Page 4676 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 31 October 2017
I am confident that no-one in this place would deny the importance of providing a high level of support to the dependants of a worker who dies as the result of a workplace injury. We cannot underestimate the devastation caused and we should always endeavour to limit the burdens associated with seeking just compensation. With this bill, the government is significantly increasing the amount of compensation payable to workers and their families. A review of the current scheme highlighted a significant gap in the amount of compensation payable following a work-related death in comparison to other Australian jurisdictions.
The reforms proposed in this bill will align death compensation with similar entitlements under the Comcare scheme, which is the scheme that covers ACT and commonwealth public servants. This will help to close a gap in compensation for all ACT workers and their families, ensuring that they have the same entitlement regardless of whether they work in the private or public sector. On today’s values, the lump sum payment will increase from just under $217,000 to almost $528,500. Weekly compensation to dependants will increase from just over $72 per week to $145 per week, while funeral expenses will increase from $5,780 to $11,654. To ensure that compensation amounts remain aligned over time, the bill provides for the same method of indexation as used by the Comcare scheme, using the wage price index.
Currently, statutory incapacity payments in lieu of lost earnings can only be paid to an injured worker until age 65 or, in certain cases, for up to two years afterwards. The original rationale for such restrictions was that once an injured worker reached the retirement age of 65 they would have access to superannuation or other forms of income support, such as the age pension. With changes in the commonwealth pension age coming into effect on 1 July 2017, the qualifying age for the age pension increased to 65½ and will continue to increase incrementally to 67 over the next six years. As a result, the situation could arise where an injured worker whose weekly compensation payments cease at 65 would not be entitled to the age pension for up to six months, leaving them without any income during that time.
In order to prevent this situation from occurring, the bill proposes amendments which align weekly compensation age cut-off provisions with the commonwealth qualifying age for the age pension, as set out in the Social Security Act 1991. This change will ensure that there is no gap between the cessation of weekly compensation payments and possible eligibility for the age pension. In order to ensure that no-one misses out, sections 5, 7 and 8 that give effect to this measure are proposed to commence on 1 July 2017. While this is a retrospective commencement date, I am advised that the sector has been aware of the government’s intentions on this matter for some time and officials have been working with insurers.
The act currently specifies that an employer must commence payments of weekly compensation upon notification of injury by an employee. Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that not all employers in the territory are complying with this obligation, leaving some workers in a vulnerable position without income. It is accepted that when a person is off work due to a work-related injury, disruption to their income can cause additional stress in what is already a difficult time. As a result