Comcare crackdown: Public servants stripped of compo rights


According to The Canberra Times, The Commonwealth’s 160,000 public servants are to be stripped of some of their generous workers’ compensation benefits as the government moves to end the “rorting and malingering” that has dogged the bureaucracy for years.

Public servants stripped of compo rights in Comcare crackdown

By Noel Towel | 25 Mar 2015 | Canberra Times

The Commonwealth’s 160,000 public servants are to be stripped of some of their generous workers’ compensation benefits as the government moves to end the “rorting and malingering” that has dogged the bureaucracy for years.

The government says the Comcare scheme is seen by the community as a “soft touch”, “that invites rorting“.

There will be a crackdown on mental injury claims, taxpayer-funded alternative therapies, public servants spending years or even decades away from their jobs and compensation paid over the “reasonable actions” of departmental bosses.

Under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2015 workers seeking a payout will have to prove their injury is work-related, in a change designed to prevent any repeat of the infamous “sex-in-a-motel” legal saga that cost taxpayers $600,000.eric-abetz

But lawyers are furious with one of the profession’s peak groups, the Australian Lawyers Alliance, describing the proposed changes as harsh, unfair and an attack on the rights of injured workers.

Reform of the scheme has been on the cards since 2012 when a review urged sweeping reform to try to contain the cost of Comcare which at the time was running at a half-a-billion dollar loss.

Comcare has clawed its way back into the black, largely through a sharp rise in insurance premiums charged to government agencies, to $411 million in 2014, causing bitter resentment at the top of the cash-strapped public service.

One big premium payer, the ACT Government, lost patience with the pace of reform and announced in February it was taking its 20,000 employees out of Comcare after being slapped with a $95 million bill in 2014-2015.

Launching his legislation on Wednesday, Employment Minister Eric Abetz said Comcare was a “good scheme” but claims like the motel sex case had been undermining the system and ruining things for the vast majority of public servants who did the right thing.

“There are too many cases like this,” he said.

“They simply encourage rorting and malingering, waste taxpayers’ money and undermine the thousands of hard-working public servants who do not try to take advantage of the loopholes in the system.”

If the government can get its bill through the Parliament, future claimants will face tougher requirements to take part in rehab programs and “injury management” as well as rules that any therapies will have to be “evidence-based” if taxpayers are to foot the bill.

Compo-funded expatriate lifestyles will be curtailed with payments cut off if the claimant is absent from Australia for more than six weeks.

There will be higher lump sum payments for employees with severe or multiple injuries, and lower payments for those with minor injuries, taking into account pre-existing conditions, according to a fact sheet distributed with the legislative changes.

There will be caps on medical and legal costs and taxpayer-funded carers will have to be qualified. The legislation will also introduce a “three-stage sanctions regime” enabling a claimant to be kicked off benefits if they refuse to comply with the insurer’s directions.

But ALA National President Andrew Stone blasted the changes on Wednesday, saying Senator Abetz was using isolated example of extreme cases to justify an attack on the care and rehab of injured workers.

“The reality is that the changes proposed will make it more difficult for employees to get the care and rehabilitation they need, compounded by injured workers also facing greater pressure to re-enter the workforce prematurely,” Mr Stone said.

“This includes through proposed harsher rehabilitation requirements, a reduction in the current weekly wage-loss payments, and the introduction of a harsher test workers will have to go through in proving work was a significant contributing factor to their injury.”


13 Responses to “Comcare crackdown: Public servants stripped of compo rights”

  1. Just read the amendments to the bill see here:;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fems%2Fr5434_ems_63129588-26cf-4571-b0de-c65fffcbd1e7%22

    I think the most concerning thing in it is this
    “exclude access to permanent impairment compensation for secondary psychological or psychiatric ailments and injuries.”

    So if you have a mental breakdown at work you are stuffed, same with ACT Gov changes. Yet there is all this blah crap on about mental health and looking out for us etc… It is just talk they don’t care.

