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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1267


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (12:58): I rise to speak in support of the Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment (Injury Compensation Scheme) Bill 2016. This bill implements a longstanding Labor commitment to provide members and senators with workers compensation insurance.

Parliamentarians are not employed by the Commonwealth and therefore the Commonwealth is currently unable to provide workers compensation insurance to parliamentarians without an express legislative authority. Prior to the introduction of the Parliamentary Entitlements Act in 1990, senators and members were covered for personal injury and disease sustained in the course of their duties of office by the Scheme for Payment of Special Compensation for Injury in Exceptional Circumstances. Between 1990 and 2002 four compensation payments for injuries to senators and members were made by way of act of grace payments. No payments in relation to workers-compensation-type claims have been made to federal parliamentarians since 2002, following legal advice that any payments needed explicit authorisation under the PE Act or the Parliamentary Entitlements Regulations 1997. A number of reviews of parliamentary entitlements, including in the 2010 Belcher review, have acknowledged this oversight.

This legislation implements a 2012 Labor government commitment to implement three forms of insurance, being: (1) public liability, (2) management liability—that is, legal liability—and (3) workers' compensation. Public liability and management liability—legal liability—insurance was completed in 2012 by the Gillard government. The Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment (Injury Compensation Scheme) Bill 2016—PICS—amends the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 to give the minister the power to establish the parliamentary injury compensation scheme.

The scheme would apply retrospectively from 1 January 2016 and will provide compensation benefits for parliamentarians in relation to:

an injury or disease, or an aggravation of an injury or disease, suffered by a member, arising out of, or contributed to by, the member’s activities as a member, Parliamentary office-holder or a Minister

an injury or disease, or an aggravation of an injury or disease, suffered by the spouse of the Prime Minister, arising out of, or contributed to by, the person’s official activities as the spouse of the Prime Minister

the loss of or damage to medical equipment used by a member or the spouse of the Prime Minister, arising in the course of their respective activities, and

services, facilities and equipment intended to eliminate or minimise the risks to the health or safety of members or the spouse of the Prime Minister, arising in the course of their respective activities.

The bill will also allow the PICS to provide for preventative work, health and safety services, facilities and equipment. The spouse of the Prime Minister is also covered under this scheme while performing official duties in connection with the role of the Prime Minister. This is appropriate considering the requirement upon the spouse to conduct official duties in connection with the role of the Prime Minister as the head of government.

Claims under the PICS will be administered by Comcare. Benefits will be based upon the scheme applying to Commonwealth Public Servants under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. The SRC Act scheme provides compensation benefits including:

medical treatment

incapacity to work

permanent impairment

household and attendant care services

rehabilitation programmes

alteration of place of residence or place of work

modifications of a vehicle or article

aids or appliances, or the repair or replacement of such aids or appliances

death benefits, and

funeral expenses.

Labor does have some concern that there is a lack of definition around what constitutes members' activities as a member, parliamentary officeholder or a minister. For example, it is not clear if this would include party business. Further clarification should be made on this point.

Members and senators should also be aware that all claims are subject to investigation by Comcare and would therefore be subject to FOI requests. This may present issues with FOI requests being made into the activities surrounding a claim as well as members' personal health details being disclosed. While there does not seem to be a feasible alternative to this, members should be made aware upon beginning the scheme that the potential for FOI requests exists. There is no provision for members to be able to cash out their entitlement with Comcare and to source their own insurance through a private insurance provider. This feature would be a good way for members to be able to find their own suitable scheme that would not be subject to FOI requests.

Despite these concerns, Labor supports the bill as it implements a longstanding Labor commitment to provide members and senators with workers' compensation insurance.