Victoria’s WorkSafe to be reviewed

New Labor Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has announced a review into the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). No terms of reference for the inquiry are being released other than the brief mention in the media release of :

“…identify opportunities to optimise the effectiveness, efficiency and value of these organisations to the Victorian community.”

This inquiry has been mooted for some time but the lack of detail is curious, as could be the choice for the inquiry’s head.  There is no doubt that James MacKenzie has great knowledge about the workings of VWA and TAC as he was CEO of the TAC from 1994-97 and the Chairman of both TAC and WorkSafe Victoria from 2000-07.  Mackenzie was on the Board until around 2010 and was thanked profusely by VWA’s Elana Rubin in the 2011 Annual Report:

“On behalf of WorkSafe I would particularly like to acknowledge James MacKenzie’s work in the governance and management of personal injury schemes in Victoria. James served on the Board for over a decade, of which six years he was Chair.  During that time he led the transformation of WorkSafe.” (page 4)

Although MacKenzie seems to have had no direct role in the area for the last four years or so, his direct experience could also be considered an impediment, particularly if he “led the transformation of WorkSafe”.

MacKenzie was publicly critical of the former (Conservative) Liberal Government’s handling of VWA funds and also bemoaned that that government’s action would “place [WorkSafe] in the middle of party politics.” His heading up this inquiry so soon after a change of government could be an example of the party politics he mentioned.

At the moment, all that is known is that MacKenzie will be heading the review.  Who will be assisting him in this task and how he chooses to consult will be essential to the inquiry’s long-term success.

The non-release of detailed terms of reference is strange for a government that has indicated a greater emphasis on consultation and transparency. (Andrews has appointed Gavin Jennings as a “Special Minister of State to oversee government transparency, integrity, accountability and the public sector reform.”)  Mackenzie, in his Australian Financial Review opinion piece of February 2012 concerning an earlier review, asked of the previous government:

“If there is no hidden agenda or ideological outcome in the government’s mind, why not release the terms of reference?”

He could ask the same question of the current Andrews Government.

Cover of Updated-Efficiency-Review-of-the-TAC-and-the-VWA-19-June-2013The need for a review can also be questioned given that Victoria’s Essential Services Commission (ESC) undertook an efficiency review of both organisations as recently as 2012 (about which SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote at the time). The ESC found:

“In the main, we have not identified any systemic need for reform of the TAC and the VWA.” (page 11)

The ESC acknowledged that it was limited (some would say hamstrung) :

“…in conducting this review, our discussions were limited to meeting with the Chairman or Acting Chairman, the boards and the chief executive officers of the two organisations.” (page 11, footnote)

The value of this efficiency review may be seen by the lacklustre response from the government at the time.

It is expected that MacKenzie’s review will consult more broadly as SafetyAtWorkBlog understands the Andrews government has committed to consulting more genuinely with stakeholders on OHS and workers compensation matters, particularly the trade union movement (no surprise there).

MacKenzie is very capable of performing a thorough and even-handed review of both VWA and  Transport Accident Commission but it is difficult to gauge the success of this new inquiry without more details, particularly of those who MacKenzie will “recruit” to assist him.  Also this inquiry needs to have more clout than earlier ones, particularly the ESC review, so that any recommendations can strengthen both organisations beyond the political election cycle.

Kevin Jones

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