Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Production of documents

WorkSafe Victoria


WorkSafe Victoria

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:02): I move motion 776 standing in Mr Davis’s name:

That this house, in accordance with standing order 11.01, requires the Minister for Workplace Safety to table in the Council, within three weeks of the house agreeing to this resolution:

(1) the minutes and agendas, including the titles of any attachments thereto, of the interdepartmental WorkSafe steering committee;

(2) a copy of the Finity report provided to the interdepartmental WorkSafe steering committee; and

(3) external advice and reports obtained by WorkSafe concerning its financial sustainability since 1 July 2018.

This motion goes to the sustainability of the Victorian WorkCover Authority. We have seen over the last two years the Minister for Workplace Safety come into this place and repeatedly plead ignorance as to matters related to the Victorian WorkCover Authority. We now know that the financial standing of the VWA is highly compromised. We know that the Victorian government has had to tip $850 million of capital into the Victorian WorkCover Authority to keep it afloat. What we do not know is why the Victorian government has taken that action. We do not know what advice the Minister for Workplace Safety has received and what the minister has done with that advice. The minister herself, on repeated occasions in this place, has demonstrated her inability or unwillingness to answer questions in respect to the WorkCover scheme and its sustainability and viability. We heard yesterday in this place the very clear indication that it was in fact the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet that directed the Victorian WorkCover Authority to maintain its current average premium rate of 1.272 per cent of payroll rather than adjust that premium rate to address sustainability and financial concerns within the WorkCover authority.

So there are a lot of things going on in the background that have not been transparent. We know that there is deep concern about the viability of the scheme. The people of Victoria, this Parliament—whose role is to hold the government to account—and the Victorian community that relies on a sustainable and viable WorkCover authority to provide compensation and rehabilitation services to injured workers are entitled to know the standing of that scheme and what has been occurring on this government’s watch.

We know over the life of this government, the almost eight years of this government, that the WorkCover scheme has not been managed well. We can see that from successive annual reports. We know that over the life of this government there has not been a single reduction in average premium rates. Prior to the election of this government there was a long period where premium rates were able to be reduced with the VWA scheme because the scheme was operating efficiently and sustainably while delivering strong support to injured workers. We saw, year on year, that premiums were reduced, ending at a 1.272 per cent average premium rate. That rate has not shifted under the eight years of this government, but what we have seen over the life of this government is a deterioration in the economic performance, financial performance, of the scheme.

There are really two key measures of the viability of the WorkCover scheme. The WorkCover scheme obviously has a lot of assets invested to provide returns and to support injured workers as markets move, as the value of those assets move and returns on those assets move, and there is a lot of noise in the profit and loss for the WorkCover scheme. So in order to assess how the scheme is really performing—in the sense of how well it is being operated, how efficiently it is operating, as opposed to what market movements are doing to the bottom line—those market movements are stripped out. The scheme reports two key figures. One is actuarial release and the other is performance from insurance operations. Actuarial release is a measure of how well the Victorian WorkCover Authority is managing its long-term liabilities. To give an example, if there is a person who is badly injured in a workplace accident and will require lifetime support from the WorkCover scheme, the cost of supporting that person is brought to book on the WorkCover balance sheet. The actuaries assess that supporting that person for their whole of life might cost $2 million or $3 million. Then periodically the actuaries look at how the claim is being managed—and how all claims are being managed—and if the WorkCover authority is managing that claim well. For example, if they provide treatment or support early in the claim, which means the long-term cost of that claim is reduced, then there is a positive actuarial release. Recognising that an early intervention, maybe early treatment or early therapy, will mean that the long-term costs are reduced, that is a positive benefit to the scheme and is a positive actuarial release.

We have seen through the annual reports, though, of the WorkCover authority that over the life of this government, back to 2015–16, actuarial release every year has been negative, which means the claims have not been managed as well as was predicted. That has been a deteriorating situation year on year on year. In 2015–16 the negative actuarial release was $135 million. By 2019–20 it had deteriorated to negative $2.9 billion. In 2020–21 it was negative $3.3 billion. These are major shifts in actuarial release—a major negative mark on how the government is managing the WorkCover scheme, is managing the long-term liabilities of the scheme, the long-term costs of providing for injured workers in this state. That in no way relates to what markets are doing—market movements; it is purely a reflection on how the scheme is being managed. Then that feeds into the overall result, net of market movements, which is the performance from insurance operations—taking out the noise of markets, how the overall insurance business is operating. We have seen, again, over the life of this government a deterioration in the net position, which was $211 million positive in 2014–15, deteriorating year on year on year to 2019–20, where it was a negative of $3.5 billion, and 2020–21, where it was a negative of over $3.8 billion. So this has been a long-term decline in the performance of the WorkCover scheme, in the management of the WorkCover scheme for which the government and the minister are responsible.

