Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Bill First Reading Speech

  • Michael Cullen

Mr Speaker, I move that the Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Bill be read a first time. It is proposed that the Bill be referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee.

Mr Speaker, less than a year ago, this government introduced the Accident Insurance (Transitional Provisions) Bill, which delivered on the government's commitment to return responsibility for cover for workplace accidents to ACC. At that time, I indicated that the Accident Insurance (Transitional Provisions) Bill was only the first step in a two-stage process of reform.

The Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Bill represents the second phase of the government's strategy. The Bill provides for a fair and sustainable scheme for reducing personal injury. Injury imposes economic, social and personal costs on individuals and their families, firms and communities. The Bill has as its overriding goals minimising the overall incidence and impact of injury.

Mr Speaker, the title of this Bill represents a shift in the way we think about the scheme. It signals clearly that the primary role of ACC and the scheme it administers must be, first and foremost, to prevent injuries from occurring. Where injuries do occur, the focus must be on rehabilitating claimants. Rehabilitation is achieved through the provision of comprehensive, well-tailored services that lead to a sustainable return to work and independence. While rehabilitation occurs, claimants must receive fair compensation that reflects their loss of earnings.

The shift outlined above makes economic sense, as well as being fairer on claimants. An initial investment in injury prevention activity, accompanied by expenditure on early rehabilitation, is likely to result in savings in the long-term. The benefits of such savings accrue to claimants, their families and the community, as well as to premium payers and the Crown.

The Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Bill is a large and complex piece of legislation. I would like, however, to touch briefly on some of its more significant features.

As I have mentioned, the Bill establishes injury prevention as a primary function of ACC. This change needs to be seen within the context of the government's wider injury prevention framework. This provision will be accompanied by greater investment by ACC in injury prevention strategies.
It will also be supported by a strengthening of the close working relationships that ACC has with other agencies - such as the Occupational Safety and Health Service and the Land Transport Safety Authority - that can influence the environment and behaviours that cause injury.

The Bill makes a number of changes with respect to weekly compensation. While these changes are not themselves of a fundamental nature, they do address some issues faced by claimants who are not in 'standard' full-time or waged employment. Areas of change include rectifying anomalies for claimants who have been receiving weekly compensation or unpaid sick leave; or who have a pattern of seasonal work. The Bill also extends earner status to people injured while on unpaid parental leave, from the date at which they would be due back at work.

The Bill also allows self-employed people greater scope to specify and purchase a package that best suits their circumstances and needs. This further extends the flexibility introduced in the Accident Insurance Amendment Act. The sum total of all these changes to weekly compensation is to provide greater security to those who are currently unable, for various reasons, to plan for certain levels of compensation in case of injury.

In providing for lump sums for permanent impairment, the Bill goes a long way towards restoring fair levels of compensation for those who suffer significant injury. Lump sums of between $2,500 and $100,000 will be payable to claimants who suffer a whole-person impairment of between 10 percent and 80 percent respectively. Claimants will be eligible once their condition has been assessed as having stabilised or after two years, whichever occurs first. For claimants injured after the commencement date, lump sums will replace the existing Independence Allowance.
Those currently receiving the Independence Allowance will continue to do so. Assessing impairment is complex, and the provisions in the Bill will be backed up by comprehensive regulations, to ensure that state-of-the-art assessment tools and methods are utilised.

ACC claimants have a right to high standards of service; accurate and accessible information; and remedies in cases where these standards are not met. In order to make the expectations that claimants should have of ACC very clear, the Bill provides for the development of a Code of ACC Claimants' Rights. The Code will be developed through a process of widespread public consultation. Outcomes from the Code will be monitored as part of ACC's accountability processes.

Effective injury prevention, rehabilitation and compensation strategies depend on good information.
The Bill makes a number of changes in this area. The Bill provides for the establishment of a role of 'information manager', to facilitate the aggregation, analysis and dissemination of information collected by different agencies active in injury prevention. Establishing such a function, and developing appropriate indicators, will involve significant work, which cannot be done overnight. However, the framework set out in the Bill is a promising step towards greatly improving evaluation, research and monitoring of agency and programme effectiveness in the injury prevention area.

Mr Speaker, the Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Bill addresses the government's key priorities in accident compensation, while taking a prudent and responsible approach to fiscal and premium costs. As I have indicated, early investment should reap longer-term savings through injuries foregone, and earlier and more sustainable return to work.
The government will continue to keep the scheme and ACC's performance under close review, with the aim of ensuring as fair and effective a scheme as possible.