Comcare reforms harsh, unjust & mean


Federal government reforms to public service workers’ compensation – Comcare- are “harsh, unjust” and “gratuitously mean”, according to the federal opposition. However, the Minister  says these reforms will help bring the Commonwealth workers compensation scheme into line with the rules under State schemes and will remove loopholes that can be rorted when injuries occur that are not the responsibility of the employer”.

Public service workers’ compensation reforms are ‘harsh and unjust’, say Labor

Noel_Towell-127x127px-By Noel Towell | Reporter for The Canberra Times | 15 Oct 2014

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Federal government reforms to public service workers’ compensation are “harsh, unjust” and “gratuitously mean”, according to the federal opposition.

Labor says changes planned by the Coalition would leave 160,000 public servants and hundreds of thousands of other workers with less cover than the rest of the Australian workforce.

Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor (pictured) says changes to federal workplace insurer Comcare directly risk the health and safety of Australian workers and leave injured employees without access to compensation or medical benefits.

But Employment Minister Eric Abetz shot back on Wednesday, accusing Mr O’Connor of being content to let “rorts” against the system continue.

Before it lost office, Labor pledged to reform the Comcare in a bid to control its spiralling costs and the Coalition has continued the push since winning government.

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Senator Abetz has legislation before Parliament that will make it easier for private sector companies to join the Comcare scheme and put a stop to compo pay-outs to workers injured while on breaks from their jobs.

It will also block claims for employees seriously hurt or killed while engaging in serious misconduct or who voluntarily assume “abnormal risk”.

The Canberra Times revealed in September that a second tranche of reforms is also in development which would address some of the most controversial aspects of public service workers’ compo: payouts for psychological injuries, compensation for life, and taxpayer-funded access to dubious therapies.

But Mr O’Connor told a union workplace safety conference in Melbourne that Senator Abetz’s reforms were “a series of exclusions from compensation that will make Comcare an outlier in Australia for the harsh and unjust way that it would treat injured and deceased workers”.

Mr O’Connor said the abnormal risk clause would hurt police officers or medical workers who put their health or even their lives on the line to protect the public.

“There is no protection for vulnerable workers who are asked or directed to do dangerous tasks by their co-workers – the young worker or older worker afraid of losing their job,” the Labor frontbencher said.

“There is no protection for police, for nurses for workers who respond throughout the day and are exposed to risk, but must perform tasks to ensure the health, safety and well-being of others.”

Provisions banning compensation pay-outs for workers hurt while on an “ordinary recess”, or a break from their work, bring the scheme back to the days of WorkChoices, Mr O’Connor told the ACTU conference.

“In 2007, under John Howard’s WorkChoices regime, recess claims were removed from the scheme,” he said.

“In 2011, Labor reinstated the protection to return equity to Comcare and to provide coverage to injured workers under Comcare on a similar footing as provided to the vast majority of the Australian work force.

“Another provision in the Bill that underlines what this Government stands for is the removal of protection and compensation in cases of ‘death or serious and permanent impairment’ if ‘wilful misconduct’ is alleged.

“This is perhaps the most gratuitously mean proposal in the Bill, because the Government acknowledge at best negligible savings from this measure in its Regulation Impact Statement.

“There are no individuals or organisations that we know of that have called for this change.”

Senator Abetz rejected Mr O’Connor’s position, and said his reforms would bring Comcare into line with the schemes that cover most Australian workers.

“These reforms will help bring the Commonwealth workers compensation scheme into line with the rules under State schemes and will remove loopholes that can be rorted when injuries occur that are not the responsibility of the employer,” the minister said.

“Mr O’Connor should be upfront and admit that he would rather see such rorts continue to exist at taxpayers’ expense and that he opposes common sense reforms to the system that will help keep it affordable.”

Note: it is quite interesting to read the many comments posted on this article. As a reader commented rightly:




3 Responses to “Comcare reforms harsh, unjust & mean”

  1. Workcover NSW has yet to issue a public statement acknowledging that it had ( still has?) a serious bullying problem – the first recommendation the inquiry had made.