We know there are underlying reasons for this. We have seen a massive blowout in WorkCover claims from the public sector. We have seen a massive blowout in mental injury claims. This is partly driven by the COVID environment and the lockdowns that this government inflicted on the people of Victoria, but it is also a longer trend than COVID—it predates COVID.

One of the things we know about the WorkCover scheme is it is always evolving. It is necessary to continually actively manage it and to manage it in the interests of injured workers. One of the things we repeatedly see with Labor governments is less interest in managing the WorkCover scheme in the interests of injured workers and more interest in it being a honey pot for plaintiff lawyers. Plaintiff lawyers will always seek to find opportunities, will always seek to find new ways to interpret the scheme to get a payday, so the scheme has to be actively managed day in, day out by the WorkCover authority and the government to ensure the integrity of the scheme is protected and the financial viability of the scheme is protected, and we have not seen that from this government. That is one of the reasons we have seen the deteriorating performance over the life of this government.

Another measure of the deterioration of the scheme has been a decline in return-to-work rates—the proportion of people who are injured at work returning to work and returning to work as quickly as possible. If cases are not well managed, if the outcomes of injured workers are not well managed, they do not go back to work. If they are not encouraged back to work, if they are not supported by their employers, if they are not supported by the scheme—given appropriate treatment and given appropriate support—they will not go back to work as quickly as they can, which is obviously good for them as it is good for the scheme, and in some cases they will not go back to work at all. We have seen that decline in return-to-work rates over the life of this government.

There are a number of things that are running against the WorkCover scheme and have been running against the scheme over the life of this government. We have seen the government fail to actively manage the scheme to protect its viability and to ensure that it is there for the long-term interests of injured workers in this state. We know now it has reached such a critical point that the government has had to tip capital in. We know the government, through the expenditure review committee, has apparently directed WorkCover to maintain its premium rate at 1.272 per cent rather than set a rate which reflects what is happening in the authority, and we know that the minister comes in here time and time again and pleads ignorance as to what is going on.

This motion before the house today seeks to throw some light on what has been going on within the scheme, throw some light on the advice that the government has received—or the authority has received—as to the sustainability and viability of the scheme and provide some light to the Victorian community as to what is happening within the WorkCover scheme. It is apparent from the macro numbers that it is not being well managed. It is apparent from the responses in this house that the minister will not say or does not know what is going on. This house, and by extension the people of Victoria, should know. Therefore I urge the house to support this documents motion.

Ms TERPSTRA (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:14): I rise to make a contribution on this documents motion. This motion stands in Mr Davis’s name, and of course it is a documents motion seeking all manner of documents. I can say in summary, in a nutshell, that this is nothing more than a fishing expedition, as we know. Mr Davis, I could quite comfortably say, and the opposition never care one iota about workers and particularly injured workers. Really what is at the heart of this motion is to just use cheap political pointscoring to try and secure documents to attack the government. That is their role as an opposition, but let us not kid ourselves that there is any scintilla of concern or care for the workers who are at the heart of what this government does in terms of the WorkSafe Victoria scheme, which is caring for injured workers and helping people get back to work. Let us not kid ourselves that this is anything Mr Davis wants to do that is going to help workers. It is just a cheap political stunt and nothing other than cheap political pointscoring.

It is really tiresome to hear the constant line from the opposition. I was talking to Minister Leane earlier about the use of the term ‘malevolent’ when we are look at data. You know: ‘The government is bad, government bad, we want to get the data, we want this, we want that’. I mean, you would think that we were the devil incarnate with some of the things that are said by those opposite. It is quite laughable and disingenuous of Mr Davis and the opposition to claim that there is any intent in this other than just political pointscoring.

