Wednesday 06 July, 2016

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (15:30): I rise to speak on a couple of constituents in my area. I know that constituents on both sides of the house have been affected by some elements of some recent legislation that has been amended by the house. Whilst, on the whole, the Return to Work Act has been quite positive, there seem to be a couple of constituents on both sides of respective members' electorates who have been affected by this and I am asking for the Attorney to investigate some issues which I wish to speak about.

I spoke on this bill in September 2014, indicating a few areas of concern, including compensability and also entitlement to weekly payments, and I will bring these again before the house. I specifically bring the attention of the house to clause 37 of schedule 9. It has become apparent that some individuals who have suffered injuries in their workplace who receive income support allocated to them in the workers rehabilitation act of 1986 are not receiving income support under the Return to Work Act 2014 because they were not receiving payments immediately before the designated day, being 1 July 2015.

The Return to Work Act 2014 was introduced with the objective of establishing a scheme that supports workers who suffer injuries at work and has a primary objective to provide early intervention in respect of claims so as to ensure that action is taken to support workers and, in turn, achieve an injured worker's return to work.

I am aware that members of both sides of parliament have had this issue brought to their attention. I have recently been approached by a couple of constituents who are concerned with the way that some of these transitional provisions in the Return to Work Act are affecting their right to access income support payments, but also medical expenses. One in particular has also directed her concerns to the minister for industrial affairs.

In October 2014, this particular constituent was involved in a motor vehicle accident that caused her to suffer substantial injuries, both physical and mental. Despite this, she continued to remain in the workplace and was encouraged to do so by her medical practitioners and also, I am told, Employers Mutual. When her employment ended she got another job. She did not cope well with that job and had days off later because she was not coping due to ongoing symptoms caused by her work injuries, but persisted, both at the recommendation of her doctors and Employers Mutual.

By the end of 2015, she was, unfortunately, no longer able to cope and ceased working. She was suffering from severe symptoms of pain and discomfort in multiple parts and also panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Although Employers Mutual denied her claim, they have told her that they agree she has an entitlement to receive income support payments as of 1 January 2016. Because of the way the law has been written, however, she is currently precluded from accessing the support and care that she needs from the system.

She is outraged because she chose to stay at home between the date of her injury and 1 July 2015. She would not be in the position she is now in and she would be guaranteed access to medical expenses for the next two years. She suggested that the Attorney may look to investigate an amendment that could be introduced to fix the small part of the Return to Work Act that sees those who tried to return to work.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has recently called on the Minister for Industrial Relations to conduct an urgent review of these transitional provisions of the act that have led to this unfair result, such as my constituent has faced, but also to take steps to correct this unfairness. The question has been asked whether the Attorney should also consider a review by the Attorney-General's Department of aspects of the Return to Work Act 2014.

I hope the review brings to light whether there is a small part of the act that sees individuals in need of income support who at the moment seem to be cut off from the system. One may look at the recent case of Ms Pennington as an example, which was covered in the recent media. Weekly payments to Ms Pennington were discontinued as she was not receiving payments for her injuries on the designated day, 1 July 2015.

A review may also consider amendments to the act, with the intention of providing coverage of the act (income support payments) to workers who have an existing injury but who were not in receipt of payments immediately before the designated date. As it stands, clause 37(1) of schedule 9 lists that a series of categories of workers are all predicated on having an entitlement to a weekly payment immediately before the designated day.

Again, an added transitional clause could be considered in a review to deal with the people who are affected by this wording and in genuine need of income support to assist in their return to work. I encourage the Attorney-General to consider these recommendations and to provide and consider changes, if necessary, for the purpose of effectively returning injured workers to work and giving them the provision of income support that they deserve.