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Speech: Return to Work (COVID-19 Injury) Amendment Bill 2020

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:14): Given I have a similar bill on the Notice Paper and have also called for workers compensation presumptive arrangements under our Return to Work scheme, it is no surprise that the Greens will be supporting this bill today. Indeed, I must again pay tribute to my colleague David Shoebridge in the New South Wales parliament, who took a standalone bill to the New South Wales parliament very similar to that which I will introduce.

Indeed, the Hon. Rob Lucas was railing against the impact that my bill would have, how the sky would fall in in this state should we actually afford workers not just some kind words and sweet niceties and platitudes but some proper cover should they contract coronavirus during this pandemic, or indeed if we put them in harm's way and then did not support them to be able to continue to live, and in fact forced them into presenteeism, further endangering not just themselves but those around them.

At the same time that the Hon. Rob Lucas was citing business advocate after business advocate about how this would be the most terrible thing to do to South Australia's economy and industry, the New South Wales parliament was passing the Greens' amendment to government legislation to enact those very measures that the Hon. Rob Lucas claimed would make the sky fall in in this state. While it possibly has rained in the past few weeks in New South Wales, I note that the sky remains intact.

The Liberal government of New South Wales supported those Greens' provisions to ensure COVID care under their workers compensation scheme for prescribed workers and certainly in people-facing industries. It was not only the Liberal government that supported it. Indeed, I think the Minister for Small Business in that state wholeheartedly thanked the Hon. David Shoebridge for putting that item on the agenda. The Labor opposition, of course, unsurprisingly, supported it, but actually every single member of the upper house supported these provisions that we discuss here today.

I note that the Marshall Liberal government therefore stands in stark contrast to the Berejiklian government on care for workers under the COVID pandemic—workers in these people-facing industries who have suddenly been put in precarious and dangerous positions through the very nature of the virus and the nature of their work.

The Greens stand by workers and we also stand by public health provisions that ensure we are not supporting and pushing people into presenteeism. Sick people during this pandemic should not be turning up to work. We should be ensuring the protections they need not to do so. If somebody contracts coronavirus and dies, we should be giving them supports. We know that in the UK a bus driver has died from this disease and has been left completely unsupported, and yet we are putting people in harm's way with a virus we do not yet fully understand but we know is contracted through the contact that we are forcing particularly on people in what are now known as essential industries to undertake each and every day.

Essential industries are traditionally seen as those such as health and emergency services and policing, but essential industries, we have quickly learned in the last two months, are the provision of food and services. The provision of those goods and services and activities allow us to stay home if we are not in those industries, allow us to stay safe, but do not allow them necessarily to have that same safety and security.

I think, given that these provisions are available to all workers, it is simply that we are making it less onerous upon them to take advantage of the workers compensation scheme by changing that presumptive relationship and recognising that, rather than these particular workers staying home, staying safe, that they are having to go to work and be in harm's way to keep our society going, that we should at the very least change the rules around that presumption, given that we are putting them in these positions, we are putting them in danger. We owe them the absolute respect of ensuring that, where they do get sick, we protect them, where they are in danger and have symptoms of being sick, that we protect them and we protect ourselves by doing so.

Certainly to not afford what I have called COVID care is cutting off our noses to spite our faces. We want people to stay safe under the pandemic, but if we are not going to provide the protections people need we are going to see presenteeism, we are going to see people put in danger and make that choice to perhaps not turn up to work or to turn up to work and possibly make others sick unless we provide this presumptive treatment under this pandemic.

The Greens have noted that the Labor opposition prefer their bill to the Greens' bill. I note the amendments that have been filed not just by the opposition, which largely are clerical and administrative in nature, but the Hon. Connie Bonaros has filed amendments in terms of the prescribed workplace definitions and also the inclusion of disability, and the Greens will be supporting those, as well as that of the facility not being a private residence at which residential accommodation, respite care and other supports and services are provided to people with a disability.

The Greens have also today lodged amendments that reflect some of our bill, the bill that the Labor opposition did not prefer. I note that one of the issues I raised in the previous debate was a commencement date, and the Greens have reissued our commencement date that sees this presumptive COVID care retrospectively, back to 15 March.

We also have noted that the Labor approach has been to define workplaces rather than an extensive series of workers. I note that this approach with healthcare workers has not prescribed those particular workers as a class but has instead prescribed their place of work, that being defined as a hospital, day surgery premises or a pharmacy, which I believe excludes many healthcare workers. I ask the Labor opposition to explain whether or not GPs are covered under their bill, because most GPs do not work in hospitals, in pharmacies or where day surgery is performed, and whether a range of nurses are covered under its bill, particularly those who work in community clinics.

In particular, of greatest concern right now, is whether or not the COVID clinics themselves, if not in hospital premises, are covered by the Labor Party legislation. I note that, with a short time frame, I have contacted a range of the health services unions, specifically HSU but also the ANMF, the AMA and the salaried medical officers unions. Certainly the ANMF has welcomed the Greens' amendment to the Labor opposition bill.

I note that it would be out of order for me to comment necessarily on committee evidence, but I am sure it was reported in the media somewhere that SASMOA wrote very early on in the pandemic to the Treasurer via the Premier, that they were seeking to be covered by a presumptive treatment under the Return to Work Act for their workers, their front-line medical doctors and salaried medical staff to be covered under the pandemic by this treatment.

Their correspondence, I understand, continues to remain unanswered and unresponded to by the government and I note was strangely absent from the Treasurer's contribution to my bill. I am hoping that he will remedy that today with his response to SASMOA's request for just the sort of COVID care that we are talking about supporting today.

With that, I do look forward to the committee stage of the debate. I remind the Marshall ministers that they are out of step with their New South Wales counterparts. I also remind them that this does not actually create a new entitlement. It does, however, reduce the blue tape that has been put in their way to access this COVID care under our workers compensation scheme, and whether it is green tape, red tape or, in this case, blue tape, I thought simplification and protection of workers was what we were all here for under this pandemic. With those remarks, I commend the bill to the council.

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