iCare Bill in the Legislative Assembly

Although The Greens acknowledge that both a review and an inquiry into iCare are underway, more needs to be done immediately to stop the rorts from continuing. Although The Greens' Public Works and Procurement Amendment (Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer) Bill 2020 passed the Legislative Council, the Legislative Assembly voted against a second reading of the bill.



"I thank all members who contributed to debate on The Green's Public Works and Procurement Amendment (Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer) Bill 2020. I acknowledge the comments made by the member for Ku-ring-gai, the member for Canterbury, the member for Cessnock, the member for Mulgoa, the member for Goulburn, the member for Terrigal and the member for Heathcote and thank them for participating in the debate. Unfortunately, there has been no clear indication from the Government about how we should deal with the current disaster. I acknowledge the comments made by the member for Heathcote in concluding his speech. He said that an independent review is already underway but obviously there is much more than one issue that needs to be resolved about the icare disaster. The reason for this bill was stated when the bill was received in this House and that was reiterated by my colleague Mr David Shoebridge when he introduced the bill in the upper House. Let us be clear that this bill already has been passed by the upper House, which is why it is being considered in this House today.

My colleague Mr David Shoebridge made it very clear that this legislation is urgently needed because the rorts that have happened in icare can continue to happen while the review takes place. While there is a need for an independent review of icare's completely disastrous management of the Workers Compensation Scheme—and I acknowledge that currently there is an upper House inquiry into icare as well—it is very important to remember that the issue we are dealing with in this bill is the issue of tendering. We are dealing with a loophole that exempts icare from the normal integrity rules that apply to public sector tenders. The consequences of that loophole are that there has been a misuse of immense amounts of money and a failure to care for tens of thousands of workers who either got sick or were injured on the job. I appreciate that the Government might be saying that there is already a review underway and an inquiry is also being undertaken, but the reason my colleague Mr David Shoebridge introduced this bill is the urgent need to stop the rorts right now.

The member for Ku-ring-gai stated the Government's acknowledgement of the need to have a root‑andbranch examination of icare, but I wonder how much of an examination is actually needed? The Four Corners program, which I appreciate was telecast a little while ago—things move quickly in politics—was an exposé of the completely disastrous mismanagement of icare. The program revealed an $80 million wage theft from 52,000 injured workers while icare's senior executives were paid an average of $660,000. The program reported on extreme mismanagement and the complete failure of the scheme, as well as the desire to sweep all of that mismanagement under the carpet. We know that icare exists to serve the interests of injured workers but that is not happening. I note the comments made by the member for Ku-ring-gai but it is important to recognise that all the money in the fund is for injured workers and that $660,000 paid to an icare executive is not going to injured workers.

The member for Ku‑ringgai said we must allow the review to do its job, and I absolutely agree. But if we have a review to examine bushfire legislation and the response to bushfires in this State, would we ask the Rural Fire Service and all the fire brigades to pause putting out fires while that review is conducted? Surely we recognise the urgent need to keep people safe and work in the interests of our communities while a review is being conducted. The type of reasoning espoused by the member for Ku-ring-gai is the Government's excuse for not supporting the bill. A review and an inquiry do not excuse the Government from failing to act. The Greens acknowledge that both a review and an inquiry are underway. However, we also acknowledge that the rorts consist of icare handing out money to the families of senior executives instead of applying those funds to assist injured workers. There is nothing to stop those rorts from continuing as I speak. Icare can exploit a loophole of not having to meet the normal standards and—although I hate using this expression—none of its conduct passes the pub test. Icare currently does not have any requirement to meet scrutiny of its tendering processes. That is why its executives can get away with handing money to mates and family members, and they can still do that.

If the Treasurer is happy to oversee and be responsible for a body that continues to have the ability to rort the system unchecked, then I put him and the Government on notice. The Greens are offering the Treasurer a way out with this bill. This is a way out of being responsible for any more dodgy rorts by icare between now and the handing down of the review and the implementation of the recommendations. The Treasurer and the Liberal‑Nationals Government are seeking to hide behind that review. My colleague The Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is present in the Speaker's gallery, has a good, long memory. Put down the date of 19 November 2020 in our diaries and then look at a future date when the review will recommend the changes that are in this bill and then look again at a future date when the Government finally implements those recommendations. From today until that future date—months or years down the track—when the Government finally acts, let us calculate how many rorts have taken place and how much more money, which should have been going to injured workers, has been handed over to icare executives' mates and family members. That figure will be the responsibility of the Treasurer, to his shame.

I acknowledge the member for Canterbury and her colleague the Hon. Daniel Mookhey in the other place who have worked closely with The Greens on this bill. I also acknowledge Unions NSW and the many advocates for injured workers. The member for Canterbury put it simply. She said if the Government rejects this bill, it is voting for the rorts to continue. It is basically saying that it is okay with the rorts continuing until some point in the future. Surely that is very concerning. Knowing what we know about the appalling tender processes and how mates and their related corporations received preferential access to icare tenders, doing nothing would be criminal. We in this Chamber are giving the Treasurer an opportunity. I note that he has not come to the Chamber or engaged with this debate.

There has been discussion about this problem sitting with the Minister for Finance and Small Business, that the Treasurer does not have to worry about it and can palm it off to some unaccountable upper House MP—who used to be in this House but is now in the Legislative Council enjoying himself on the Government benches. He is hiding up there and enjoying the fact that he is the finance Minister. Then what happens? The Treasurer pretends it is not his responsibility. It is clearly the Treasurer's responsibility and his problem, and he needs to fix it. We are giving the Treasurer a way out today.

It is absolutely clear this bill is needed. No-one on the other side tried to deny that change was needed; we simply heard that there is already a review. As the member for Canterbury said, if Government members vote against this bill, they are voting for the rorts to continue. So from 19 November 2020 to whenever the recommendations from the review are implemented, may all of the rorted money be on the Treasurer's head. That is money that should have been going into the hands of injured workers in this State. Instead, it has gone into the coffers of icare's wealthy executives, who are getting $660,000 salaries while injured workers are doing it tough and being treated appallingly by this system and its process.

Today the Government had the chance to support The Greens bill, which came from the Legislative Council. It is clear that more can be done to stop the rorts. The Greens, and no doubt the many members who spoke in favour of the bill, offer our solidarity and support to the injured workers impacted by the rorts. The system is broken. When theFour Corners story aired many people contacted my electorate office and told us of the appalling situations that had occurred as a result of mistreatment by icare. It is supposed to support injured workers. If someone is injured at work, it is not just their physical health that is impacted, their mental health and ability to participate freely in society also are impacted. The fact that the icare rorts were able to happen in a process that is supposed to support injured workers is yet another example of how out of touch the Liberal‑Nationals Government is when it comes to caring for people.

My colleague David Shoebridge is committed to caring for and being compassionate towards the people who have been impacted by the icare scheme. Those people should be front and centre of the Government's actions. Disgracefully, the Government tries to hide behind review processes and forgets that there are people involved. I commend the bill to the House and I urge members on the other side who know the impacts this is having on their communities to think hard before they vote against it and vote for the rorts to continue."

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