The Andrews Labor government is absolutely committed to ensuring that we do everything in our power to prevent workplace injuries before they occur and when injuries do occur that we have a strong WorkCover scheme to support injured workers when they need our support. When the Liberals were last in government they oversaw budgets that ripped $641 million of WorkSafe funds from the scheme. I will repeat that because that is not an insignificant amount of money: $641 million ripped out of the scheme. And there was nothing to show for that, certainly not major projects or infrastructure—absolutely nothing to show for it. That was just about cost-cutting, and who bore the brunt of that? Injured workers. Again, let us not be mistaken about what the intention is over there. They do not care about workers; they never have. They profess to be the workers’ friend all of a sudden, but let us remind ourselves again: $641 million ripped out of that scheme—$641 million that did not go into more WorkSafe inspectors, that did not go to improving outcomes for injured workers and that certainly did not go toward measures that prevent workers from being injured in the first place. As I said, they do not care about workers, and they certainly do not care about the WorkCover scheme either.

In saying that, as a former union official and representative of workers, I just want to thank the many health and safety representatives in the workplace for the vital work that they do on the ground and their steadfast commitment to safety not only in our everyday workplaces but certainly throughout some of the most difficult times in the last couple of years through the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety representatives perform an important function in the workplace. I myself as a former union official have had the pleasure of supporting many workplace health and safety representatives in dealing with health and safety concerns. Whether that has been in the manufacturing sector—in the last place I worked with the nurses union—or certainly in our hospitals there are often many challenges in workplace settings, and without the important and critical role of workplace health and safety representatives these issues cannot be brought to the attention of management and resolved. It is critical to have well-supported health and safety representatives to help keep our workers safe. Without them we would see more issues with workplace health and safety. There would be more injuries, more accidents, those sorts of things, so HSRs have such an important role.

I note that the Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister Stitt, has been absolutely up front about the challenges that the WorkCover scheme is facing. I have sat in here and heard this in question time and heard her answer those opposite when they ask questions about the scheme. She has been absolutely up front about the challenges the scheme faces, as this government has, due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the significant increase in the number and complexity and costs of claims, particularly mental injuries. As I just said, sometimes injuries can be complex, particularly mental injuries. They can be complex, they can be difficult and lengthy sometimes to overcome, but the point is that we are with workers for the long term. We are not just going to give up on people because they have a complex claim. We are going to be supporting people. That is what the scheme does. It is very easy just to walk away from people and say, ‘Well, bad luck. You’ve had your X amount of weeks support and that’s it’, you know?

That is one of the really great reforms that this government has made, to bring in that early intervention to give people access to payments earlier, because we know that that early intervention and early support for workers really pay dividends. When they get that early intervention, their recovery can be far better but also their return to work can be earlier. So by taking some of those steps we know what works, and we know that that has got a better trajectory for injured workers. We know also that external factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have had a significant impact on WorkSafe’s resources and sources of premiums—so premium payments and investment returns. That is why the government has invested in a scheme including measures to better support people returning to work, as I said, and a focus on injury prevention and tailored claims handling. This is critically important because you cannot just have a cookie-cutter approach to managing injury claims. We know it has been much harder for workers who are injured to return to work as a result of COVID-19, and where someone is injured or falls ill at work or as a result of work it is essential that they get the support that they need and help getting back to work.

As I said earlier, the government has made the decision to keep WorkCover premiums at one of the lowest rates in Australia so that Victorian businesses can keep recovering and rebuilding as we emerge from the pandemic, and on top of this we know the pressure is from increasingly complex claims, especially complex mental injuries and claims that arise from those injuries. So it is precisely for these reasons the board and senior management of WorkSafe have prioritised the better prevention of workplace psychological injuries and earlier intervention when they do occur. We are working together to confront these issues, and we have a comprehensive reform agenda to address complex claims.

Just in regard to provisional payments, reforms like our provisional payments legislation which passed through this Parliament last February mean that workers can start receiving the support they need for mental injuries without waiting up to 38 days for their compensation claims to be determined. That was that early intervention strategy that I just mentioned earlier, so getting that early support means that people are not waiting. Can you imagine being injured and not being able to support yourself and not having any income for up to 38 days? If you had a mental injury, that would certainly add more stress to your worries. But having that early support means that you know you will be able to at least continue to support yourself, keep the roof over your head and have food coming in, and that is really critically important.

