Adjourned debate on second reading
(Continued from 31 May 2017)
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 16:31 :11 ): This bill will transfer injury management to ReturnToWorkSA for government employees. The minister in his second reading indicated that the impetus for this was consistency. The minister advises that at the moment there are 12 separate operating units undertaking injury management functions for their agencies. They operate differently and the ability to determine the manner in which they manage injuries is limited, as outcomes are measured differently (if at all), statistics are kept differently and it is impossible to compare whether or not these units are operating effectively because the benchmarks are different.
Anecdotally, I understand that there are some schemes that are running very well, but on the other hand there are other schemes that are very bad. Ironically, we do not know what is considered good or bad because there are no benchmarks. I have no problem with moving schemes to ReturnToWorkSA that are not performing well. However, it would not be prudent to move a scheme to ReturnToWorkSA which is operating well where they could be in a system that is worse not only for the injured worker but also for the employer.
The government has not identified to the parliament which organisations are performing well and which are not. I have asked and been advised that they are unable to identify them due to the fact that there are either no or differing measurement benchmarks. The government has not been able to provide any information that this move is necessary or beneficial; instead, it is merely for consistency. In my view, there is no point in being consistent if it means that your standards fall from where they currently are.
No injury management or workers compensation scheme is perfect. However, there is no secret that ReturnToWorkSA's predecessor, WorkCover, was plagued with problems. It was one of the worst schemes in the country and at one stage it had a whopping $1 billion unfunded liability. The government has been lauding the success of ReturnToWorkSA since the changes were made a few years ago. However, I believe it is still too early to tell. The government put many of the current complaints down to people transitioning from the old scheme to the new scheme. However, I believe there are many cases where there are genuine grounds for complaint.
People who are injured but do not meet the 30 per cent whole person impairment threshold are cut off after two years. People who face a lifetime of medical expenses will have to cover these costs themselves after three years. I am not sure if it is coincidental, but there seem to be many people out there whose injury is only 28 per cent or 29 per cent WPI. This makes them ineligible to be a seriously injured worker and limits the compensation payable to them.
I am particularly concerned about transferring emergency services workers to a scheme that does not allow for psychiatric injuries to be included unless it is 'the significant contributing cause of the injury'. Emergency services workers are exposed to many horrific situations that play an enormous part on the psyche. A person who may have a physical injury that is 29 per cent WPI and a psychological injury that is 28 per cent WPI would not meet the 30 per cent threshold.
To be refused compensation because psychiatric injuries are not the contributing cause of the injury would be devastating and detrimental to psychological health. It has been put to me that this is merely a step in the government's move to sell ReturnToWorkSA to a private provider. In a letter to me dated 29 May, the minister stated:
This is not an attempt to 'fatten' ReturnToWorkSA in preparation for privatisation. There are no such plans. There is no plan to fold private self-insured employers into the registered scheme under ReturnToWorkSA. It is not contemplated in this model that there will be cross-subsidisation across the public sector and private employers. The premium pools will be kept separate. There is no secret plan. It is what it is.
Whilst I am heartened to hear this and am thankful to the minister for providing this information to me in writing, I am still sceptical. This minister may not have plans to sell, but this transfer would make it an attractive golden goose for other ministers in the future.
If there are no plans to sell ReturnToWorkSA and the government is truly doing this just for consistency, unfortunately the information they have provided is still lacking and I am unable to support the bill. I oppose the second reading but acknowledge that, with the opposition's support, the bill is likely to reach the third reading after going through the committee. This matter has been brought on in a bit of a hurry.
I have requested information from the government and am still waiting on it. Ideally, this matter would not be progressing today; however, I do not want to hold up the parliament. Given this, I reserve my right to change my position on the bill following the debate in committee.