Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

I take pleasure in joining the debate on the Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. As other members before me have said, it is only ever Labor governments that make positive changes to our workers compensation schemes and to the Transport Accident Commission, because we care about what happens to vulnerable people when they have been injured, whether at work or on the road. I get really cross with those opposite and their constant diatribe around the trade union movement, the labour movement and Labor law firms. There is a good reason why trade unions exist, and that is to defend their members and to look after them when they are at their most vulnerable.

The bill makes amendments for a small group of workers, apprentice jockeys. It is great that it is the Spring Racing Carnival and we are all thinking about the exciting tips that we might have. It is also great for those of us who are interested in the millinery, the fashion and the food and everything else that goes along with that. But I really like the horse races in addition to everything else. We have had quite a bit of pleasure out of a horse that we own called Knowable. I think we own the nostril and maybe a bit of the mane. Knowable won a group 3 race at Flemington in January, won in Geelong and was placed in two other meets in Melbourne, although it has not met with a lot of success since. But it has always astounded me, whenever I have watched Knowable or other horses that I have been connected with in racing, how amazing it is that more jockeys are not injured in the course of the dangerous work that they do.

I really want to commend the Australian Workers Union (AWU), Australia’s oldest union and the union that I am proud to say I am a member of. My son, who works in the road construction industry, is also a member. It is the AWU that brought to the attention of the government that there was a need for winnings to be taken into account when determining apprentice jockeys’ pre-injury earnings. As others have said, it is quite likely that that could be the largest component of an apprentice jockey’s earnings if they have been off work for a length of time with some of the injuries that can occur. I had dealings with the Australian Jockeys Association when I was the opposition spokesperson on disability in the preceding term of government — I was doing some work with them in the disability sector to try to improve helmets and improve the outcomes and survivability for jockeys, and saw that firsthand.

The changes in this bill specify that apprentice jockeys are deemed to be employed by Racing Victoria if they are injured while performing training work. Currently apprentice jockeys are deemed to be employed by the trainers they are apprenticed to in these circumstances. The changes will align the deeming provisions for apprentice jockeys with those that apply to licensed jockeys, and they confirm that Racing Victoria is the only deemed employer of licensed jockeys and apprentice jockeys, which is consistent with current operational practice and case law.

It confirms that Racing Victoria is the deemed employer of licensed jockeys and apprenticed jockeys in relation to riding in an official trial and that this is also consistent with current operational practice and the Victorian Rules of Racing. It also clarifies that Racing Victoria is the only deemed employer of licensed and apprentice jockeys in relation to training work undertaken at recognised training facilities. As I mentioned earlier, it confirms that winnings received by licensed jockeys and apprentice jockeys are considered remuneration for the purposes of the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013.

The bill before the house also makes some amendments in relation to the Transport Accident Act 1986. These changes, when announced a couple of weeks ago, did get quite a bit of media — and quite welcome media. I know that the member for Mordialloc spoke before about when his father-in-law was injured in a road accident while on a bicycle not too long ago. I think that almost every family is touched somehow by either the road toll or road injury. It is always a stressful time, not just having the difficulty of an impact on their property or maybe having lost their motor vehicle; sometimes people have been very close to losing their lives. For individuals that have been injured or have had to assist family members that have been injured it has always seemed to me to be a difficult thing that before benefits could be received there was an excess payment of $651 — before the TAC was liable to pay for non-hospital medical treatment. I think removing that requirement will really assist people who have been injured in transport accidents.

One of the people that I have had dealings with most recently who was injured in a transport accident is a really lovely woman called Wilma Hawthorne-Smith, who is no longer a constituent of mine but lives just outside the electorate in Strathewen. She was injured in a road accident on the Heidelberg-Kinglake Road near the corner of the Cottles Bridge-Strathewen Road and was very, very lucky to have escaped with her life. The car flipped, and as Wilma rightly pointed out, if the Diamond Creek had been in flood, she could very well have drowned in addition to the broken bones and soft tissue injuries she received.

While I am on my feet I do want to pay tribute to Wilma because, while needing to spend time recuperating and recovering from her own injuries, she was quite relentless in campaigning to have barriers installed along that dangerous section of road. She just thought that if an experienced driver like her was injured — it was a poor safety situation with the condition of the road and no barriers there, and she really had this at the forefront of her mind — what could the result have been for a younger, less experienced driver than herself or, as I said, had the Diamond Creek been in flood? Wilma campaigned through VicRoads. She came to see me and said, ‘Look, really, what can we do about this?’. I am really pleased to see the Minister for Roads and Road Safety at the table and that VicRoads has responded to Wilma Hawthorne-Smith’s overtures saying that those barriers needed to be installed. I believe I might have raised them in an adjournment matter for you, Minister, so I want to thank you firsthand.

It was great to catch up with Wilma and her daughters Brooke and Alannah on the weekend. We are all together in a choir that is going to be in a documentary about the story of The Blacksmiths Tree that has been installed as a memorial to those terrible Black Saturday fires. It was such a fantastic thing to see Wilma and her family on Sunday fit and healthy. They lived through that terrible disaster, and Wilma has lived through this shocking car accident, and I am sure that a generous person like her would be saying, ‘Well, yes, I had to pay that excess, but now anyone who is injured in the future will not have to pay that excess.

I reflect on what those opposite have done when they have been in government. I particularly recall the period of the Kennett government, during which workers compensation and transport accident benefits were really gutted. Many of the employees who worked in those areas were cut from the workforce and were not available to support people at their most vulnerable. That is one of the things that defines us versus them in that we will stand up for the most vulnerable. I think it is quite instructive to see that there have been almost no speakers on this Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 from the other side. The silence of those opposite speaks volumes about their priorities. We will always stand up for those who need us most in their hour of need, and I commend the bill to the house