At the core of this landmark reform was a pilot program for emergency workers and volunteers to access these payments for medical and life expenses from the moment they lodge a compensation claim for a 13-week period, regardless of whether their claim is ultimately accepted. So they do not have to wait to get the help that they need when they need it. These reforms mean that workers will be able to receive that urgent medical treatment for their mental health concerns sooner and recognise the importance of early intervention and the better health outcomes in enabling a return to work. So we know these reforms will make a real difference to Victorian workers who need that urgent care.

The Andrews Labor government has sharpened the focus on improving mental health for all Victorians as well, and the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System challenges all of us to redouble our efforts to tackle the longstanding risk factors of poor mental health in our workplaces. Our government has committed to implementing all the recommendations from that report, and with the adult population spending about a third of their lives at work, there is a vital role for workplaces in improving the mental health of all Victorians.

I might leave my contribution there. There are many other points that I know other speakers will be wanting to comment on in regard to this debate, but I will just close my remarks by reiterating what I said earlier: this is nothing other than a stunt from those opposite. They do not care about workers. They have never cared about workers. The only time they care about anything to do with workers is when they can look at political pointscoring. This documents motion is nothing other than a stunt to try and eke out some kind of weird conspiracy theory that we are up to no good. But again I condemn this motion as nothing other than a political stunt.

Mr ERDOGAN (Southern Metropolitan) (11:24): I am pleased to rise on this motion before the house, because to build on the contribution made by my colleague Ms Terpstra, it gives me an opportunity to reflect on Labor’s record in terms of workplace safety and the opposition’s. Obviously the current WorkCover system we have, the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013, is a legacy of the Cain government. It was the Accident Compensation Act 1985 that John Cain Jr, when he was Premier, implemented in our state system. It is a compulsory insurance scheme that provides entitlements to compensation—weekly payments and medical and like expenses—for injured workers in our state. It is a fantastic scheme and a scheme that I had the honour and privilege of working with in my previous career as a plaintiff lawyer. On that point I think it is important to explain my concern and also my displeasure at the mischaracterisation of plaintiff lawyers by Mr Rich-Phillips earlier in this chamber. Plaintiff lawyers do important work in ensuring people have access to justice and making sure that their clients get the compensation they deserve. I do not think they should be besmirched in this place for doing their job and carrying out an important function of our justice system. The plaintiff lawyers out there and the barristers that work in this jurisdiction work very hard to get a fair outcome for their clients, and that is why we set up this WorkCover system.

The motion before the house moved by Mr Davis is quite ironic, especially because it comes from an approach from the state opposition that they are in fact concerned about workers rights and workers entitlements to compensation. When the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council was elected to Parliament in the mid-1990s they abolished common-law rights for workers in our state, so workers had no avenue to broad compensation for pain and suffering and economic loss. I think it was a Labor government, the Bracks government, which reintroduced those rights for injured workers. I do not want to digress too far into past history, but I think it is important to state that Victorians know and Victorian workers understand which party will fight for their rights in the workplace. It is Labor, because we have got a proven track record and we are continuing to invest in and build upon what we built initially.

Our government’s record in this place can be put into a number of sections that I want to talk about, but I think it is about making sure we have a progressive agenda—an agenda which means that workers have the most support they can get. Provisional payments have been touched upon. I think that is a legacy-making reform because it builds upon the reforms we have done with the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. It is about injured workers having access to mental health and like expenses as soon as possible—not after waiting for their claim to be processed, which could take up to 38 days. The moment they have suffered an injury, the moment they put in their claim, they can get the treatment they need, because obviously we know that early treatment is the best way to ensure workers have a successful return to work—because that is what we want. The majority of workers do return to work within, say, 30 days, 90 days, 120 days. If you look at all the statistics, the broad majority of workers have a successful return to work in that time frame—but it is important that they get the medical care they need.

Obviously in terms of costs in relation to the WorkCover system, yes, there has been an increase in costs. Another topic that the opposition like to bandy around, as if we do not recall the last time they were in government, is about transparency. Our government has always been transparent about the challenges the system faces. I think the Minister for Workplace Safety has done a fantastic job of explaining that. Maybe they could read some of her press releases in this regard and they will get a number of answers to the questions they are continually putting in this place about transparency. I recall the transparency of the previous government and their legacy in terms of the workplace act. They went for an expensive and time-consuming process of rewording the act instead of actually making any substantive improvements to it.

