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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 12824

Mr TREVOR (12:48 PM) —I wish to speak today on the government’s Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2009, which will provide a number of key changes to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. This amendment bill will provide critical changes to current legislation and the Comcare scheme. The Comcare scheme provides workers compensation and occupational health and safety arrangements for employees of the Australian government and some of the private sector companies that self-insure their workers compensation liabilities under the scheme.

The Rudd Labor government promised at the last election that it would impose a moratorium on companies seeking to join the Comcare scheme and announced a review to ensure that Comcare was a suitable occupational health and safety and workers compensation scheme. Given the progress towards harmonised national occupational health and safety laws, and the proposed transfer of occupational health and safety coverage for Comcare self-insurers to the states and territories, the government has elected to formalise and maintain the moratorium in future legislation until 2010, when uniform occupational health and safety laws will have been implemented in all jurisdictions.

Currently, applications for inclusion in the Comcare scheme are automatic, bar for the moratorium put in place at the time of the Comcare review. The amendments in this bill will provide the minister with an absolute discretion to consider requests for declarations of eligibility for a Comcare self-insured licence under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. This will apply to new requests or applications and any existing applications that have been made but not determined. The changes will empower, but not oblige, the minister to consider requests for declarations of eligibility. It will also allow the minister to take into consideration important developments, such as the progress of occupational health and safety harmonisation. This effectively provides the minister with more flexibility to consider applications to join the scheme. The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2009 will effectively allow the minister to use their own discretion derived from experience and important relevant developments to consider requests, providing a fairer and more balanced and efficient system.

I do not like the Comcare scheme; I never have. In Queensland, employers, including self-insurers, should always, in my opinion, be obliged to have claims by injured employees assessed and determined under Queensland’s workers compensation laws. In Queensland, they are fair, just and reasonable. Comcare, in my experience, is not. Queensland, I believe, has the best set of workers compensation laws in this country. We should keep it that way in Queensland, but we should share our successful system with other states and territories and on a national basis.

I acknowledge that improvements to the Comcare scheme arising from the Comcare review have been made. These include the introduction of a statutory time limit for the consideration of workers compensation claims, reinstatement of workers compensation coverage for off-site recess breaks and the continuation of payment of medical and related costs where a worker’s weekly compensation benefits are suspended for their refusing to participate in the rehabilitation process. I further note that the government has recently increased substantially the lump sum and weekly death benefits under the Comcare scheme to align them more closely with death benefits payable under state workers compensation schemes. I also note that Comcare is undertaking a review of the permanent impairment arrangements in the scheme, in particular of the current permanent impairment guide. The purpose of this review is to determine whether the scheme provides reasonable access to, and reasonable levels of, compensation in the case of workplace injuries which result in a permanent impairment. But let us keep Comcare out of Queensland where possible.

Injuries at work can be devastating. They can result in physical and psychological impairment, financial hardship, marriage break-ups and other significant loss and damage. They can destroy a person’s earning capacity for life and throw injured workers and their families on the scrap heap. The Comcare review was long overdue. It is good to see some fairness and balance back in the system and protection of workers’ rights under the scheme, and I commend this bill to the House.