    The two most senior WorkCover managers retired a few months ago. CEO of the Return to Work and Support Division Julie Newman retired on August 1 and John Watson, general manager of the work health and Safety Division.

    Submissions close on Friday October 17 and there is a public hearing in Sydney on Tuesday October 28.

    The General Purpose Standing Committee will report on December 11.

  2. I was working in a building high rise development some years back, listening to a couple of young workers. One asked the other what are you doing on the weekend, I’m planning to go away for a couple of weeks, are you taking holidays, No don’t be stupid I will just say I hurt my back again and go on compo for two weeks, done it before. I wanted to throw him off the 12 floor he was working on. Wonder why genuine injured get given a hard time. As I say the good majority pay for the bad minority.

  3. Check this article out – Again at a time when injured workers throughout this nation are suffering enormously from “deform” of the system, this article below gives a seriously skewed presentation on the problems with the system. Sure there are a couple of rotten apples, but every study that has been done on fraud in workcover, employer, insurer, and service provider fraud are found to be a dramatically greater problem than injured workers’ fraud. So, tell us, how many claims were filed with Comcare? And this is all you can come up with? DUH!

    Don’t laugh Australia, you’re paying for it

    Do we really need any more reasons to mock public servants? (and if you’re reading this Australian Tax Office auditors, I mean that in the nicest possible way).

    Recent revelations a Centrelink worker developed “telephone phobia” after listening to his client’s despairing tales joins the case last month of an ATO bureaucrat who went on stress leave after being castigated for absences because she had to find an organic coffee with soy milk.

    You wonder who is the mug here? The workers (Most of whom have had their cases thrown out by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal) or the taxpayer paying for other, less notorious, instances of questionable compo?

    Don’t believe me? Let’s not forget the gent flown to an Alice Springs meditation retreat to soothe stress sustained at the ATO. What about the CSIRO worker who claimed a tooth injury sucking a lolly? Or the dude who filed an action following a squabble over a coffee where he was punched in the arm by a colleague?

    Public Service Minister Eric Abetz says reforms to Commonwealth workers’ compensation schemes are in the pipeline, with “payouts for psychological injuries, compensation for life, and taxpayer-funded access to dubious therapies” in the Abbott government’s crosshairs according to The Canberra Times’ long-time observer of these shenanigans, Noel Towell.

    The “standard of the reasonable person”, somewhat akin to the “pub test”, tells you cases like this should never make it to any sort of courtroom or tribunal, yet when you consider the $1.2 billion Comcare insurance scheme lost half-a-billion dollars in the 2011-12 financial year and $98 million in 2012-13, it would seem Ted and Tricia Taxpayer have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for members of our 160,000-strong public service (and their bad backs).

    Like the gentleman who experienced paranoid delusions about his colleagues and actually got compo for the trauma of this “persecution”. Or the clerk who was compensated for the “humiliation” of being counselled in a private room by her supervisor for underperformance.

    “Most public servants are appalled by these sort of claims,” says Towell, “but there is no doubt in my mind there’s an entitlement culture among a minority where compo is seen as a perk of the job rather than an insurance policy against something bad happening.”

    “Medical ‘professionals’ shouldn’t be let off the hook in all of this. A lot of people have been encouraged, or ‘enabled’, by GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists who should know better. Many of them, pharmacists too, made good money while they were doing it,” says Towell.

    The watershed moment in frivolous claims, he says, was the notorious “sex in a motel” case where a public servant was injured in a Nowra motel room after a glass light fitting fell on her head during a “vigorous” sex session while on a work trip.

    While the incident has only a 50-50 chance of making it into the next Judd Apatow movie, it did get all the way to the High Court before sanity prevailed and it ruled the “government should not take financial responsibility for public servants having sex in motel rooms”.


    “There’s much, much more rigour applied to processing claims these days,” says Towell, however, that doesn’t mean we won’t see an Australia Post employee claiming he was injured during horseplay because the government never trained him as an equestrian.