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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 26 June 2008) . . Page.. 2035 ..

MR BARR (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Planning, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Minister for Industrial Relations) (11.06): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

The Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2008 will enable an injured worker to seek compensation for any costs associated with making their domestic environment more liveable following a work-related injury. This change will provide certainty for employers, insurers and injured workers by formalising the extent of compensation or medical treatment under the act.

The Workers Compensation Act 1951 establishes a compulsory no-fault statutory insurance scheme for private sector workers in the territory. The scheme does not currently provide recourse to workers who need to make structural changes to their home following an injury. These are often necessary alterations, such as widening doorways, laying paths or lowering bench tops and changes to an injured worker’s domestic environment which will allow for greater freedom of movement, provide better access and facilitate greater independence.

It is desirable for the scheme to cover these costs as the improved accommodation of a work-related injury offers the best outcome for all parties concerned. It is scandalous that employers are not compelled to cover these expenses under the legislation as it currently stands.

The changes were prompted by a case heard in the ACT Magistrates Court recently. In that case, an injured worker made a number of changes to his place of residence but was denied compensation for the costs of making those alterations. The magistrate, perhaps recognising the unfairness of the situation, commended this matter to the attention of the Assembly and it is under this pretext that I present this bill today.

There is anecdotal evidence that some insurers in the territory already cover these expenses, even though they are not legally obliged to do so. This is all the more reason for making this change. It is simply unfair that some insurers do the right thing and cover the costs of necessary home alterations for significantly injured workers whilst others do not.

Members may recall that there has been much discussion about the harmonisation of OHS and workers compensation arrangements in recent years. The federal government has been very active in promoting change in OHS and workers compensation arenas since coming to office. A Comcare review was announced in February of this year and a national review into model OHS laws was also announced recently.

Both reviews are now well underway and this bill will bring the ACT into line with the arrangements in place across the border in New South Wales and under the commonwealth’s Comcare scheme. No longer will public servants and workers in Queanbeyan feel the benefits of these arrangements whilst those in the territory’s private sector are left out in the cold.

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