Legislative Council: Tuesday, June 14, 2022



Return to Work (Permanent Impairment Assessment) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 2 June 2022.)

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (11:03): I move:

That this order of the day be discharged.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (11:03): I would like to put on record that we the Liberal Party do not support the removal of this important return to work legislation. We the Liberal Party are appalled with regard to the handling of this extremely important legislation. Can you imagine what the Labor Party would do to the Liberal Party if we behaved with such contempt of the chamber and its important role?

The Labor Party have constantly displayed absolute arrogance to the parliament and to the people of South Australia. On budget day—budget day nonetheless—the Attorney-General attempted to ram through this important legislation without consultation with the Law Society, key industry bodies or even the very people who sit in this chamber. It is appalling and it must stop. We were only given a briefing on Friday, and our leader is receiving a briefing today as we speak and meeting with key groups. We went out of our way to ensure we were briefed and ready, despite the ridiculously short time frames.

We the Liberal Party value the importance of due process and respect the convention that a sufficient notice period in this chamber must be given. Now that the Labor Party has bowed down to the unions and dropped the business community like a hot potato, we are facing the possibility of being in limbo again—and for how long? Businesses not knowing what their premiums will be and our workers not knowing what the changes to the legislation will be—this is not good enough.

ReturnToWorkSA highlighted on 2 June 2022 that without legislative change a premium increase as high as 25 per cent to 30 per cent would have been realistic, given the magnitude of the cost impacts of the changes in the interpretation of the Return to Work Act 2014. In addition to this, as a party we were planning to move an amendment to this bill to lower the APR target from 2 per cent to 1.8 per cent, signalling our commitment to ensuring that Return to Work is suitable and affordable in the long term.

The change would also have required the ReturnToWorkSA board to report to parliament the need for a rate increase or change earlier and give sufficient time for debate and consideration, rather than ramming through the changes at the eleventh hour. This is not how legislation should be handled. The question many South Australians may be asking is: what have we elected? A government that cannot govern, as we all know where the strings are being pulled—by the unions—and is not looking at what is in the best interests of business and industry.

I would like to put on record that we do not support the withdrawal of this important legislation and would encourage the government to stand up and make the hard decisions and do what is best for South Australians.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (11:06): I am pleased to see that this bill has been withdrawn. I am pleased to see that it has been withdrawn because what we know—and it is no secret; the government has absolutely copped it on the chin from its own executive, from the unions—is the bill was fundamentally flawed. It was absolutely flawed. It used one case, the Summerfield case, as a response to a fundamentally flawed and broken Return to Work scheme. That is not what we should have been dealing with.

The process in this place was fundamentally flawed as well, and people have worked around the clock in this place to try to come to terms with a bill that we know is flawed, a response that we know is terrible in terms of the way that we have chosen to respond, apparently, to the Summerfield case. But we know that none of this has anything to do with the Summerfield case itself; it has to do with the basket case that is the Return to Work scheme, and that is where our focus should be.

The proof will absolutely be in the pudding now as to whether common sense has prevailed with this government, and we will be waiting eagerly to see what their next move will be in terms of how we address that broken scheme going forward. Attacking vulnerable workers, the lowest hanging fruit, removing their entitlements and their accrued rights to compensation, was not and should not be the answer.

All of us are equally concerned about businesses and their premiums. Nobody wants to indirectly impact them as a result of this, but the response from this government in terms of the process that we have just been through has been fundamentally flawed, and it was not the right move by this government. So I am appealing now to this government to come back with something that is a better approach.

It remains our position that everybody should be supporting a review into the Return to Work scheme. Picking on vulnerable workers, removing their rights to entitlement—the people who can least afford it, and it would have impacted them in their thousands retrospectively, regardless of the spin in the public and in the media—was not and should not be the response that we as a parliament come to on this issue. So it is time we stopped talking about Summerfield, because this has nothing to do with Summerfield and everything to do with a broken system that must be reviewed.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (11:09): I rise to support the withdrawal of this bill. I note that the Liberal opposition has opposed the discharge of a bill that is not their bill, that is a government bill. I note that this bill was not consulted on properly before coming to this place, and I would hope that this will be the last time any legislation from the government has not been properly consulted on in an appropriate manner before it is presented to this place.

If the Liberals wish to pick up an unconsulted, inappropriate bill and run with it, good luck. I would say that they should also be questioning whether or not the lazy politics of this was workers and the unions having the Labor Party do their bidding at the last minute, and that all employers actually had a position of supporting this legislation is one based on fact or simple, lazy, old-school politics, where you have assumed that because the unions say one thing that the bosses will say another. The bosses were not asked about this legislation either.

The self-insurers do just fine under the very same legislation. The ReturnToWorkSA board is culpable here. It is them that have put the Labor government in this position and when the ReturnToWorkSA board next says 'Jump' I hope the Labor Party response will not be, 'How high?', but indeed, 'Why should we jump?' Going back to the basics and doing the proper work that should have been done before this legislation was ever put before this place is now, I believe, what the government will do.

I find it curious that the opposition would simply fall into a: we love this bill, because it was unconsulted and tried to be rushed through the parliament, so now we are going to fight to keep it here. That is the most extraordinary response I have seen from an opposition in a long while. I hope their politics will get a little bit more robust and stringent than to simply believe old cold war politics approaches to this particular complex issue.

Motion carried; bill withdrawn.