Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (4.24 pm): I rise to speak on the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. This bill seeks to address the impact of psychological injuries and the often emotionally draining requirements to access workers compensation. It will reverse the onus of proof through the presumptive laws and provide an alternative pathway for claims. The explanatory notes state that it will promote earlier claims acceptance by presuming it is a work related injury unless proved otherwise—in effect, presumptive workers compensation laws for first responders diagnosed with PTSD. According to the explanatory notes—
Presumptive laws do not change workers’ compensation entitlements but instead provide a different pathway for certain claims to access the scheme by reversing the onus of proof. Under presumptive laws, a specified injury (e.g. PTSD) is deemed to be work-related, unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Current claimants must prove their employment is a significant contributing factor in causing the psychological injury. However, because exposure to trauma can accumulate, it is sometimes hard to identify one specific incident which caused the injury. Despite this, already 80 per cent to 90 per cent of PTSD WorkCover claims are accepted.
Most members of the public have a general idea of who is a first responder. This legislation originates from the findings of a 2019 Senate committee report. It defined first responders as paramedics, police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel who provide assistance in time critical, often life-threatening, situations and those who do the same in a volunteer capacity and emergency control centre workers. It found that one in three of those employees experience high or very high psychological distress compared to one in eight Australian adults and one in four former employees experience probable PTSD compared to one in 10 current employees and one in five experience very high distress.
Not only does the bill have a far broader definition; the committee recommendations seek to make it even broader. Under this bill, police, ambulance, child safety officers, corrective services officers, police recruits, Youth Justice staff members, fire service officers, SES members, rural fire brigade and volunteer firefighters and fire wardens as well as doctors or nurses employed in emergency and trauma, acute care, critical or high-dependency care are all identified as first responders. However, several unions and the AMA have asked to expand its coverage further.
The CFMMEU wants coalminer workers included. The Electrical Trades Union wants to include frontline electrical workers and control centre operators in electricity supply, generation and distribution to those in rail and transport and main roads. The nurses union wants all nurses and midwives included.
The Australian Workers’ Union wants to include disability services workers and protective security workers in hospitals. The Services Union wants to include local government, not-for-profit social and community services workers who are obliged to encounter traumatic events. The AMA wants to include general practitioners.
Following this, the committee made seven recommendations, with three of them seeking to expand who is a first responder and to include other psychological injuries to have a presumptive claim. Those recommendations are to include coalmine workers performing the statutory roles of open-cut examiner, explosive risk zone controller or Mines Rescue team member; an employee who, as part of their regular duties, is required to attend and secure a site to provide safe access for other first responders or whose employment requires them to recover human remains; and an employee of a local government whose duties correspond to that of an ambulance, corrective services or fire service officer or who is required to attend and secure a site to provide safe access for other first responders.
It also recommends including additional occupations and other psychological injuries. These changes could potentially impact the viability of WorkCover, especially for occupations and industries not traditionally considered first responders and if all psychological injuries are included. For example, if any employee in Youth Justice, Child Safety or other departments is included, it would include administrative workers. There are almost 32,000 employees in those departments as well as casual and part-time workers and volunteers. The average cost for mental disorder claims is $47,480. Broadening any definition of first responder and injuries covered will potentially create a massive financial burden on both public and private entities.
The Queensland Law Society has major reservations about the scope of this bill regarding the reversal of onus of proof, evidence to support the range of workers covered and the potential impact on WorkCover. We already know the government is fond of reverse onus of proof legislation. Farmers and landholders have firsthand experience. The QLS said that the onus of proof is a fundamental legal concept which should not be breached without appropriate justification. It also said that presumptive legislation must be justified on a scientific and epidemiological basis. The QLS is concerned that the broader definition of first responder, eligible employee and relevant volunteer will open the floodgates on claims. It said this potential negative outcome was also outlined in the Department of Education’s briefing note as evidence that provides for an estimated 20 per cent additional PTSD claims. Given the nature of this bill and what it will deliver for workers in this state I do not oppose the bill.