The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has hit back at comments by Public Service Minister Eric Abetz, who criticised the legal body for siding with public servants who “rort the system”.
ALA president Andrew Stone (pictured) told Lawyers Weekly that he was disappointed by Mr Abetz’s attack, but not surprised, claiming the minister was “desperate” to sell his proposed changes to the national Comcare scheme.
Earlier this week, Mr Abetz criticised the ALA for describing the federal government’s Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill as “an attack on the rights of the nation’s injured workers”.
The reforms include a crackdown on mental injury claims, taxpayer-funded alternative therapies and compensation paid over the ‘reasonable actions’ of department heads.
Mr Abetz highlighted the public servant who sought compensation for injuries sustained while having sex in a motel room during a work trip as an example of the kind of “rorting and malingering” the legislation would stamp out.
However, Mr Stone argued that the minister was being “intellectually dishonest” by focusing on the extreme cases rather than a majority of claims.
“He treats this like some academic exercise without acting as if there are real human beings; lumping everyone who brings an injury claim as being a rorter does him no credit,” he said.
“We don’t judge all federal politicians by the few who rort their allowances for travel or books. Senator Abetz should apply the same standard to injured workers that he would like applied to himself – don’t tar all with the same brush.”
Mr Stone also claimed that the legislation could negatively impact the Budget bottom line by encouraging more people to seek compensation through Centrelink and Medicare.
In addition to the impacts for injured workers and the Budget, Mr Stone said Mr Abetz’s comments included a number of inaccuracies, including the assumption that Comcare only covers desk-bound federal public servants.
“That is just wrong – this legislation also covers federal public servants who work in construction, on maintaining buildings, or in frontline services, such as the AFP and Customs.”
Mr Stone also said that the minister’s claim that the Bill is based on recommendations from the Hawk and Hanks Review was misleading; less than half the recommendations have been incorporated into the Bill, all of which favour employers.
He went on to challenge Mr Abetz to release data on the how many injured workers would lose entitlements, and the value of those losses, under the new legislation.
The ALA will continue to lobby to have the Bill referred to a Senate committee for investigation.