Benefits slashed under NSW govt's WorkCover overhaul
20/06/2012 - The NSW government's plan to retrospectively slash workers' compensation benefits has passed through the state's lower house.
The Legislative Assembly voted 65 to 24 to pass the coalition's plan to rein in WorkCover's deficit of more than $4 billion shortly before 11pm (AEST).
The changes are expected to go before the state's upper house by the end of the week.
Treasurer Mike Baird said the workers' compensation scheme should have been reformed many years ago.
"If we do not act tonight then the workers are left with no scheme and no support," he told the chamber on Tuesday night.
"Ultimately, what we are doing today is responding to something that should have been done many years ago."
Former premier Nathan Rees was kicked out of the house by Speaker Shelley Hancock during Baird's address for interjecting.
Earlier on Tuesday, Premier Barry O'Farrell unveiled the government's plan to retrospectively slash WorkCover benefits, cap medical expenses for one year and abolish claims for injuries sustained travelling to and from work.
The changes adopt many of the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry which last week called for major changes to rein in a deficit of more than $4 billion, which the government says risks pushing up premiums by 28 per cent.
Among the retrospective reforms, weekly benefits will be reduced after 13 weeks, replacing the current system of a 100 per cent payout for 26 weeks.
There will be a five-year cap for weekly benefit payments, with an exemption for the seriously injured.
A one-year cap for the payment of medical benefits will also be introduced, also with an exemption for the seriously injured.
Cover for strokes and heart attacks will only apply where work has significantly increased the risk of occurrence.
O'Farrell said the changes would make WorkCover "fairer and more sustainable and encourage injured workers back to work".
The workers compensation deficit was growing by $9 million a day, he said.
"This scheme was never about providing all injured workers with support for life. This scheme was about trying to encourage workers who have been injured, who are capable of returning to work, to get back to work," O'Farrell told
reporters in Sydney.
"But equally these reforms are about ensuring that those who are severely injured, totally incapacitated, that there will be the ongoing support they deserve."
The unions, the Labor opposition and the Greens accused the government of trying to ram through the WorkCover changes, with O'Farrell giving MPs only until the end of the week to pass the legislation.
"This is legislation that is going to be rushed through parliament, that is going to see injured workers badly affected by these changes," Opposition Leader John Robertson said.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said O'Farrell was intentionally rushing the legislation through to "confect a crisis" that didn't exist.
Federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten told parliament O'Farrell was "going after" seriously injured workers.
But business groups have welcomed the reforms, which Australian Industry Group's NSW director Mark Goodsell said were a "long overdue step towards bringing NSW in line with competitor states".
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