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NSW WorkCover overhaul 'not retrospective': O'Farrell
21/06/2012 - NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has flatly denied his WorkCover overhaul is retrospective.
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"No they are not," he said on Wednesday, a day after the controversial reforms passed the lower house.
"The changes simply mean if the parliament passes the laws, the laws come into effect from the day the government signs off on them and from that moment on they take effect."
O'Farrell compared it to speeding fines.
"You find the week after we put them up the people who got fined two weeks earlier do it under the other regime," he told ABC Radio.
The Legislative Assembly voted 65 to 24 to pass the coalition's plan to rein in WorkCover's deficit of more than $4 billion.
The changes are expected to go before the state's upper house by the end of the week.
O'Farrell said reports that medical benefits would be cut off after 12 months were also wrong.
"That, in the vernacular, is BS," he said.
"The fact is that under the proposals put forward, medical benefits terminate a year after compensation payments cease."
The premier said workers who broke their leg and were off work for four years would get compensation payments for that time.
"Then between four and five years you still get your medical expenses for that paid - that's where the 12 months cuts off... it doesn't cut off 12 months after the injuries occur."
O'Farrell rejected claims from Federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten that he was "going after" seriously injured workers.
"There are people who are severely injured and totally incapacitated and under our changes their benefits will actually go up," he said.
"But for other people, whatever their injury, there will be WorkCover testing to assess whether or not they can go back to work."
O'Farrell said he had "real concerns" about how lawyers and doctors had used the scheme in the past, and it was time for it to be financially sustainable.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said O'Farrell's claim that the changes were not retrospective demonstrated that he didn't understand the legislation.
"This is cruel, retrospective legislation that pulls the rug from under sick and injured workers," Lennon said in a statement.
"We know of specific cases where grieving widows who were set to seek compensation for nervous shock will now be denied the right to even make a claim."
Lennon pointed to schedule 12, clause three of the new laws, which he said clearly stated the changes could be applied retrospectively.
Sydney-based personal injury lawyer Ivan Simic agreed that the laws were retrospective and workers who'd made claims under the old regime would be immediately affected.
"It's going to affect the vast majority," he told reporters.
"The starting point for the legislation is that it applies to all injuries and claims that were made before the date of the commencement of the Act."
Simic said the only people who would be exempt from the changes were police officers and coal miners.
"If you're a police officer good on ya - you've got a gold pass," he said.
But NSW Finance Minister Greg Pearce said the system had been "leaking in every which way you can imagine".
"We are trying to ensure the scheme operates the way it is meant to," he told Macquarie Radio.
Asked if the changes would be retrospective, Pearce replied: "It will operate from when the legislation commences, just the same (way) as income tax changes operate from when they start, just the same as other benefits change."
Pearce said the changes would kick in from July 1 if the legislation is passed in the next couple of days.
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