Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Accident Compensation Amendment (Repayments and Dividends) Bill 2012 and from the outset reaffirm Labor’s opposition to this bill. When I first heard what the Victorian government was going to do — that is, take $471.5 million out of the Victorian WorkCover Authority scheme — I was quite gobsmacked. I had two visions, the first being that of an opportunistic state government pouncing on a piggy bank, which I might add has been built up with the contributions of other people, in this case employers, and not even talking to them about what it intended to do. It was just a quick grab for the almighty dollar for the state government’s own ends.
The other vision was of families anticipating Christmas — because the announcement was made just prior to Christmas — looking forward to the future with Father Christmas entering the home and laying out all the presents.
Instead, Victorians got a visit from a skulking Victorian government, which crept in the back door and did not talk to anyone about what it was going to rip off, which is essentially the following: $174 million in 2011-12, $126 million in 2012-13, $87.5 million in 2013-14 and $110.5 million in 2014-15. That represents not one, not two, not three but four knives in the back of WorkCover. It is a lazy act, bereft of logic and any definition or thought.
Against the backdrop of the previous government’s finely tuned management of WorkCover I find what is before us today extremely disturbing. In fact speakers in the debate from the opposite side have indicated a number of initiatives that the previous government took in respect of WorkCover, including a continuous program of reducing WorkCover premiums. As other speakers have said, WorkCover premiums in this state are lower than in any other state in this country. We also made a number of other improvements to the scheme.
But I believe this measure by the government will erode the confidence of the business community and our competitive edge in the area of employment and job creation. All members of this chamber already know we in this state are in dire straits in respect of employment levels and the creation of new jobs.
The coalition government has said that taking nearly half a billion dollars out of WorkCover will not have any impact on the scheme. I say, ‘What nonsense!’. It is clear that the ability of WorkCover to remain a fully funded scheme will be eroded. This bill will see money contributed by employers going to the state government and not to injured workers. It certainly will not go towards community and workplace education or injury prevention programs. The previous government left this government with a AAA rating. This government’s cries of inherited budgetary woes indicate it is paralysed and in total denial. The best we can expect from this government is a sneaky, lazy grab for money, which is essentially what this represents.
On this occasion it is hardly surprising, given the ideological predisposition of those opposite — a predisposition that pays very little respect to workers and their representative organisations. It demonstrates yet again their lack of care for injured workers and vulnerable families, not to mention the government’s lack of concern over where it is heading.
Recently the centenary of the devastating RMS Titanic disaster has been commemorated and covered by most media outlets. This afternoon I appeal to those opposite to choose a driver for this state and work out what a steering wheel is for before we have no jobs, no infrastructure and no investment in this great state. I also urge those opposite to do the only thing that is reasonable, and that is to vote against this bill.