Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2016 (No. 66)
Ms Armitage (Launceston) - Madam Acting President, I support the bill. I have a few concerns with the make-up of the board. I had some concerns with the area of accreditation but after a few phone calls and some discussion over the lunch period, I no longer have those concerns. I am happy to go along with the changes in the current bill.
I discussed the accreditation with a couple of general practitioners and also Tony Steven of the Australian Medical Association. Earlier on I thought these people surely needed to be accredited but in discussion they made it clear. I could quite understand because at one stage I had a constituent who was a volunteer. He was injured through no fault of his own. He was a back-seat passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident. He was not allowed to go to his own doctor. The doctors assessing him were constantly fly-in, fly-out doctors.
In cases like this, many general practitioners who would like to see their own patients, who know their own patients, cannot see their own patients if they do not have that tick against their name to say they are accredited. That was particularly the issue with the volunteer who came under an insurance company. His doctor knew his situation and knew what he was saying he had wrong with him, he genuinely had. Yet when the fly-in doctors came to see him, they said he was okay.
I spoke to a couple of general practitioners and to Tony Steven of the Australian Medical Association to get their opinion on whether this was a good thing or not. Earlier I circulated an opinion I had from another medical practitioner who felt that accreditation should be kept. In hindsight, I believe the Government has it right on this occasion, and I would be quite happy with this move.
I also agree with the member for Rumney about some of the amendments relating to board members. All members of the board should have voting rights. That was an issue raised with me previously: that while they had medical practitioners and others on the board, they had no voting rights. It is very important everyone on the board has the ability to vote.
A skills-based board, in principle, is a very good idea and that legislation passed the lower House. However, the fact that the minister nominates who goes on the board and then does not state what skills are required is an issue. It is important to know the skills required or what they are thinking. It is not alluded to in the bill. Apparently, Western Australia is a good example, where they require a person experienced in workers' interests and a person experienced in employers' interests.
I am going through some notes made during a very informative briefing on 31 May. One of the comments made was that it must be a fair and equitable scheme, and that should be the first objective. The current act was put in place 30 years ago. The member for Hobart will probably raise an issue to do with people retiring at 65, whereas some people now do not retire until they are in their eighties. I know a developer in Launceston who is 82 and still developing. My own husband is 72 this year and still running his hotel. Many people now who are approaching 65 could have a few more years. When you look at it, most of us do not consider ourselves old anymore at 65. When we were young, it seemed very old, but as you start to approach it, it does not seem very old at all.
Ms Forrest - Tell a young person that.
Ms Armitage - I know my children think I am ancient. I probably thought my mother was when she was in her sixties. Now I have reached my sixties, I do not think it is terribly old at all. They are far more experienced, which is probably the way to go.
One of the other comments was from TCCI in May, which felt we should leave the make-up of the board as it was and give the entire board voting rights. I would be interested to hear the reasons for the change from the Acting Leader. I understand we are trying to get rid of red tape, but changing the board slightly by removing one person is not a great reason.
I discussed one other question with the member for Hobart earlier. How do you balance a fair approach to older workers against the possible cost to the insurers and the employers? It is an issue we will discuss later. If we look at the age of 65 and if amendments are made, how do you ensure that is not being worn by employers and insurers, because obviously someone has to pay?
Mr Valentine - Across everything
Ms Armitage - It is difficult and I do have some concerns. The member for Hobart has not spoken yet, and I was hoping he might speak before me. If there were an amendment along those lines, we would have to have an adjournment to give TCCI or employer groups the chance to have some say.
On accreditation, the member for Murchison had some concerns. I have advice from the Acting Leader's office today on accreditation. I will read it out because it was in response to the concerns I had regarding accreditation. It says -
The current provisions in the Act prevent medical practitioners from issuing certain medical certificates for the purpose of the Workers' Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, unless they have been accredited by the WorkCover Tasmania Board. The requirement for medical practitioners to apply for and be granted accreditation by the board, before they can diagnose the nature of an injury or illness and provide a workers' compensation medical certificate, accordingly creates an unnecessary administrative burden.
The bill removes the requirement for medical practitioners to hold board accreditation to issue certificates required under the act. This will provide for a more efficient workers compensation system and increase access to medical providers. Accreditation will only be required to assess the degree of a worker's permanent impairment, a process which relies on particular expertise and a detailed understanding of relevant guidelines.
I am pleased to see that. While obviously general practitioners are able to offer medical certificates, they will require accreditation if they are to assess the degree of a worker's permanent impairment. It goes on -
The WorkCover Tasmania Board will develop avenues to ensure medical practitioners can continue to receive education and support with respect to the return to work of injured workers.
In that case, I am happy to go along with the Government's amendment. I do not have much more that has not been said by other members. We need some amendment as regards the board's make-up and the appointment of members, but the members for Rumney and Murchison have some amendments. I support the bill.