If you have got limited government resources, because we know how precious public funds are, instead of actually trying to make improvements like we are doing with provisional payments, instead of making legislative changes that introduced our WorkCover manslaughter laws which protect workers and ensure those employers that do the wrong thing are appropriately punished, they spent a time-consuming exercise of rewording the accident and compensation act, which was called the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. They just renumbered the sections and paragraphs in the act instead of actually making substantive changes to it. I am not sure how that materially benefited the safety of workers in our state. Like I said, in talking about legal costs, as Mr Rich-Phillips tried to allude to—he was moving in the direction of legal fees—I wonder how much in legal fees was expended to renumber the act without making any substantive changes. If you are going to spend that money and go through that exercise, wouldn’t you want to make improvements to make sure more workers have the support they need? But obviously that is the legacy of the previous coalition government in our state—so four years, wasted money, wasted time. All we are left with is just a reworded act with no actual improvements. Whereas, yes, we have spent more in this space. We are not hiding away from that.

As I said, the minister has been transparent and open about it. The claims are more complex. People have greater awareness of the mental health supports that workers need. Workers spend about a third of their time in their workplaces in their lifetimes, so you would understand that a lot of us spend a lot of time at work—a third of our lifetimes in the workplace—so it is just natural that there are going to be mental injuries suffered due to workplace stresses and strains. Obviously those supports are essential, and obviously that has led to an increased number of claims in this space in the WorkCover system and increased costs.

But I am proud to say that our WorkCover premiums are not the highest in the nation; they are actually in the middle band, at about 1.2 per cent approximately at this point in time. I think that is a good measure considering how expansive our system is and the comprehensive cover that we have. There is a pathway to common-law damages as well, which many states and jurisdictions do not provide a pathway to. I think that is an important pathway that workers get compensation and they can elect to go down that path. Obviously they still have the option of a no-fault benefits scheme—impairment benefits, the weekly payments, the medical and like expenses—but on a case-by-case analysis I think common-law benefits being an option for workers is good. Many workers say that their day in court is their closure, so if that is what they want and that is the avenue they want to pursue, they should have that avenue. As I said, when Mr Davis was in this chamber in the mid-1990s he voted to abolish that right. I think Victorian workers need to remember that. When the state opposition moves motions like this, understand the political overlay to them bringing them before the house. I do not accept the premise of this motion that the government is not being transparent, it is not being open. I think our government have always been open about the challenges the system faces, and we have taken a progressive approach to addressing those challenges one by one.

There is an Ombudsman’s review which talks about the activities that agents have engaged in. We were shocked, and we had a review run by Peter Rozen QC, who conducted an examination into those issues. The investigation told us—as a plaintiff lawyer, I could see this; we were making submissions in this space—that unfortunately some agents were not doing the right thing by injured workers in complex cases, and 22 recommendations were handed down. Our government straightaway committed to supporting in full or in principle 19 of those 22, and we have gone about, one by one, implementing those changes. Those changes have had a transformative effect on injured workers and their families, because when someone is injured it is not just themselves who are injured but also their family, their friends and their workplace colleagues that are affected. The trauma continues, and we need to make sure that people with complex injuries are provided with the full support that the system was set up for.

Obviously we are making landmark reforms in terms of psychological injuries. We are making regulation changes under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Anyone that has worked not just as a plaintiff lawyer but as a union official—as I look around this room there are a lot of people that were union officials and health and safety representatives in their workplace: Mr Melhem, Ms Pulford and many others did this important work in managing union members and workers to navigate their way through the process and the system. I think occupational health and safety standards which address psychological injuries, not just manual handling, are important. Like I said, in many ways they are revolutionary. They are transformative, and I look forward to their implementation.

As I have said, our government continues to build upon the frameworks we have in our state. One of the changes was the workplace manslaughter laws which came into effect in July 2020. There is obviously a lot more to do and a lot more challenges that we will face. The pandemic is not over. As people return to work we will see I guess an evolution of the way workplace injuries take place, and we will need to develop policies. But it is important that the agencies that are doing that work are well resourced and that we have a collaborative approach between employee and employer groups to make sure we get the best outcome for all Victorians. As I said, on this point I think Victorians know which party supports workplace safety—that is the Labor government.

