Updated: May 5
I am delighted to oppose the Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2021. It is a bill introduced by a draconian government—the self‑entitled mass of people, sanctimonious drones and enemy of the worker, otherwise known as the Liberal Party of New South Wales. Yet another day in this place and yet another attack on the worker by the New South Wales Liberals. Government members can call it what they like. They can try to shadow it over by saying that they are protecting small businesses, but there is no greater friend of small business in this State than the New South Wales Labor Party. I have a newsflash for members opposite: Small businesses also want to look after their workers and make sure that they are okay. The bill is unnecessary at a time when it will affect the people who have protected us. It is the responsibility of this Parliament and the responsibility of any government to protect workers, particularly those who protected us.
When we go through the bill the ideological agenda of a very conservative government is clear. Only Labor stands to fight for workers and that is why we oppose the bill. I commend all my colleagues, particularly shadow Minister Sophie Cotsis and the member for Shellharbour, Anna Watson, who are in the Chamber, as well as Ryan Park, who spoke earlier. Government members like to make contributions saying they are protecting small business, but that is a joke. Small businesses do not want the bill. They do not need it; it is unnecessary. The bill is just another way for the New South Wales Liberal Government, which embodies conservative ideology, to despise workers. The Government does do not want workers to be protected at work. We on this side of the House have fought for those protections for over a century and we will continue to defend them. That will not change. The Leader of the Opposition raised some significant economic facts. The data is in and we have drawn comparisons to Victoria.
To bring it back to a local level, we are talking about workers who went to work to not only get paid but also because they actually cared. Our nurses, council workers and transport workers legitimately care about the communities and the industries they work in. They care about the people they service in a range of ways. For the Government to introduce this bill at a time when we are trying to recover economically and socially is nothing short of atrocious. Government members like to say that there is no greater friend of the worker than them. But when workers have friends like the Liberal Party in New South Wales, they do not need enemies. Yet again we see a bill that will diminish workers' entitlements. I have another newsflash for Government members: Not everyone is on a high wage. Not a everyone earns a good salary. A lot of those workers who defended and protected us, and worked hard to help support communities across the State, are not on big money. But they still went to work at the beginning of the pandemic.
It was a scary time when no‑one knew what would happen. Would they get COVID? Were they going to get Delta? They did not know but they still went to work—not just for money but because they knew it was the right thing to do. Proud Australians and proud workers, unlike many members in this place, put themselves before others. What thanks do they get from this Government? They get a bill to remove their protections. If this Government had any kind of integrity or dignity it would introduce a bill to provide further protections for those workers. But, no, we have a government in this State that wants to wage a war on workers at every opportunity. We on this side of the House will unapologetically fight for them and defend them, and we always will. I have said before that I am proud to be from the industrial arm of the Labor Party. I acknowledge my labour movement brothers and sisters, and unions, including the United Services Union, which fights for our council workers, transport workers, health service workers, nurses and midwives.
Whoever you are, even if you are not a member of a union, Labor will fight for and defend you. We are a great party because we stand for great things. There is nothing greater than fighting for those who cannot fight themselves. We will fight this bill all the way. We oppose it, and we will oppose any other legislation that this Government introduces that hurts working families. Why? Because they are just as equal and as entitled as anyone else in this society. They may not get paid as much but they are just as important, if not more important, than some executive elsewhere. We take nothing away from people who do well, but for the Government to bring this bill before the House while we recover from the pandemic is nothing short of offensive. To Government members I say: Go back to your communities and look your workers in the face. Explain to them in real terms—be fair dinkum and honest—why you made the decision to remove entitlements and diminish protections by voting for a bill that is unnecessary.
Why is the bill unnecessary? Because it is based on the Liberal Party's ideological approach, which has long stood since pre‑Menzies. More than half a century before that the Labor Party existed to stand and fight for workers. We did that then, we do that now and we will forever do it. We will not cop this bill. I commend crossbench members, who are also doing the right thing by opposing the bill. They do not oppose it because of politics but because they know it is the right thing to do. They know it is the just thing to do. They know that they could not possibly go back to their community and say that they voted for a bill in Parliament that reduces workers' rights. Those workers will not complain or play games because they are the people who went to work to try to help support their communities. This bill says more about a government that is out of touch, inept and the enemy of the worker. It is nothing short of a disgrace. I was going to seek an extension of time, but I shall not because I know that many more members wish to speak. The Opposition opposes the bill. Labor members will forever defend and fight for the worker until our dying breath. We will stay here as long as it takes to fight. We will fight for them because we know that they are out there fighting for us and they cannot be in here. I thank the House.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS (Castle Hill) (19:04): I support the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 for the reasons that I will point out. The bill quite fairly aims to provide stability to the New South Wales workers compensation scheme as we approach the milestone of almost 95 per cent single-dose vaccination and 92 per cent double-dose vaccination in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thank the many workers, employers, trade unions and citizens of New South Wales—particularly the healthcare workers who were on the frontline—for their work in implementing the many work health and safety initiatives that have provided so much benefit to the community and for having achieved such remarkable results with the vaccination rollout. It is fair to say that we are the envy of the world because of the diligence and the processes that have been applied, and the Government will not sit back and take credit.
