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Friday, 30 March 1984
Page: 989

Senator ELSTOB —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and refers to workers compensation and occupational health and safety. Is the Minister aware that many workers are afraid to inform employers of work injuries or to take off necessary recuperation time for fear of not retaining their jobs? Can the Minister say whether these factors are being covered by the Interim National Occupational Health and Safety Commission's investigations? Does the Minister see the issue of workers compensation as a major issue to resolve before occupational health and safety policies can be truly workable?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Elstob was kind enough to give me some notice of this question in view of the fact that it goes to details of the administration of the portfolio of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis , whom I represent in the Senate. The Minister is aware, and I am aware from my own experience, that in many parts of industry there is an under-reporting of work injuries and work hazards, particularly in times of severe unemployment such as we have experienced in the last few years. The Health and Safety Commission has been conducting public discussions in all States and the Territories and has received over 100 submissions which have highlighted a broad range of problems in the reporting of work injuries. It is too early yet to reach any conclusions about how those problems might be dealt with, but the primary responsibility for both workers compensation and occupational health and safety rests with the State and Territory governments. Some form of investigation in both these areas is currently being undertaken by these governments.

The question is not so much one of whether workers compensation is an issue to resolve before occupational health and safety policies can be truly workable, but rather a question of occupational health and safety policies bringing about an effective reduction in occupational injury and ill health and, therefore, a corresponding reduction in workers compensation claims. The emphasis in occupational health and safety policies is firstly on prevention. Governments recognise the absolute impossibility of completely eliminating all occupational injury and ill health, so a second major emphasis has to be on rehabilitation. The Government's policies recognise that rehabilitation must encompass job retraining as well as financial support or compensation during the period in which a worker is unable to engage in employment as a result of occupational injury or ill health.

I add to that answer that the greatly escalating costs of workers compensation premiums are a very big and significant add-on cost to the general costs of Australian industry. For that reason, the Government places a great deal of emphasis on reducing the number of injuries which might subsequently become compensable under workers compensation legislation. The issue of workers compensation costs to industry is a very big one which the Government has to address in a variety of ways. The initiative in respect of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission is an important way of addressing that very serious problem.