    I would love for some of the people who make these decisions regards mental illness injury a workplace to see how they would cope once they have lived it.

  2. Big businesses lobbied hard for Commonwealth public servants to be stripped of some of their workers’ compensation rights.

    Sources close to the reform process in Canberra say the push by big corporate players to strip back the generosity of the Comcare scheme resulted in elements of the private sector’s wish list making it into legislation against the wishes and advice of some stakeholders.

    Employment Minister Eric Abetz introduced the reform bill into the Parliament in March, heralding a crackdown on mental injury claims, taxpayer-funded alternative therapies, public servants spending years or even decades away from their jobs and compensation paid over the “reasonable actions” of workplace bosses.
    Under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2015, workers seeking a payout will have to prove their injury is work-related, in a change designed to prevent any repeat of the infamous “sex in a motel” legal saga that cost taxpayers $600,000.

    But The Canberra Times has been told that key aspects of the reform were demanded by big business who are now eligible to join the scheme under a related set of changes, but who feared its perceived generosity to workers would cost too much.

    Comcare is a potentially attractive proposition for national employers who can make big savings by complying with just one national health-and-safety regime for all their sites across Australia, instead of a different authority for each state and territory.

    Senator Abetz’s office confirmed that talks had been held with the private sector, but no more than with other stakeholders, and declined to give details of what was said in the discussions.

    However, this newspaper understands key targets for the corporates included secondary psychological injuries (in which a worker suffers mentally as a result of being physically hurt on the job), rules governing permanent impairment, and caps on medical and legal payments.

    Lawyers say the changes to permanent impairment rules would lead to the payout for a worker with a 10 per cent impairment being slashed from $26,000 to less than $9000
    Nationally, 33 businesses are insured under licence from Comcare, including NAB, Commonwealth Bank, building giant John Holland and Transport outfit Linfox. But the government is keen to attract other big business customers in an effort to improve the financial viability.

    The government’s Commission of Audit of 2014 recommended partial privatisation of Comcare, and some Canberra insiders believe a sell-off of at least part of the insurer is a long-term goal.

    Reacting to the latest proposed reforms, Australian Lawyers Alliance national president Andrew Stone said he was in no doubt the two sets of reforms were aimed at bringing more private business into the scheme at the expense of workers.

    “The minister has spent more time conferring with his big-business mates than he has conferring with the injured workers whose benefits he’s going to cut off,” Mr Stone said.

    “Given the general tenor of this legislation is to slash people’s rights, it doesn’t come as a surprise who he’s been listening to.

    “Any employer is going to be attracted to a compensation scheme that is cheap and miserable: cheap for them, miserable for their employees.”

  3. Woowoo, I really feel for you in your situation, and it underlines how much injured workers have lost. Originally Workers Compensation was developed to counteract the huge payouts companies faced because injured workers were suing for punitive damages. Employers were the ones who first wanted it and Unions agreed to it because of the ‘NO FAULT’ clauses, this meant you were covered for accidents at work and did not have to prove negligence on the part of your employer. What has happened to that part of the legislation???? Governments, employers and insurance companies have manipulated the rules to their advantage and unions (mainly due to lack of membership caused by media propaganda – thanks Murdoch) do not have the power they once had to fight this. You should not have to even have income protection, you should be covered for injury at work full stop. And as far as doctors go, the majority still adhere to the Hypocratic Oath but some see you as a money pit or a time waster, who wants to go to doctors like that? The source of all this injustice should be rammed home to the governments who allowed it to happen, in my case the Coalition in NSW. However as has been reported in the article above the same unfair policies of the right wing are now being implemented federally. It is time everyone woke up and realised that politics affects them directly. Abetz uses the same demonisation of ‘welfare cheats’ on injured workers with absolutely no evidence to back it up (again thanks Murdoch) and now other injured workers will suffer.

