It is with disbelief that the O’Farrell government has pushed new workers compensation measures through the NSW Legislative Council, just five days after it tabled its report.
It seems very much like it was a fait accompli. The ink was barely dry on the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill, before parliament was voting on it. Such an important issue that affects so many injured NSW workers really deserves far more debate before passing to the upper house for endorsement.
These changes will throw so many work injury victims and their families into great financial difficulty and hardship.
What is really disturbing is the way the O’Farrell government is distorting the truth, saying that payments to workers need to be reined in as they had gotten out of hand, when the truth is that the global financial crisis and poor handling of claims by insurers are the main reasons behind the financial bleeding of the system.
Under the new legislation, workers will no longer be entitled to lump-sum payments for those not in a high threshold, weekly benefits and treatment expenses are also being taken away and injured workers are losing their right to seek independent legal advice on lump sum proposals.
What O’Farrell is not considering is that time limits on weekly benefits and medical expenses will result in injured workers being thrown on the industrial scrapheap and being forced to try to survive on Centrelink benefits with their medical treatment limited to that covered by Medicare.
Only seriously injured workers will be guaranteed ongoing weekly benefits and ongoing reasonably necessary medical treatment. The rub lies in the definition of “serious injury” as 30 per cent whole-person impairment, a threshold which is far too high.
A below knee amputee is only assessed at 28 per cent on the WorkCover authorised American medical tables for the evaluation of permanent impairment. Apparently the government doesn’t think the loss of a foot is serious.
The ultimate act of degradation comes in the form of the retrospective elements of the new legislation. How can it be fair to suddenly change the rules part-way through someone’s claim? What has happened to the concept of a fair go?
Instead of directing immediate attention to streamlining the cumbersome WorkCover bureaucracy and insurer claims management processes to save costs, another bureaucracy known as the Safety, Return to Work and Support Board is to be created.
Many hours were spent by a whole range of stakeholders providing written submissions and giving evidence to a specially convened parliamentary committee. The committee released its recommendations last Thursday.
The government rather amazingly produced the bill at 2.40pm the following Tuesday and proceeded to rush it through the Legislative Assembly without allowing sufficient time for proper consideration and debate.
The bill appears to be a significant departure from both the issues paper released by the government in late April, 2012, and the parliamentary committee’s recommendations. The consultation process was disingenuous and turned out to be a farce. The entire exercise has been shameful. Those who will truly suffer are the working men and women of this state and what we really have is more than 100 years of rights scrapped in a matter of weeks.