The Age – 30 March 2013 SRC Act Review
Federal public servants seeking workers’ compensation payouts face the biggest crackdown in decades. – ComCare Review (link to the Review)
A federal government review of the $1.2 billion Comcare insurance scheme has urged sweeping reform to curb dubious claims for psychological injuries, payouts for dodgy therapies, doctor shopping and outright fraud.
The review has made more than 147 recommendations to re-write the legislation on Commonwealth public sector compensation claims, with the aim of getting injured workers back to work and ending their “passive” reliance on compensation.
The taxpayer-funded insurer lost more than half a billion dollars in the 2011-12 financial year as the number of claims for psychological injuries in the public sector – many based on accusations of bullying and harassment – increased.
According to the review’s two reports – by Melbourne barrister Peter Hanks, QC, and former Defence Department head Allan Hawke – some long-running claims under the Comcare scheme have exceeded $2 million.
The review, ordered in 2012 by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, cited a case of taxpayers paying nearly $30,000 for massage therapy that had “no curative effect” and another of a Brisbane-based bureaucrat flown to a Buddhist meditation retreat in Alice Springs to treat his anxiety disorder.
In other cases that have made recent headlines – not mentioned in the review – a Commonwealth public servant was compensated, after a court appeal, for injuries sustained during a “vigorous” sex session in a motel room on a work trip.
And an underperforming Canberra public servant was compensated after she claimed one-on-one counselling sessions constituted bullying.
The reports do not call for cuts to benefits for injured workers but urge a shift from a payout-oriented insurance scheme to one that emphasises rehabilitation and a return to work.
The report says claims for psychological injuries in the public service have increased by 30 per cent in the past three years and is four times higher in the federal public service than for other employers.
Mr Hanks says compensation for these claims should not be paid for more than three months without a diagnosis by a properly qualified medical practitioner.
He also wants to see an end to payouts for mental stress caused by imaginary factors.
“It is an unfair burden on employers to make them liable to pay compensation for a psychological injury that is caused by an employee’s fantasising rather than by any aspect of employment,” he wrote.
Among the key recommendations is a no-fault, provisional liability that would cover injured workers for a three-month rehabilitation period and a shift in jurisdictions for workplace dispute resolution from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to Fair Work Australia.
Mr Hanks wrote that Comcare’s legislative framework was supposed to be beneficial to workers but the insurer had a duty to spend taxpayers’ money wisely.
He also urged greater vigilance on doctors who signed off on compensation payouts and “that health practitioners are held accountable for their conduct, and that they do not exploit what is, in effect, a publicly funded scheme by overcharging, overservicing or providing services that do not meet basic professional standards”.
Mr Shorten said he would now consult ”stakeholders” on the reports by Dr Hawke and Mr Hanks.
“It is vital that the Comcare scheme is focused on early and effective intervention to promote recovery of injured workers,” he said.
“It is also critical that employers and Comcare are pro-active in supporting injured workers from the point of injury, during rehabilitation and when they return to work.”