Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2013. Reading through the bill, the briefings and various other commentaries, including Hansard from the lower house, brought back many memories of the 18 years that I served in the vehicle industry.
When I reflect on those 18 years I recall many instances of workplace injury. On the production lines at Ford, Toyota or Holden down at Fishermans Bend the major injuries sustained were through repetitive work. We had carpal tunnel, sprains and strains and very serious wear and tear on the spine. If I think of the truck plants, where the componentry was much larger and the mechanisation more limited, I think of the injuries that we saw there where fingers, hands or arms were amputated in equipment. I think of the smash repair shops that I either worked in or visited, the use of chemicals and how those chemicals impacted on the lung performance and skin of those who worked with them. I think of the times that I have visited friends and workmates lying in bed in hospital. I also think of all those workers I knew and continue to know who are going through rehabilitation and working very hard to make sure that they can re-enter the workforce and contribute more to their family life.
We all know that it is one thing not to be able to be at your workplace because you have sustained an injury and another to suffer the tremendous impact that it has on your personal life and that of your family. That is why it is so important for government and legislators to be highly aware of the issues around workplace safety. It is not just a matter of making sure that the policy framework is accurate. The very specific finer details that particularly impact workers need to be studied and examined to the nth degree, because it is quite easy to see the detrimental impact that one line or two words can have on workers, employers and the families involved. That is why I have taken a particular interest in speaking today — because I know the impact of workplace injury and rehabilitation.
As we have heard from previous speakers, Labor’s amendments have been agreed to by the government in the other place. I also wish to reiterate that the opposition now supports this bill.
However, it must be mentioned that when the bill was introduced in its original form, Labor saw that there were significant issues contained in it that, if not amended, would have adversely affected the rights of injured workers in this state. The rights of workers and their safety goes to the heart of the Labor Party and the broader labour movement. That is largely because we have unfortunately had direct experience of these matters. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Napthine government and other conservative governments. The original form of this bill is testament to that. It has taken the opposition and other organisations, such as the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Law Institute of Victoria, to set it right.
With this in mind, I mention the shadow minister for WorkCover, the member for Preston in the other place, Robin Scott. I congratulate him on his work in relation to these amendments. His considered approach and persistence have led us to where we are today.
I also acknowledge the work of the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Law Institute of Victoria in independently bringing to the government their views in respect of the original bill. Their diligence, resources, time and absolute commitment to these issues need to be recognised as we hopefully see the passage of this bill today.
The most important thing for the families of all Victorians who go to work each day is that they return home safely and uninjured. In 2013 more than 28 000 Victorians have been injured at work and lodged claims with WorkCover, and of course the year is not over. More than 42 000 workplace inspections have been conducted in that same period. In relation to injury in the workplace, this is significant and important work because the impact of suffering an injury in the workplace is enormous.
In my opening remarks I talked about some of the experiences I have witnessed, but debilitating pain from workplace injury can also lead to stress, depression, feelings of uselessness, frustration and anxiety. All those states and conditions can lead to further problems in the home and affect the entire family. As well as the devastating human impact, workplace injury is responsible for significant detrimental impacts on the Victorian economy and on the local workplace. The effects of workplace injury are widespread; it affects everyone.
To go to the specifics of this bill, to put it in its most simple form, it brings together two very important, complex and large pieces of legislation. That in itself is a major task. The detailed work that needs to be done in terms of crossing off and making sure that the meaning and sense of both pieces of legislation, when incorporated into one, is correct and accurate and will stand the test of time cannot be underestimated. I thank those who did a lot of the groundwork and background work leading up to this bill.
The minister stated in his second-reading speech that the original draft of this bill was a no-benefit-change bill. As I mentioned earlier, a number of significant institutions, organisations and law firms disagreed with the Napthine government’s position and conveyed their comprehensive apprehension about the bill, in particular three specific areas — clauses 200, 269 and 313 — and presented those problems to the opposition as well as the government. I thank them for raising those matters with us, and previous speakers have gone to the various points that were raised.
Given that I understand the guillotine is about to occur, whilst I applaud the government for picking up Labor’s amendments and making this a piece of legislation that Labor is happy to vote for, I do not think it is too unfair to wonder whether the government would have acknowledged or accepted those amendments if it were not the fact that a statutory majority was required for the passage of this bill. I cannot understand why these three areas were not picked up. At best, you could say that with these three areas it might have been laziness or a failure to get the language right; at worst, that it was a deliberate attempt by this government to diminish the rights of Victorian workers who have been injured at work whilst publicly stating that the bill was a no-benefit-change bill.
In conclusion I say that the opposition is pleased to support this bill in its amended form because the Labor Party will always support legislation that protects a worker’s right to work in a safe workplace as well as protecting all people who have been injured at work. The Labor Party will always support the rights and expectations of workers to work in a safe workplace. If people happen to get injured at work, the Labor Party will always work to ensure that the workers receive compensation so that they can still provide for their family whilst they receive rehabilitation. Along with the opposition’s amendments, which I am again pleased to say have been accepted by the government, I commend the bill to the house.