Workers Rehabilitation & Compensation Amendment Bill 2019 (No 20)
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the Leader for the briefings this morning from both the Police Association and the department, which cleared up any confusion or questions.
The Workers Compensation Rehabilitation Act is designed to get people back to work, but as we know, the environment the police work in is far more dangerous than most. It is not like any other industry or business.
The question has been raised: why are police officers different to other first responders or emergency workers? I acknowledge many similarities with other emergency workers, but I accept that it is impossible to mitigate all the risks other emergency services face.
I accept, as mentioned by the member for Murchison and possibly the member for Windermere as well, that other first responders have similar occasions and occurrences, but today we are dealing with police. I have often heard it commented that the police go in when others are running out. Our police force is separated from other emergency services by occasions of violence.
An example could be Ambulance Tasmania. We were told they regularly call Tasmania Police to incidents to make them safe for them.
We need to remember that when police go to work, they never know what they are going to face during a normal shift. The case was raised by the member for Windermere of Sergeant Les Cooper of Oatlands in 2006, who simply pulled over a person driving erratically and was shot twice in the back and once in the face. That was certainly nothing you would expect just driving on the highway.
We were further advised that in 2017-18 - I think I have these figures right, Leader, and you will tell me if they are not correct - there were 273 violent incidents with a five-year average of 229. That's more than four a week.
With a step-down provision, there is no reset. That was mentioned by the member for Murchison. We probably all think that when you go back to work that would be reset so if something recurs in the future, it would reset. It was surprising to realise there was no reset. This makes it very unfair. We were told eight to nine officers are affected at any one time.
We are told that step-down devastates the members of the police force when they are subjected to it, but often members of the force will not put in workers compensation claims to futureproof themselves for ongoing issues. Instead, they put in for sick leave rather than workers compensation.
This is a real issue because if they do have post-traumatic stress and something retriggers it, if they have never put a workers compensation claim in - I am assuming they would only have a certain amount in their sick leave bank - they are not covering themselves by not putting in a workers compensation claim. Fortunately, as mentioned, there is a sick leave bank that members put into. I believe you can draw on it up to 180 days.
My understanding of step-down is that if a worker is incapacitated, it is 100 per cent initially, with step-down to 90 per cent after 26 weeks and then down to 80 per cent after 78 weeks. Effectively, this means that people at 80 per cent are losing 20 per cent of their wage, but their bills and responsibilities do not change. They certainly do not reduce by 20 per cent.
There is a question about the uniqueness of policing. There are many occupations where people get injured, but the difference is that police officers are often attacked. Police are the agency sent to violent incidents. They have no option not to attend these incidents and they know the violence could be redirected towards them. Police, as we know, are beaten, shot, spat on and abused, and the list goes on. We send these people to a job where there is a likelihood of injury and they could suffer a loss of income if injured. As said in today's briefings, if the police cannot fix the problem, no-one else can.
My understanding of the bill is that it needs to be likely that someone else would not be in that circumstance - that is, they are performing a particular duty that would not be performed by anyone else in another occupation. This step-down provision would be removed if someone is injured in a way that a normal person going about their duty could be injured. We were given the example of an officer falling down the stairs at work. Anyone could fall down the stairs. An officer arresting someone and getting attacked is a different scenario and it must be occupationally linked.
We were also advised that a step-down only comes into effect if the person is not able to do at least 50 per cent of their work. The question would then be asked whether there is an operational linkage as to whether the salary should be stepped down or not. Unfortunately for those currently on step-down, this bill will not be retrospective and it will date from when the bill passes.
The cut-off date is when the bill passes but will relate to the date of the claim, not the date of the injury. Therefore, if someone is currently suffering post-traumatic stress but has not put in a claim as yet, if they put in a claim following the passage of this bill, my understanding is it would be covered.
It is accepted that, particularly with post-traumatic stress disorder, it is hard to determine when someone has the injury. That is my understanding of the bill and you might advise me if I am correct in your summing up, Leader.
Mrs Hiscutt - I can confirm now that that line of thinking is correct.
Ms ARMITAGE - In closing, the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill is significant legislation. I will be supporting this bill, which provides support and protection for our officers, who do a magnificent job daily.