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Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation: Return to Work Act

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (17:14 :21): On 25 May 2016, the Hon. Tammy Franks moved for the Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation to inquire into the Return to Work Act and scheme. I co-sponsored this motion as a result of being contacted by countless constituents with concerns about the new return-to-work scheme. The Return to Work Act has been very successful in reducing the unfunded liability of the state's workers compensation scheme.

I remember when I first came into this place, one of the first bills that I dealt with was the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Scheme Review) Amendment Bill. This bill proposed a number of changes to curtail the $1 billion unfunded liability debt. Currently, the return-to-work scheme is fully funded and that is certainly a great result. However, that is far from the only outcome which matters when it comes to workers compensation. The committee heard how the return-to-work scheme focused on early intervention and customer service. This is a vast improvement to the previous WorkCover scheme and evidence collected by ReturnToWork SA indicates that customer feedback is mostly positive.

However, the committee certainly heard from many injured workers and their supporters who were highly critical of the new scheme. Injured workers are entitled to 104 weeks income maintenance before they are left to their own devices, unless they are deemed to be seriously injured by having a whole-of-person impairment of 30 per cent or more. Whilst the majority of injured workers do return to work within 104 weeks, there is still a glaring gap where people who are injured at work and do not in meet the 30 per cent WPI threshold are not able to return to work. These people are left with no income maintenance and only a further 12 months of medical expenses before they need to fend for themselves.

The committee heard from several witnesses who were extremely anxious about what would happen to them and their families when their income maintenance ceased. People were worried about having injuries which would require lifelong treatment and yet moneys for this would have to be found from their own pockets because they did not meet the 30 per cent WPI threshold. Similarly, the committee heard from witnesses who had had their claims accepted under the WorkCover scheme, only to find out that their income maintenance would cease after 104 weeks. These people had already gone through the rigmarole of having a claim assessed and they had been accepted under the old WorkCover scheme.

The change to the return-to-work scheme meant that their claims would transition over to the new scheme. These people had their claims accepted with some being told that they would be entitled to lifetime income support and yet, with changes made by the government, they discovered that they only had two years of income maintenance before their payments would be discontinued. People worried about their mortgages and how they were going to provide for their families simply because they had the misfortune of being injured at work. Even worse were the workers who have injuries which require lifelong medical care who had been told under the old scheme that these costs would be covered for the rest of their life, only to find out that these expenses would no longer be covered after 27 June 2018.

There was ample evidence that not being able to include psychological injuries unless it was the significant contributing cause of injury had resulted in many people being unable to meet the threshold. This is also coupled with the inability to combine or accumulate injuries as a cause. The committee heard evidence which showed that the transitional arrangements for the new scheme sometimes resulted in unfair outcomes. I hope the government will consider these and make or support amendments as necessary.

I want to thank all parties who took the time to make a submission to the inquiry. I am optimistic that their time and efforts will not go to waste and that this inquiry will result in positive changes to the scheme. Thanks to the committee's staff, Ms Sue Sedivy and Mr Peter Knapp. Thanks also go to the committee members: the presiding member, the member for Ashford and the members for Fisher and Schubert in the other place, the Hon. Justin Hanson and the Hon. John Dawkins. I also want to thank the Hon. Gerry Kandelaars and the member for Reynell for their contributions whilst they were members of the committee.