Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2000 Week 12 Hansard (6 December) . . Page.. 3793..
Debate resumed from 9 December 1999, on motion by Mr Osborne:
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (5:36): Mr Speaker, this bill was considered as part of the work of the Assembly's Select Committee on the Workers' Compensation System in the ACT and the committee recommended that the government support the bill.
In August of this year I tabled in the Assembly the government's response to the report of the select committee on the ACT workers compensation system. I indicated then that the government agrees in principle with the objectives of the bill. The government supports a penalty regime that establishes an appropriate balance between the need to encourage good behaviour on the part of scheme participants and the ability to enforce effective penalties for poor behaviour.
However, the government is concerned that the bill does nothing to improve the overall framework to encourage voluntary compliance with the ACT's requirements. It focuses solely on applying very severe penalties, including, for example, restricting the capacity of an employer found guilty of an offence to employ persons for a period of up to five years.
Mr Speaker, the worst affected by the provisions of this bill may be employees themselves who, because of this bill, would find themselves unemployed; but the proposed changes may not prevent an employer found guilty of an offence from operating through an alternative company or in a different trading structure. That would be an unfortunate outcome. The government is, instead, keen to ensure that changes to the penalty regime will not inadvertently penalise employees rather than the employers it seeks to deal with.
The bill also proposes a significant increase in penalties for breaches of the act. By comparison with other jurisdictions, the current penalties within the Workers Compensation Act 1951 are low. In my August response, I also indicated that the government plans to introduce a bill to amend the Workers Compensation Act within this year and that the bill will substantially incorporate the intent and direction of not only the select committee report but also the report of the Workers Compensation Monitoring Committee.
Mr Speaker, the agenda for this week's business clearly indicates that that will have to happen tomorrow. The legislation to be tabled tomorrow deals with the very issues of penalty and compliance raised by Mr Osborne, but in a more comprehensive, integrated and effective manner. I will provide the Assembly now with a brief overview of how the government proposal would operate.
The bill I will table tomorrow deals with achieving effective compliance through strategies that fall into three categories. The first will be increased frequency of declaring required information by employers, together with the use of mandatory, systematic audits by both insurers and the regulator to improve detection of businesses which engage in