking him to refrain from medical opinion.

Senator WALSH —Well, if it really happens, obviously it is a good thing. It is like motherhood. Who could be opposed to it? I have no idea how soundly based those claims are. I will have it assessed by the task force.