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Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Exit Arrangements) Bill 2015 – 2/3 February 2016

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (2 February 2016, 19:18): I rise this evening to speak about the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Exit Arrangements) Bill 2015, which will amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, to manage the exit of employers from the Comcare scheme. I listened with great interest to the debate earlier this afternoon and I must start by congratulating Senator Ludwig on his verbal gymnastics and his ability to muddle and confuse a very straightforward and clear bill. I would like to commend Senator Xenophon for his rebuttal of Senator Ludwig’s points and the very measured approach he has taken to addressing some technical issues with the minister.

If Senator Ludwig thinks this is such a conspiracy, he should talk to no-one further away than his own Senator Gallagher, who was actually the Chief Minister here in the ACT and who was the one who initiated the request for the ACT to exit this scheme. Far from being the big conspiracy that Senator Ludwig has intimated, this is actually a very simple provision. It is simple because what this bill seeks to do—nothing more and nothing less—is to close a loophole. The practical impact of not closing that loophole would be that the ACT could exit the scheme and leave—

Debate interrupted.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (3 February 2016, 10:49): I will resume my comments on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Exit Arrangements) Bill 2015. After listening carefully yesterday to the debate on all sides of this chamber I repeat that I am absolutely impressed, yet appalled, at the ability of those people on the other side to complicate a very simple, straightforward procedural bill.

In summary, getting rid of all the rhetoric from those opposite, the substance of this bill is very simple. The ACT, 12 months ago—in fact, Senator Gallagher is here at the moment, who actually requested, as Chief minister, to exit the scheme. That was absolutely the ACT’s right to do so. However, it was discovered subsequently that there is a gap in the legislation and that when the ACT does exit the scheme it means it will leave the Commonwealth with existing liability. This bill is simply to close that gap, to make sure that when the ACT exercises its right to exit this scheme that workers’ rights are protected—that those who have been injured are protected—and that the ACT taxpayer takes on the responsibility for this rather than the Commonwealth taxpayer.

Just in conclusion: the amendments in this bill will enable Comcare to calculate the liabilities of an existing employer and issue them with a levy to ensure that these liabilities are covered once the employer leaves the scheme. This will ensure that the Commonwealth is not left to pick up the tab for the employer after they have left the scheme. The contributions will be determined on a cost-recovery basis, so the bill will not allow the Commonwealth to recover any more than what is owing in order to make a profit on the exit fees.

It will also ensure that employees who are injured before their employer leaves the scheme will continue to receive compensation from Comcare on the same terms, and ongoing support in their rehabilitation and on their return to work. That is what this bill is about. Despite what Senator Ludwig said yesterday—bringing in two other bills and trying to overly complicate and muddy this issue—it is as simple as I have just outlined. It is simply to make sure that when the ACT exits this scheme that the employees are covered, and that the ACT picks up the bill—not the Commonwealth.

This bill also amends provisions related to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to deal with the representation on the commission should the ACT exercise their right to leave the scheme. As the ACT currently sits on the commission, it also aligns the appointment process with other comparable appointments to enable appointments to be made by the minister with the approval of the Prime Minister and without the additional step of requiring approval from the Governor-General. This is a common-sense streamlining of the amendment.

In conclusion, I think this is a very simple, straightforward bill that is important not only to protect the Commonwealth taxpayer but also to ensure that those employees under the current scheme are protected if and when the ACT exits this scheme. I commend the bill to the Senate.

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