ACT govt pulling out of Comcare is a step in the right direction
26th Feb 2015
The ACT government is to be commended for pulling its support from the fundamentally flawed Comcare workplace insurance scheme, demonstrating strong leadership and supporting workers’ rights, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
ALA ACT President Phil Schubert said the move is the strongest action to date by any state or territory government in relation to the scheme. The scheme has increased premiums by 180 per cent while also being notorious for meting out inadequate benefits, high disputation rates, delays and inadequate staffing levels.
“This strong step taken by the ACT government should be applauded. It is a bold step of intentional leadership,” Mr Schubert said.
“The failings of the Comcare scheme are well-known to injured workers. This is an issue which has been recognised by the ACT government, and they have taken strong action.”
“Comcare is a fundamentally-flawed scheme that provides no access to meaningful common law damages even when an employer negligently causes an injury,” Mr Schubert said.
“The ACT government, in pulling its support from the scheme, has demonstrated that the rights available under Comcare are no longer an appropriate answer for injured workers in its jurisdiction,” Mr Schubert said. “Other states and territories also have the opportunity to consider the best option available for their workers.”
“However, the proof will be in the pudding: what the ACT government does next will be crucial.”
Mr Schubert said the ACT government is now proposing designing a new scheme.
“Another option that should be considered is including ACT public service workers into the present ACT private sector WorkCover scheme,” Mr Schubert said.
“This would allow for claims to be finalised sooner and without the long-tail hangover imposed by Comcare. It would allow a commercial insurer to be involved, which would ultimately save costs.”
Mr Schubert said that problems within other workers compensation schemes should not be repeated. He said that recent changes to the NSW workers compensation scheme had resulted in unintended and undesirable consequences.
“Workers compensation changes in 2012 in NSW have resulted in more workers not returning to work and ending up on Centrelink payments and the public health system,” Mr Schubert said. ”This has been a stunning cost-shift to the Commonwealth. The ACT can do better than that.”
“Ideal elements to incorporate into a new scheme include the ability to sue for lump sum compensation.”
“There should also be no threshold, such as in the current private workers compensation scheme, which is working well,” Mr Schubert said.
However, Mr Schubert said that the proposals being put forward must be weighed carefully.
“A new system should not be utilised as an opportunity to remove or diminish existing rights, and should be used as an opportunity to level up the rights of ACT residents,” Mr Schubert said
“So too, the discussion of time limits on payments for medical treatment should ring alarm bells. The ACT government must ensure that injured workers are able to receive adequate support during their recovery, and should not be pressured to return to work too soon due to financial desperation.”
“Cutting off treatment expenses for injured workers’ is contrary to the scheme’s plan for rehabilitation,” Mr Schubert said.
“Workers often need ongoing care to continue to attend work and contribute in the workplace. This harsh deadline cut off is too blunt an instrument for what is a nuanced issue.”
“These people could effectively be left out in the cold,” Mr Schubert said. “It is important that ACT government ensures that they are not.”