Ms WATT (Northern Metropolitan) (11:34): I am of course very proud to be a part of the Andrews Labor government, which is protecting and supporting Victorian workers. We are a government that is committed to delivering key reforms to uphold workplace safety standards that ensure there is support for injured workers.

Workplace safety is an issue that I hold dear to my heart. In my professional life I have worked in the workplace health and safety arena for the then-named Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, who now make up the United Workers Union, as well as in one of my earlier jobs in workplace health and safety in a call centre for the state government where I took calls each day from injured workers in the workplace—those that had fears about potential injuries and also, sadly, those that were right there on site having just injured themselves. I still carry the stories I heard in this role with me today, and that is why this issue is still one that hits so very close to home. Indeed, that is before I even talk about how my own family has been impacted by workplace safety inadequacies.

I am of course part of a team, and only Labor governments actually back in WorkSafe. When those opposite were last in government over those four long, dark years the coalition oversaw a budget that ripped $641 million of WorkSafe funds from the scheme, and there was nothing to show for that, certainly not for major projects or infrastructure—$641 million that did not go into more WorkSafe inspectors, did not go into improving outcomes for injured workers and certainly did not go into measures that prevent workers from being injured in the very first place. Now all of a sudden they pretend to care about the WorkCover scheme. I acknowledge and thank the many workplace health and safety representatives for their vital work on the ground and their steadfast commitment to safety, particularly through the most difficult times with the COVID-19 pandemic. I am just going to also take a moment to acknowledge and thank the workplace health and safety inspectors, who have done a truly marvellous job in going all over this state protecting and defending workplace safety.

Safety at work is one of the most important things. It is far more important than a scoring board for cheap points. If those opposite really cared about workplace safety, then they would have done something about it when they were last in government. It is this government, the Andrews Labor government, that has made the real legislative changes to make workplaces safer and deliver for all Victorian workers. I am extraordinarily proud of the workplace manslaughter laws that this government enacted on 1 July 2020. The creation of this new offence will help prevent workplace deaths by providing a strong deterrent for workplaces that might seek to breach health and safety obligations. Employers owe duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 to provide a safe and healthy workplace. If an employer breaches their duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and negligently causes the death of a worker or a member of the public as a result, then they could potentially face significant fines and jail time under our new workplace manslaughter laws. If convicted of workplace manslaughter, body corporates face fines of $16.522 million, while individuals face up to 25 years in jail. No person deserves to die at work. Nothing is more important than every worker coming home safely every day, and that is exactly what this reform ensured.

In fact, as I take a moment to reflect on the importance of workplace safety, can I acknowledge Acting President Melhem, who joined me for International Workers Memorial Day, a very significant day in our community where we stop, acknowledge and for a moment reaffirm our commitment to making sure that every Victorian workplace is safe each and every day. It is something deeply felt, and I just need to acknowledge that very special day on our calendar that we almost wish did not exist.

But as I go on to talk about other things, I would like to talk about the comprehensive action plan to ensure workers are protected from exposure to crystalline silica and provide support to those affected. There is a silica action plan, and it includes a specialist WorkSafe team focused on silica-related hazards, a statewide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of this engineered stone, a tough new compliance code for businesses, free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons, an Australian-first licensing scheme for businesses working with engineered stone, treatment and support for workers affected by silica and an awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone.

WorkSafe has a range of initiatives in place to support workers and employees to address the work-related factors that impact on the mental health of Victorian workers. These include WorkSafe’s $50 million five-year WorkWell program to promote mental health and prevent mental injury in Victoria’s workplaces. There are over 500 participating organisations that partner with the WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund and Learning Networks program and over 31 000 direct participants and links to more than 200 000 Victorian workers. Reforms like our provisional payments legislation, which passed through Parliament last February thanks to this Labor government, mean that workers can start receiving the support they need for mental injuries without having to wait up to 38 days for their compensation claim to be determined. Indeed I do recall making a contribution on that landmark reform, which included a pilot program for emergency workers and volunteers to access payments for medical and like expenses from the moment they lodge a compensation claim for a 13-week period, regardless of whether their claim is ultimately accepted. They do not have to wait to get the help that they so vitally need. These reforms mean that workers will be able to receive the urgent medical treatment for their mental health sooner and recognise the importance of early intervention in better health outcomes and enabling return to work. We know that these reforms will make a real difference to Victorian workers who need urgent care and will help those workers recover and return to work sooner.