The Federal Government has also been responsible, as have many States around the country, for the processes that have been applied under circumstances that were largely unknown. We had never seen the likes of this pandemic. Perhaps members will reflect back to a century ago, when we last saw a virus of this type that took so many millions of lives. But the processes that we have employed in this country have very much seen us become the envy of the world—especially now, as we see the very high vaccination rates in excess of 90 per cent of our entire community.
I speak to the benefits of the bill to the workers compensation system in achieving quality claims management outcomes. The bill will achieve a much more consistent customer experience for policyholders, workers with an injury and other stakeholders of the workers compensation scheme. All experts agree that as the State reopens and people move around more frequently, COVID-19 cases will increase. We know that because of the sheer fact that as we get closer together, the virus is still among us. We expect the virus will be among us for many years to come. But because of our high vaccination rates, the proportion of people with serious complications should be much lower.
If COVID-19 cases increase, workers compensation claims will increase. By presuming illness happened at work, every illness in a long list of industries automatically becomes a claim and insurers are likely to be overrun. That means that insurers will struggle to meet their legal and claims management obligations, particularly around the timeliness of decisions and actions in managing those claims on top of other existing claims. The bill seeks to remove the high volume of COVID-19 notifications and small claims that were predicted to arise because of the COVID-19 presumption. The removal of those claims will allow insurers to focus on good quality claims management practices and return to work for claims already in the workers compensation scheme.
As New South Wales continues to open up and people start to move around the State, the country and overseas in numbers, a large portion of COVID-19 cases will likely be attributable to community transmission and will not be the result of exposure in the workplace. Those claims should not add a further administrative burden to the New South Wales compensation scheme. If the influx of small COVID-19 workers compensation claims predicted as a result of the existing COVID-19 presumption are received then they are likely to have a disproportionate effect on insurer operations, testing claims management responsiveness and negatively affecting return-to-work rates. This change is necessary so that good claims management practices can be efficiently maintained and injured workers can receive the case management and return-to-work outcomes that they deserve. I commend the bill to the House.
Ms ANNA WATSON (Shellharbour) (19:09): This debate takes me back to 2012 when the Government gutted our workers compensation legislation, putting hundreds of thousands of workers on the scrap heap. They are still feeling the effects of that legislation to this day, and here we are again; it is like groundhog day all over again. I speak in total opposition to the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. Those opposite hold themselves up as the party of the worker. They are more empty words from an empty Government with no policies and no ideas. Those opposite are just plain tired, so they go out and do what they always do: They attack the worker and slash entitlements. They are mean spirited. They did the same thing with Medicare; they do not like that either. Here we are again having to defend workers across New South Wales because the Government wants to put them in the back seat.
A section was inserted into the Workers Compensation Act 1987 after receiving bipartisan support in May last year. Members opposite said only a few months ago that we would have this special legislation and protection for workers, and now they are rescinding it. The section was designed to protect essential workers who were diagnosed with COVID-19 by presuming that it was contracted in their line of work. That allowed for some of our most essential and vulnerable workers to access workers compensation entitlements if they were diagnosed with COVID‑19 without having to jump through hoops while battling sickness. I find it astounding for the member for Mulgoa, who does not believe in COVID-19, to say that this House needs to repeal that section because it is good for business and insurance companies need to have a surety that they are still making money and that they can cope with the claims. This is a government driven by insurers and big business at the expense of workers.
Section 19B of the Workers Compensation Act states that if a worker engaged in prescribed employment contracts COVID-19, it is presumed that the disease was contracted by the worker in the course of their employment and the employment was either a substantial or the main contributing factor. That goes to the very heart of what workers compensation is all about. The union movement introduced workers compensation in the first place because they care about workers. Labor has always been and will always be the friend of the worker. The member for Kiama, who supports the bill, is a great example of the Government's disregard for workers. His electorate has one of the highest concentrations of police, nurses, healthcare workers, aged care workers and disability workers.