Workers Compensation Scheme

Mr CLAYTON BARR ( Cessnock ) ( 18:13 ): Christmas Day is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, when people enjoy the company of their loved ones and appreciate the good things in life. But for thousands of injured workers, last Christmas was a time of heartache and upheaval as the Government pursued its ideologically driven attack on injured workers by cutting their entitlements and throwing them onto the scrap heap. Earlier this year I met an injured worker who is a constituent of mine. Now in her early sixties, her quality of life has been considerably diminished thanks to the reckless actions of the Government. After suffering a workplace injury close to 20 years ago, my constituent took extended leave in the hope that her condition would improve and she would be able to return to her pre‑injury duties. Unfortunately, despite many years of medical treatment and support, that improvement never came. My constituent reluctantly left her dream job—her words, not mine—and lodged a workers compensation claim.

The consensus among medical processionals was that her condition had deteriorated so much that she would never be able to return to work. For years, she relied on the financial support provided by the workers compensation scheme to pay her mortgage, her utility bills and to help care for her elderly mother. Members can imagine the impact that the Government’s cuts have had on her. She no longer has a form of income and, because of administrative delays at Centrelink, she has not been approved for a disability support pension or other payments. With no income—I emphasise she has had literally no income for the past month—she is unable to pay for the basic necessities of life, let alone pay her mortgage or her bills.

This woman is a shell of her former self. Recently, she was diagnosed with clinical depression. A major contributing factor of her depression, in the opinion of her doctor, has been the cutting of her entitlements by the Government’s 2012 legislation. When we met, her words were, “This has ruined my life.” She went on to say, “With no financial support, how am I supposed to pay my mortgage, my council rates, pay for my medical appointments and feed myself? It simply is not possible. My life has been destroyed and I think the only way to escape this pain is to end it all.” This is where we are at. Sadly, the current workers compensation scheme is pushing people to their death. Injured workers are taking their own lives because of the situation in which they find themselves. I know that to be true because I have met some of those people, who are no longer walking on the earth through no fault of their own. It is the fault of legislation that was passed in this House.

Government members may pretend that my constituent’s experience is a one-off, but deep down they know that similar situations are widespread and true. I know that members of the Government have been meeting with people who are in situations similar to that of my constituent. I know that because the very same people who meet with Government members sometimes come to see me, as the shadow Minister, in a last attempt to try to obtain justice. Members of Parliament across the political spectrum have sat with injured workers, consoled them, and probably agreed that their situation is indeed horrific. But because of legislation passed in this House we have not done the right thing by our constituents.

In some small way, members of this House are responsible for the sense of uneasiness, loneliness and hopelessness felt by so many injured workers, such as my constituent. The lack of compassion displayed in this House where legislation is passed, our lack of bravery and our contempt for the worker forever will tarnish the reputation of this House in the eyes of those whom we represent