Page 3435 - Week 09 - Thursday, 20 August 2009

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Workers Compensation (Default Insurance Fund) Amendment Bill 2009

Debate resumed from 25 June 2009, on motion by Mr Corbell:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (10.46): The opposition will support this bill. Cases arise from time to time in which an employer faces an employee claim for workers compensation but either has no workers compensation or did have insurance but the insurer is unable to pay the claim. Such a situation puts the employee at considerable risk. The default insurance fund was established to provide a safety net in these circumstances. This bill allows the default insurance fund manager to make decisions regarding the conduct of matters and settlement of claims without the employer’s consent.

The intent of the amendment is to reduce the amount of legal costs, court time and delays in injured workers receiving their entitlement when the default insurance fund manager has to obtain an uninsured employer’s consent or the consent of an employer whose insurance is unable to pay the claim. However, the manager must keep the employer informed of the manager’s intentions and take into account any views the employer might have. The manager does not have to comply with this if the manager has taken reasonable but unsuccessful steps to contact the employer.

I note the minister’s comments in the presentation speech that the amendment would put the default insurance fund on the same footing as a private sector workers compensation insurer. One small concern I had was whether it is appropriate for a government agency to be making decisions about private sector employers without their consent. Such decisions made without consent may in some way affect the employer adversely, especially if it is the case that the employer did have workers compensation but the insurer had gone belly-up. It will be important to monitor the effect of the legislation over time and the minister may wish to update the Assembly at an appropriate time in the future.

MS BRESNAN (Brindabella) (10.49): The ACT Greens will be supporting this bill. This bill gives a fund the power to settle a claim without the employer’s consent. Given the fund is brought into action most often due to the failure of the employer to ensure adequate insurance coverage or, indeed, due to the commercial failure of the employer itself, requiring employer consent makes little sense.

I think it is possibly an accidental situation, which has come about through the combination of two previous fallback entities, the Nominal Insurer and the supplementation fund, and the failure to amend the Workers Compensation Act at the time to ensure that the default insurance fund had adequate powers to act on behalf of the injured workers. The default insurance fund until now has had to jump over a lot of hurdles in order to settle claims where employers are hard to find or unwilling to help. Essentially, it is an anomaly.

This bill is not controversial. However, it is important that the fund can act properly and efficiently for the benefit of injured workers and in the interests of good financial management.

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