Throughout our time in office the Andrews Labor government has demonstrated time and time again that we are a government committed to delivering on our promises and delivering important reforms to keep Victorians safe. In saying all of that, we know that there are challenges facing the WorkCover scheme at the moment. We have been up front about it. The impacts of COVID-19 and the resulting significant increases in the number, complexity and costs of claims have placed pressure on the scheme. We also know that external factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and other external factors, have had a significant impact on WorkSafe’s sources of revenue—premium payments and investment returns. That is why the government has invested in the scheme, including measures to better support people returning to work, a focus on injury prevention and tailoring claims handling. We are working together to confront these issues and have a comprehensive reform agenda to address complex claims.

The Andrews Labor government has made significant reforms to ensure the safety of workers in this state. There is nothing more important than workers coming home safe each and every day. Workers need a government that works consistently and constantly to achieve this, and that is exactly what they have. Further—and I have only got a few more remarks on this, but I could probably go on for just about forever really—the government is already undertaking significant reform to improve the WorkCover scheme and workers’ mental health, giving workers the confidence to seek support if they are struggling and helping to ease pressures on the scheme, but we also know that there is more work to be done with these challenges. We have been truly up front about that. But we also call this for exactly what it is: a political pointscoring exercise. For them, the opposition, they really do not care about what this is. It is just politics, and while they are busy playing politics with workers’ safety, we are each and every day getting on with the job. We are delivering the important reforms that keep Victorian workers safe and support them if they are injured at work.

I want to finish up my remarks by again reaffirming my thanks to health and safety representatives right across our state in workplaces big and small, complex and less complex, and thank them for stepping up for the health and safety of their fellow workers, including in some really, really challenging circumstances. Thank you to health and safety reps. I was one for a very, very long time and I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about making our workplaces safe each and every day for workers, and I still, with great pride and deep commitment to them, thank them for what they do. I just thank them, and I will also say thank you to the unions that support health and safety reps. I am just going to take a moment to acknowledge them. That was also one of my gigs back in the day. Health and safety people in unions are extraordinary people, and they too stand up each and every day for workers, they too make sure that their members come home safely.

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) (11:44): I will be very brief—only a couple of minutes—as I am mindful that we are going to move to the next motion, but I am just going to make a few points. We have got an opposition, the Liberal Party and National Party, coming here with another motion by Mr Davis about getting more paperwork and more stuff but really trying to paint a picture that they do care about workers and injured workers and what really happens with WorkSafe Victoria. But let me make a number of points. When they were in government they took $641 million out of WorkSafe. We put in $300 million not long ago to make sure WorkSafe continues to operate. Mr Davis yesterday in question time asked a question, basically criticising the government, ‘Why haven’t you put the premium up? Why haven’t you done that?’. And Mr Rich-Phillips, I think, made reference to the possibility of that, but he was a bit more responsible than Mr Davis was yesterday. Mr Davis was a bit disgusted that we have not put the premium up. Well, the reason we have not put the premium up is that we want to look after injured workers, we want to make sure they are taken care of, and as well we want to look after businesses, particularly small businesses. We do not want to just slug them with an increased premium. We are about balance, and we give no apology that mental health workers and people with mental illness have now got access to workers compensation. Yes, that is one of the reasons the funding is going up.

Mr Rich-Phillips talked about the public sector and how COVID has increased some of the claims et cetera. We are facing COVID situations that have put a lot of strain on the investment and payment of WorkSafe. Yes, they are under strain. But we had a choice: do we support WorkSafe when it needs support? We did that by injecting $300 million. Do we support small businesses by not putting up the premium? Yes, we did. Do we continue to look after injured workers? We did, and we will continue to do that. That is why we give no apology about supporting WorkSafe. But what we will not do is what the Liberal-National governments will do. Let us not forget what Jeff Kennett did in the 1990s when these people were in charge. They ripped the heart out of WorkSafe, and basically they ripped all the benefits from injured workers. Really, what did they do? They drove injured workers to the wall. We will not do that. We will support injured workers day in and day out, and we will support small businesses as well. We think we have got the balance right, and we will continue to do that to continue to support all these people. That is why I think this motion is nothing but a witch-hunt—nothing but a political stunt—again by Mr Davis and his colleagues.

Motion agreed to.