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Tuesday, 15 October 1985
Page: 1282


Senator REID(10.30) —In a sense I want to ask a question of the Minister for Finance and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters (Senator Walsh) but it will take a little more time than one would normally have to ask a question at Question Time. What it really amounts to is whether or not public servants who have an accident of one kind or another are being adequately looked after. I suggest that there is good reason to ask that question. Perhaps the Commonwealth Medical Officer does not have sufficient facilities to do the job that he is required to do and so has to report in what would be regarded by many people who are off work as an unreasonably long time. I have written to the Public Service Board on a number of occasions and have not had responses to my letters. That is the reason why I put these questions to the Minister. It is not my purpose or intention to use the names of my constituents and I do not believe that they would want me to do so but the Public Service Board will find my letters amongst its files and I can certainly make the names known to the Minister.

One constituent who came in had had an accident at work in June 1984. Since then he has been off work and has suffered considerable financial hardship as a result of what occurred. He has been to the Commonwealth Medical Officer on a number of occasions, but the real problem is the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen, whether he is likely to be redeployed or invalided out. Perhaps the Board does not appreciate what uncertainty does to someone who has to cope with an illness or some other problem. In this particular instance I wrote to the Chairman of the Public Service Board on 16 July and again on 14 August, but still I have had no response and this person lives on from day to day not knowing what his future holds.

Another constituent who has a repetition strain injury problem is now back at work in a redeployed capacity but doing very menial work. She is in a sense subject to some ridicule by others around her; she is still being paid her original salary but has not been redeployed in a meaningful way. She finds this extremely stressful and she feels unsettled. She feels that she is just filling in the day doing meaningless jobs whereas if some attention were given to her situation she would still be able to be a productive and useful member of the Public Service, fulfilling a useful role. She feels that nobody cares about what happens to her.

Another constituent had an accident at work at the Royal Mint. He has been off work virtually since April 1984, having taken sick leave and other sorts of leave. He has been examined by the Medical Officer on a number of occasions but still does not know whether the verdict is that he is fit or not fit, whether he will or will not be going back to work. Again there is incredible uncertainty. In this case the man spends his days living in a flat with not much more than the four walls and perhaps his television set to keep him company. He is not able to plan his future because he has not been able to get from his employer an answer which must come from, in the first instance, the Commonwealth Medical Officer. Another constituent who has had RSI has been off work since October of 1984. She believes that she would be able to be gainfully employed. There are other instances.

I suggest, as I said earlier, that perhaps the uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds is the real problem that does not seem to be recognised and understood. I have letters on file which remain unanswered. It is almost as though those in the Public Service who have been injured in an accident and are not able to work are treated as some form of second class citizens, as though they have been the authors of their own injuries and are no longer worthy of concern. The problem is not just physical injury; it is being left in this sort of limbo where they do not really know whether or not anyone cares about them. Answers are expected for these people. We need to know whether or not the Commonwealth Medical Officer has sufficient resources to do the job that he is required to do, and I hope that it is not just that there is a lack of will to find solutions to these problems. I ask the Minister in this place who represents the Public Service Board whether he will look into these matters and show some concern for those who do have injury and are off work but want to go back or at least want to know what the future holds for them.