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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1224

Senator CROWLEY(5.10) —In speaking to the annual report of the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation, I shall make some slightly different points from those made so far. I reiterate the comment made by Senator Cooney that the report says that the time taken to process claims has been reduced, the quality of decisions has improved and there have been savings in the number of staff required to process claims since the rearrangement of the branch offices in each State has been put into place. One appreciates those administrative improvements.

I take issue with Senator Michael Baume in that, although he picked up the increase in costs and so on, he did not break down those figures to show that there was a slight reduction in the number of new cases coming up for compensation in the 12 months covered by this report. I am somewhat perplexed by statistics that point out that the number of new cases has fallen but that continuing cases have increased. I am not sure where continuing cases would increase from if they were not on the books in the year before. One sees the interesting statistic of 210 for the reduction in new cases, but there has been an increase of 9,000 in continuing cases. I am not quite sure how that happens.

What interests me even more is that, although there has been an increase of over 14 per cent in the number of cases, the cost in terms of dollars paid out has increased by 29.6 per cent, or the approximate figure of 30 per cent to which Senator Michael Baume alluded. That would indicate that either the people who are claiming are much more seriously affected or that the other contributing causes of that increased payment need to be further addressed.

The Commissioner takes some regard of that because he points out that one of the difficulties up to this point has been the lack of proper and adequate statistics or data in this area. In response to a request from the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) for a major review of Commonwealth employees compensation in mid-1986, some work is beginning to be done. At last we are able to look at some better analysis of statistics and data. This is most important because any examination of reports or work being done by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission highlights the problem of what exactly is accident, what exactly is disease and what are compensable conditions that arise in the course of a person's work. The same difficulty confronts the Commissioner for Employee's Compensation. The report points to considerable difficulty in being able properly to agree on those definitions and properly to collate statistics.

Even so, an attempt has been made, and data has now been collected on over 8,000 claimants who have permanent compensation cases. That out of a figure of 67,000-plus means that nearly one in eight claimants have been further investigated. The breakdown of who is receiving permanent compensation makes most interesting reading, although I have been cautious not to draw clever conclusions as to why a person or a number of persons with superficial injuries would be eligible for permanent compensation. That is because I do not know the full details as to where in the work place those superficial injuries occurred, what parts of the body were affected or what the consequences of those injuries were. However, I feel that the breakdown of these figures is a first step in allowing us to make more sensible estimates of the dramatic increase in costs in this area. I would inform Senator Michael Baume that there is a list of repetition strain injuries, as separate from sprains and strains, and the percentage there is 7.5-a significant number.

Senator Michael Baume —That is only permanent.

Senator CROWLEY —Yes, that is permanent, but the amount of work done on RSI has been acknowledged. While the report does not specifically address the matter, it highlights in that statistic that it is not the only cause of the problem. The footnote at the bottom of the table shows that 30 per cent of the permanent claimants are female, 70 per cent male. I draw the Senate's attention to those figures, because it is sometimes suggested that if there were no women in the Public Service there would be very much reduced compensation payouts. This is a beginning and I am pleased that we have had this analysis of the data and statistics so that we can more properly examine the increasing costs and, hopefully see them reduced. Finally, the figure that shocks me most is that 29 people died in the year under report. That is an appalling statistic. We have not yet managed to reduce dramatically the number of people who die in the work place in this country.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —The time for consideration of papers has now expired.