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Maryan Street ACC Amendment Bill (No. 2) Speech

Hon Maryan Street Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2): First Reading Speech

Madam Speaker, I move that the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2) be now read a first time.

At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Bill be referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for consideration, and that the committee present its final report on or before 12 May 2008.

The Bill continues this government’s commitment to a fair and sustainable ACC scheme for reducing the incidence and impact of personal injury.

This government has already made substantial changes to the scheme, including returning responsibility for cover for workplace accidents to ACC, and the introduction of the new treatment injury provisions.

These changes have provided major steps in the government’s goal of making the scheme more responsive to the needs of claimants.

This Amendment Bill continues to progress this goal, by making changes to cover for work-related injuries, eligibility and entitlement to weekly compensation, and entitlement and processes for vocational rehabilitation and independence.

This Bill makes some significant changes to cover provided by ACC for work-related injuries, by extending this cover to include mental injuries caused by a single traumatic event, and by making changes to the cover provisions for work-related gradual process, disease or infection.

This government believes that if a person is clearly harmed in the course of their employment, they should be covered by the scheme, regardless of whether the injury was the result of an accident or an occupational illness. The changes proposed in this Bill make that intent clear.

The Bill introduces cover for a mental injury caused by exposure to a sudden traumatic event in the course of employment. This means that, for example, a train driver whose train hits someone on the tracks, or a bank worker who witnesses a colleague shot during a robbery and goes on to develop a mental injury as a result will now be covered by the ACC scheme.

These people will be entitled to the same benefits under the scheme as others harmed by their work. This cover will ensure appropriate treatment and rehabilitation, and help to facilitate an early and sustainable return to work in cases where the claimant has had to take time off.

This is a major and progressive development for the scheme, and brings New Zealand into line with the cover offered to workers in many other overseas jurisdictions including: most Australian states, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, Denmark and the United Kingdom.

The Bill provides cover for clinically significant mental injuries, rather than temporary distress that constitutes a normal reaction to trauma. The Bill does not introduce cover for mental injury caused by non-physical stress.

The Bill also responds to concerns expressed by the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Work-related Gradual Process, Disease, and Infection. The Panel highlighted the current test to determine cover for work-related conditions as being a barrier to cover for claimants.

The Bill introduces changes to the cover provisions for work-related gradual process, disease, and infection, to ensure that people harmed by their work receive greater access to cover and more clarity around whether cover is available and how it is determined.

It does this through amending the test of work-causation set out in the existing Act to provide greater certainty of cover for claimants with these conditions. In particular, the Bill clarifies that the responsibility and cost for investigating a claim rests with ACC.

The Bill also makes changes in the area of weekly compensation. Weekly compensation is paid to claimants who are earning at the time of their injury, and is intended to provide earnings-related compensation so that claimants can meet their everyday expenses and focus on recovery.

A review of the existing weekly compensation provisions was undertaken in response to concerns that seasonal workers were being disadvantaged by the current rules for calculating weekly compensation.

Nearly a quarter of today’s workforce is in non-standard work, whether they work part-time, are self-employed, or they undertake casual or seasonal work, or move in and out of employment.

The Bill updates the weekly compensation framework to improve access to weekly compensation in this increasingly varied labour market, particularly to seasonal and casual workers.

The changes to the weekly compensation provisions make the assessment for claimants more reasonable, and easier to understand.

The Bill provides fairer and more straightforward weekly compensation for seasonal and casual employees, through improving access to weekly compensation for people who are injured while temporarily between jobs.

It allows earlier access to minimum weekly compensation for certain claimants, and increases the rate of weekly compensation paid to potential earners.

In addition to providing weekly compensation to people who are unable to work because of their injury, ACC also provides vocational rehabilitation to aid them in returning to work.

The Bill enhances the existing legislative provisions for vocational rehabilitation to provide better outcomes for claimants. Together with the existing provisions, the changes help to ensure that injured people are able to return to work or look for a job.

This is important for the people and their families as well as the economy of New Zealand. The provisions also provide a greater degree of flexibility to allow ACC to deliver the most appropriate rehabilitation to claimants.

The Bill provides ACC with the discretion to extend the current three-year limit on vocational rehabilitation, to enable ACC to meet the needs of claimants where longer periods of vocational rehabilitation may be required.

It also, and importantly, removes the upper age limit for vocational rehabilitation, to reflect the changing nature of the labour market.

The Bill also introduces a requirement for occupational assessors to consider a person’s pre-injury earnings when identifying suitable work types. This provision helps to ensure that, where possible, jobs identified for claimants reflect their previous earnings.

The Bill also addresses a number of other policy issues and improvements, aimed at making the scheme clearer and more responsive to the needs of claimants.

Madam Speaker, the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill builds on the framework provided by the existing legislation, providing fair and sustainable ACC scheme for reducing the incidence and impact of personal injury, and one that is responsive to the needs of claimants.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I move that the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2) be referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for consideration, that the committee report the bill by 12 May 2008, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders [192 and 195(1)(b) and (c)].


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