  4. They are not the only ones cracking down
    I receive a minute amount of income protection, because I did the “right thing” and tried to remain at work, just reducing my hours over the years I did manage to remain at work.. This meant that by the time I couldn’t work any longer my income was already down to about 25% of my earnings prior to my accident. I have been receiving Sickness Benefits but as I no longer have a job to go back to I have applied for Disability… Now I have to fill out forms for the income protection payment monthly, plus pay for my Dr to write out a report monthly and now they are asking for my hand therapist to write a report on all my injuries, when she has only seen me for my hand… I can not afford the fees for these reports, especially when the income protection doesn’t even cover the mortgage… They also want me to organise to see a Pain Specialist Dr at the hospital, for another report and have this in 2 weeks???? Who can get an appointment at a hospital in that time frame??? I sent them signed authorities to request the information so WTH….
    I had my job capacity appointment for Disability a few days ago and walked out feeling like I wasn’t worth the time of day.. Apparently I need more upto date imaging, The IME’s say the same thing, but my Dr wont refer me for them.
    Is this because my accident was the fault of another GP????
    Problem is not many GP’s will take on WorkCover or TAC patients, so what does that say about the system. I guess my next move is to seek a second opinion from someone else but where…. I don’t really know if I can go through the process of all the talk and pushing, prodding and generally pain inflicting process all over again
    What does one have to do to get help, and where do you get it… Who listens anymore…

    I feel so frustrated, angry, and really pissed off

    • @Woowoo – are u in VIC?

      • @Pee’d off, Geelong region, had a talk to one of my Drs yesterday, back on the antidepressants, he feels frustrated because he’s caught with a new patient with an injury dating back a few years, he doesn’t know me from anyone else and feels his hands are tied with regards to my pre existing back injury and the now continual pain which has only occurred since my accident.
        My previous Dr knows the system, but was having problems due to his own ill health, and age..
        It seems I may be looking for another Dr, but I guess reasonably good news is at least this one sent me for a partial scan, which reveals more “degenerative” damage than one I had just after the accident. This scan also proves I’m not scamming but am legit so now hoping more will follow. But doesn’t it suck that one needs to feel vindicated…

        • @Woowoo, if u have had any entitlements terminated or suspended i.e. adverse decisions from the Agent in relation to your weekly payments and/or medical and like I suggest that you file for Conciliation. Remember, no decision is also a demmed refusal and also grounds to file. Then if it’s a medical issue in dispute, you can get a Medical Authority from the ACCS. This then allows you to get treatment provider reports from all of your treatment providers and the cost of the reports is billed directly to the Agent. The AGent is required to assesscurrent medical information before making IME appointments. And ONLY when there is a dispute, issue or question that cannot be resolved with the worker or thru the THP’s then and ONLY then, should they be sending u to an IME. We often just follow along blindly with what they make us do when in fact we do have rights.

          • @Pee’d Off.. I’m scheduled for conciliation, but new dr won’t do report.. Even though he wanted me to do hydro, he says I have pre existing blah blah…. Doesn’t either want to understand the difference or doesn’t care… After 3months of seeing him can sort of understand…Feeling this isn’t going to bode well. Have to go over all the previous reports to see what I can submit as it will take too long to get into specialist for opinion & report. @WCV, I have a report on best practice from SA Gov Dept, is it in my best interest to present it at conciliation?

            • @Woowoo – no, don’t submit or discuss any “guidelines” with Conciliator (ACCS), they hate being told “things” if you know what I am saying. In my personal (and accomplices) experience(s) it is very helpful to engage WorkCover Assist for conciliation. They’re very good, in particular Peter C. Give them a call and I am sure they will help you prepare for conciliation as best as possible. They will also represent you (free) at conciliation and we’ve always been very impressed with them.

        • @Woowoo – I KNOW that feeling! Hey, I have a very nice GP, but in Melbourne region, happy to pass on his details.Come for a coffee on your way 🙂