Injured workers deserve more!

Today Abigail stood up for injured workers and demanded genuine reform of our broken workers compensation system.

Abigail said:

On behalf of the Greens, I indicate that we will not be opposing the State Insurance and Care Governance Amendment (ICNSW Board) Bill 2023. It is an exceedingly modest bill in response to an exceedingly immodest problem—that of our catastrophically dysfunctional workers compensation system. The bill seeks to create two new seats on the icare governing board—one to be filled by a person nominated by Unions NSW as an employee representative and another to be filled by a person representing employers. The existing board membership of a former Labor leader, an insurance CEO, a former PwC partner of 20 years, not one but two bankers, another consultant, another fund manager and a current senior executive for the Australian Industry Group was not business-friendly enough for this board, apparently. It is a shame, therefore, that the bill will not make any substantive difference in the voting balance of the board. I extend my sympathies to whichever poor soul is nominated as employee representative to that board. It is sure to be a painful ordeal for them. We can only hope that, given the 12-month nomination time frame that is proposed by this amendment, some of the urgently needed cultural and governance reform will be further progressed by the time they find themselves seated at that boardroom table.

I appreciate the assurances given by the Government and, particularly, the Minister for Industrial Relations that this is just the beginning of the coming reforms and far from the end. Not to be too harsh, but that kind of goes without saying when we consider the bill. Nevertheless, the assurance is noted and appreciated. I look forward to working constructively with the Government as it embarks upon the exceedingly difficult work of reforming this fundamentally flawed organisation. As we have come to learn of so many big budget landmines left by the former Government, it is a true Perrottet special. It is a quintessential example of the genre—shonky governance, mega salaries and jobs for mates all gathered up into a bundle of off-balance-sheet dysfunction. Since joining Parliament I have had the distinct displeasure of watching icare unravel in real time, and my heart goes out to those who have experienced its brutality firsthand. It is more than a little reminiscent of the diabolical robodebt saga, complete with questionable income smoothing and an antagonistic orientation towards people most in need whom the scheme is supposedly in place to help.

And do not even get me started on the consultants; icare has been the gift that keeps on giving for our good friends at PwC, who have received around $35 million from icare since its inception, or around one in three of every dollar spent on consultants—that we know of. These reforms to the financial sustainability, culture and governance of icare cannot come soon enough. As it stands, we will take the bill according to its intention—as a signal of future work and the start of a process of reform. I also note the advocacy of Unions NSW and the Injured Workers Campaign Network, which I have had the privilege of consulting in relation to this proposed legislation. We are proud to be fulfilling the first point of the public pledge we made to the IWCN earlier this year when it comes to reforming our workers compensation system. In that vein, we will not be seeking to amend the bill. However, I put on record my concern that this reform does not go anywhere near far enough towards reforming the governance of icare, nor can one person possibly hope to express the multitude of experiences of injured workers who rely on our workers compensation system.

So I would propose—and hope I can get a response from the Government on this proposal—that there be some formalised layer of consultation established under the icare board, as a subcommittee or located somewhere else within the governance structure, where the voices of injured workers can be listened to and their concerns addressed—not as a one-off consultation or roundtable but as a standing consultative body and respected party to the conduct of our workers compensation system. Because, frankly, it beggars belief that we do not already have this in place and that the body responsible for looking after injured workers has no interest in what workers have to say.

Of course, a vital component of saving our workers compensation system is making it so that workers are not suffering workplace injuries in the first place. Unfortunately, New South Wales has had a workplace regulator, in SafeWork, that is utterly derelict in its duties. I note the McDougall review into SafeWork is currently underway, and I eagerly await those findings. I admit to being a little disappointed that it is going to take another external review to tell us the bleedingly obvious—that a workplace safety regulator needs to actually regulate the safety of workplaces. That cannot generally be done from a computer screen. Inspectors need to go out and do site visits and inspections and actively pursue the safety and rights of workers rather than defending shoddy businesses and their dangerous practices. Those firms can afford their own spin doctors and lawyers. The Government regulator does not need to be giving them a hand at the same time.

We also urgently need reform to the legislative framework that governs workplace injuries to bring it into line with the twenty-first century. Our workplace compensation system is not fit for purpose when it comes to psychological harm, and all too often workers attempting to make it work end up suffering further harm from the inappropriate structures of the scheme. I look forward to working with the Government on delivering meaningful, sustainable and lasting reform to this disastrous and cruel situation. It is well overdue and the workers of this State cannot afford to wait another moment.

 

See Hansard for the full transcript.

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