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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1223

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(5.05) —The 1985-86 annual report of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation represents an appalling worsening of last year's scandalous workers compensation record among Federal Government employees. The Coalition Waste Watch Committee pointed to this last year. It strongly criticised this situation. We now find that in the latest financial year expenditure has increased by 30 per cent to $203m. By the way, we see no mention in the report of the number of cases which involved repetition strain injury. At least the Commissioner did refer to this point last year. I regard it as unfortunate that this local disease does not rate an appropriate mention in this report.

What we see from the report, however, is that under the present Government workers compensation claims by Commonwealth employees have doubled, by $100m in just three financial years. This is absolutely incredible. In the latest year there has been a 14 per cent increase in the number of cases, which is the highest number in the table which shows the history of these claims. We see that only 2.8 per cent of the claims made last year were disallowed. We see incredible figures relating to permanent injury or disease. According to a survey by the office of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation, 42.3 per cent of cases involved people who suffered from psychiatric or back injuries-both of which, of course, are very difficult to diagnose. Among the individual departments there are some most extraordinary examples of successful workers compensation claims. For example, in the Office of Defence Production, the number of claims equalled 34.7 per cent of the total number of employees, compared with a figure of only 3.7 per cent of employees in the Department of Defence, which includes the Army. So it is much safer to work for the Army than for a Commonwealth clothing factory or a munitions factory. There is the same sort of situation that we saw last year in the Department of Primary Industry, which has a 31.6 per cent claim rate.

Overall, one in eight Commonwealth employees last year made a successful compensation claim. One in eight is, of course, a worsening of last year's figure of one in nine. Of the 546,386 employees of departments and government authorities, there were 67,548 successful claims. If we look at some departments, we can find some improvement. The Australian Capital Territory Fire Brigade, which had a 60 per cent invalidity rate last year, has managed to reduce its invalidity rate to 40 per cent-which, of course, is still incredibly high. The Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority is now trying to match its fire brigade friends by lifting its invalidity rate from 21.5 per cent to 34 per cent. The Australian National Railways Commission has worsened its rate of successful workers compensation claims from 26.7 per cent to 34.7 per cent. On the other hand, some figures have improved. The figure for the Australian Telecommunications Commission has gone up, but there has been an attempt to improve the number of claims disallowed, by making more effective examinations, and the number of claims disallowed has risen from 120 to 210. But it still has a workers compensation rate of about 16.5 per cent. There are some curious figures. The figure for the Australian War Memorial has gone up from 12.8 per cent to 21.7 per cent.

Overall, this is a very dismal and disappointing story of a worsening of the overall workers compensation rate to 12.4 per cent of all government employees. Last year, before this worsening, the situation was already absolutely scandalous. The report says that it hopes Parliament in future has available to it adequate details relating to this expenditure. I agree that it certainly should.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.