The terms of reference of the Victorian Government’s review of the Victoria Workcover Authority and the Transport Accident Commission remain hidden in the inquiry by the Essential Services Commission but some hints about the review are appearing in the press and official records.

The Australian Financial Review of 21 May 2012 reported that the Victorian Minister for WorkCover, Gordon Rich-Phillips would not rule out the option of merging the two organisations.  A reading of the transcript of the budget estimates inquiry conducted by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) illustrate the reasonableness of Rich-Phillips statement – an inquiry has commenced and he should not pre-empt the inquiry findings.

Rich-Phillips said that the inquiry will be looking at

“how [the functions of both organisations] can be improved and how the two agencies can work together better.”

The concerns, principally raised by the Shadow Finance Minister, Robyn Scott, seem to be over potential changes to the TAC, including the use of private insurance companies to manage injuries from motor vehicle accidents, and not about the VWA or WorkSafe.  In fact VWA was seen as a major success story for the government in that the government was able to provide a premium reduction to thousands of Victorian businesses in the latest budget even though almost half a billion dollars was also being taken from the VWA coffers without a reduction in service.  It is remarkable that in the struggling economy of Victoria, government was able to reduce the VWA’s cash reserves and its revenue stream at the same time.  The Victorian Workcover Authority must be a profitable agency as perhaps indicated by the Minister’s PAEC presentation.

The PAEC also heard Gordon Rich-Phillips’ justification for Victoria not implementing the national Work Health and Safety laws. He relied almost entirely in the costings provided by PricewaterhouseCooper but continued to stress Victoria as leading Australia in its OHS regime. Victoria may have had “the best occupational health and safety framework in Australia” but the legislative world has changed and Victoria is at risk of being left behind, particularly if the Western Australia and South Australian governments pass the laws, albeit with regional variations. Victoria could be left shouting “we are the best” as the ship carrying the rest of Australia’s States disappears over the horizon.

The Government can continue to claim that the new Work Health and Safety laws were based on the Victorian statutes, there is no doubt about the harmonised laws’ origin, but by remaining with those statutes Victoria is falling behind by missing the momentum of change being shown in the other States.

Kevin Jones