The Queensland state election and personal injury entitlements
9th Nov 2017
Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, called for a state election to take place on 25 November 2017 – the announcement was made on 29 October. The last two state government elections have resulted in some of the biggest changes to personal injury law in Queensland since the introduction of the Civil Liability Act in 2001. What impact will this election have on the rights and entitlements of injured Queenslanders?
The stewardship of Campbell Newman and the Liberal National Party (LNP) in government in Queensland from March 2012 to January 2015 saw sweeping changes to Queensland legislation. Introduced under the guise of protecting Queensland and its future, these changes resulted in substantial job losses in the public sector, unprecedented and unvetted police powers against motorcycle riders, and the denial of common law rights to the majority of workers injured in the state. These moves were made against the recommendations emanating from multiple inquiries, and in the absence of proper consultation with stakeholders despite their significant impact on the lives of many Queenslanders.
An Inquiry into the Operation of Queensland’s Workers’ Compensation Scheme was conducted by the Queensland Finance and Administration Committee and released in May 2013. Its recommendations from this inquiry included a recommendation against imposing thresholds on accessing common law rights as this would ‘improperly remove rights from one group of citizens that are available to other citizens.’ The Committee further noted that ‘imposing thresholds on [whole person impairment] would break the nexus between workers’ compensation and the ability of injured workers to perform their pre-injury employment.’
Despite these recommendations, the Liberal government implemented such thresholds with the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2013. This legislation effectively deprived 60% of injured workers the right to recover future lost wages and medical expenses incurred as a result of their injuries, passing the responsibility for these expenses to the federal social security systems. The restrictions were not based on whether or not a person could return to work, their levels of pain or the impact of their injuries on their everyday life, but rather on an arbitrary assessment of their injuries by a doctor who had seen the worker for a matter of minutes. The changes to the legislation also provided for the discrimination of previously injured workers in their future job-seeking efforts by allowing potential employers access to a candidates workers’ compensation claims history.
Annastacia Palaszczuk made an election promise in 2015 to put an end to much of the damage caused by the Newman government, and she has lived up to this promise throughout her time as Premier. She reversed the changes to the workers’ compensation system, back-dating the amendments passed in late-2015 to the date of her election in January of that year. She created a system to offer some relief for those injured workers affected by the previous amendments. She also closed the door on employers conducting claims history searches on potential employees.
The current Queensland government has recently introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) into Queensland while ensuring the continuation of common law rights. With the framework for the NDIS established, it does not appear as though personal injury legislation is again on the agenda for the current election. The LNP has, however, indicated that it will re-introduce the widely criticised ‘bikie laws’, circumventing the rule of law and doing away with procedural fairness, as well as withdrawing from the Safe School Coalition, a program designed to protect our vulnerable youth. Conversely, the ALP’s policies support safe schools and marriage equality and increase transparency and accountability of those in positions of power. The ALP policies also continue its ongoing work of supporting workers and families, supporting the maintenance of penalty rates and minimum wage, family-friendly rosters as well as codes of practice and reporting requirements with respect to workplace health and safety.
Tim Nicholls, state leader of the LNP, suggests that Annastacia Palaszczuk and the ALP are slow to act and soft with those actions. Such an approach, however, is necessary to ensure the state is governed in a fair and equitable manner. Consultation with stakeholders should occur before changes are made and any such changes should be the subject of ongoing review to determine their effectiveness. The alternative is the aggressive and discriminatory approach of the previous LNP government without cause or concern for the wellbeing of all stakeholders and the true implications of changes made. This is akin to a dictatorship rather than a democracy, and not something the Queensland public deserve.
Solicitor Michelle Wright has spent much of her legal career in the field of personal injury litigation and has a particular interest in assisting clients who have sustained psychiatric injuries from incidents at work or on the road. She is a member of the Queensland Law Society, the Australian Lawyers Alliance, the Women’s Lawyers Association of Queensland and the Logan and Scenic Rim Law Association and works in a variety of volunteer programs to ensure that everyone is given equal access to essential legal advices.
This article was originally published on Michelle's blog, P.I. Case Note.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).