From 1 July, a compensation regime which imposes Civil Liability Laws on Queensland workers comes into effect. At the same time, the Civil Liability Law itself will be tightened.
The changes will reduce yet again, compensation payments by insurance companies, including WorkCover, to people who receive injuries as a result of someone else’s recklessness – at work, in car accidents etc.
Civil Liability Laws were brought into force by state governments following the controversial Ipp review in 2002, instigated by former Prime Minister Howard.
The laws are claimed to have eliminated 70-80% of personal injury claims payments and boosted insurance company profits by more than $20 billion.
In 2006, the Queensland Chief Justice of Queensland Paul de Jersey stated that the laws have “brought about marked erosion of a fundamental right to adequate compensation” for injury and that there is a “need for active reconsideration of whether the so-called reforms have proven justified, or should be wound back”.
In 2008, the state Attorney General said he was considering a review of Civil Liability Laws because they had “gone too far”.
Unions and lawyer organisations that had previously insisted the laws should never apply to workers maimed on the job, all supported the application of Civil Liability Laws to workers rather than fight government in the showdown that occurred in May this year.
These are the facts about Civil Liability Laws and why they must be reformed:-
- businesses who refuse to invest in injury avoidance are insulated from the true cost of their reckless behaviour;
- those that invest in safety are penalised through increased cost of production relative to that of the unsafe competitor;
- people who have injured through no fault of their own bear the lifelong cost of the injury;
- a large part of medical treatment costs is transferred to the taxpayer through Medicare and public hospital treatment of victims (previously these expenses were paid by insurance companies).
The government claims that reducing worker payouts to maimed workers was essential to reverse a deficiency in WorkCover’s financial reserves. But WorkCover has only itself to blame. It has reduced employer premiums nearly every year since 1999 – a 30% premium reduction in a purely chest-beating exercise to have the lowest premium in the nation – rather than building up reserves for a rainy day.
Both major political parties have been responsible for laws that have steadily eroded the compensation rights of the individual. Their common agenda can only be interpreted as an intention to eventually eliminate such rights entirely.
Politicians should have the integrity to reveal their intentions straight out, rather than doing the job surreptitiously – every time an economic circumstance arises that makes a further cut to rights plausible.
It is regrettable that ordinary Queenslanders – who always expect the best from the government – are oblivious to the creeping eradication of their individual rights.
It is a paradox that the effort of previous generations to gain such rights seems inversely proportional to the ease with which government is now able to sweep them away.