Senator Abetz’s attacks on injured workers do nothing to fix Comcare

15th Apr 2015

Comments from Federal Public Service Minister Eric Abetz that seek to minimise the impacts of proposed changes to the nation’s Comcare scheme are not only dishonest, they also serve as a further hit on injured workers, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

ALA National President Andrew Stone described Senator Abetz’s comments about Comcare compensation claims today as ‘intellectually dishonest’, with the ALA saying the longer term futures of injured workers and their families were at stake, as well as the budget bottom line, if the Government’s proposed Comcare changes go through.

“Minister Abetz is becoming increasingly desperate in his bid to sell changes that will make a poorly functioning Comcare scheme even worse, as reflected in his comments reported today” Mr Stone said.

“We don’t judge all federal politicians by the few who rort their allowances for travel or books.  Senator Abetz should apply the same standard to injured workers that he would like applied to himself – don’t tar all with the same brush.

“Senator Abetz attacks the Comcare scheme by reference to two extreme, isolated examples and nothing more.

 “To be frank it’s just intellectually dishonest to focus on the extreme cases rather than the majority of claims.”

“The Comcare scheme does need reform, but the changes proposed by Minister Abetz are the wrong way to go about this.

"The impacts of Senator Abetz's legislation on the budget bottom line also deserve close scrutiny by his colleagues, including from Ministers Hockey, Cormann and Frydenberg. 

“Remediating budget blowouts is a high priority for the Federal Government, so given this surely the last thing the Government would want is more people flooding into our Centrelink and Medicare schemes. 

“Yet with Senator Abetz’s proposed changes, that is precisely what will occur. 

“Senator Abetz’s changes encourage migration from State and Territory schemes into Comcare, which will provide minimal benefits for short periods. That in turn will mean many people will be forced to pursue social security and Medicare benefits, when currently they have fairer worker's compensation schemes covering their losses.

In addition to the impacts for injured workers and the budget bottom line implications, Mr Stone said Senator Abetz’ comments included a number of inaccuracies, including the assumption that Comcare only covers desk-bound federal public servants.

“That is just wrong – this legislation also covers federal public servants who work in construction, on maintaining buildings, or in frontline services, such as the AFP and Customs.

“The Senator also attacks compensation for secondary psychological injury, yet in doing so fails to recognise that for the majority these are legitimate injuries that warrant compensation.

“Senator Abetz also has no answer to the safety vacuum created by Comcare, including the its diminished capacity for enforcing workplace health and safety compliance in high risk industries. The Scheme is also a recognised poor performer on safety enforcement and prosecution compared to the states and territories. 

“Finally, the Senator has sought to claim that the majority of the elements of the Bill recently introduced are based on recommendations from the Hawk and Hanks Review. That too is an incorrect and misleading statement – at best only a handful of these recommendations have actually been incorporated,” he said.

Mr Stone said that Senator Abetz’s comments showed he had a complete lack of empathy for injured workers and was only concerned with stripping Comcare costs to the bone.

“Every single word that Senator Abetz has uttered in relation to these Comcare reforms focuses on attacking ‘rorting’ public servants,” Mr Stone said. “There has not been a single moment of empathy for those genuinely injured people whose lives are turned upside down by serious workplace injury,” Mr Stone said.

“Given the complete lack of empathy by Senator Abetz for injured workers and his seeming determination to gut their benefits, the Australian Lawyers Alliance prides itself on sticking up for those whom the Minster doesn’t seem to care about,” Mr Stone said.

“By all means tidy up the system, by all means address the extreme examples, but don’t disguise a major attack on the benefits of the seriously injured and an attack on State and Territory schemes under the guise of one or two extreme examples.

“The ALA remains strongly opposed to these proposed changes. There is a better way forward, and we are happy to consult with the Minister about this, but we will never accept changes that put the considerations of big business ahead of injured workers,” Mr Stone said.

Tags: Workers' rights WorkCover Workers compensation Comcare