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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (28 March) . . Page.. 1105 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

the statutory limitation period for issuing summary proceedings if liability is disputed and that he would consider amending the bill to rectify that situation.

This government has already explored the possibility of introducing on-the-spot fines into the existing legislation. Our advice is that introducing on-the-spot fines under the current legislative framework will not work. This Assembly would most certainly call me to account if I ignored not one but two pieces of legal advice. But that is precisely what Mr Berry is doing with this bill. However, unlike Mr Berry, the government will not charge ahead and ignore the legal advice on the matter. Rather, we have commenced an extensive review and consultation process which will enable on-the-spot fines to be introduced within an appropriate framework.

WorkCover has conservatively estimated the total cost to implement these amendments to be $226,000. This does not include the cost of any court action that may be taken due to the discretionary nature of the fines. I hope members who support this bill have given some thought as to how its implementation will be paid for. I urge members not to support this bill but to wait for the conclusion of the extensive consultation that is under way in relation to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

MS TUCKER (9.48): The Greens will be supporting this bill. Recent reports in the Canberra Times suggest that only half of all workplace accidents and incidents are reported. But apparently, if we believe business leaders and insurance companies, the cost of workers compensation is already blowing out across the country.

Ongoing rehabilitation, pay-outs for loss of income and pain and suffering, and inflated medical and legal costs are crippling the insurance industry. And the escalating workers compensation premiums that insurance companies are now forced to charge are driving businesses to the wall, we hear.

In consultations with various sections of the industry in regard to the workers compensation costs for group training companies, every key group emphasised the need to get WorkCover out there checking on work sites and making sure that this worrying number of accidents is brought down.

Obviously, on-the-spot fines will assist in providing a middle-ground strategy to encourage safe workplaces. They will be immediate and painful but not crippling. The group training companies argued the point about the number of claims and accidents. Nonetheless, they were supportive of on-the-spot fines and increased WorkCover presence at workplaces. They did point out that as soon as you keep an accurate record of the number of incidents, including the small incidents for which there will be no claim, insurance companies increase your premiums. So there is very clearly a disincentive on coming clean on the reality of the workplace.

The new workers compensation scheme, presently in the wings, might have some hope of moving things in the right directions: towards rehabilitation and a return to the work force for injured workers, speedy resolution of claims and a fairly comprehensive collection of data in respect of workplace incidents.

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