Big businesses lobbied hard for Commonwealth public servants to be stripped of some of their workers' compensation rights.
Sources close to the reform process in Canberra say the push by big corporate players to strip back the generosity of the Comcare scheme resulted in elements of the private sector's wish-list making it into legislation against the wishes and advice of some stakeholders.
Employment Minister Eric Abetz introduced the reform bill into the Parliament in March, heralding a crackdown on mental injury claims, taxpayer-funded alternative therapies, public servants spending years or even decades away from their jobs and compensation paid over the "reasonable actions" of workplace bosses.
Under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill2015 workers seeking a payout will have to prove their injury is work-related, in a change designed to prevent any repeat of the infamous "sex-in-a-motel" legal saga that cost taxpayers $600,000.
But The Canberra Times has been told that key aspects of the reform were demanded by big business who are now eligible to join the scheme under a related set of changes, but who feared its perceived generosity to workers would cost too much.
Comcare is a potentially attractive proposition for national employers who can make big savings by complying with just one national health and safety regime for all their sites across Australia, instead of a different authority for each state and territory.
Senator Abetz's office confirmed that talks were held with the private sector, but no more than with other stakeholders, and declined to give details of what was said in the discussions.
However, this newspaper understands that secondary psychological injuries (in which a worker suffers mentally as a result of being physically hurt on the job), rules governing permanent impairment, and caps on medical and legal payments were all key targets for the corporates.
Lawyers say the changes to permanent impairment rules would see the payout for a worker with a 10 per cent impairment slashed from $26,000 to less than $9000.
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Nationally, 33 businesses are insured under license from Comcare, including NAB, Commonwealth Bank, building giant John Holland and Transport outfit Linfox, but the government is keen to attract other big business customers in an effort to improve the financial viability.
The government's Commission of Audit of 2014 recommended partial privatisation of Comcare and some Canberra insiders believe a sell-off of at least part of the insurer is a long-term goal.
Reacting to the latest proposed reforms, Australian Lawyers Alliance national president Andrew Stone said he was in no doubt that the two sets of reforms were aimed at bringing more private business into the scheme at the expense of workers.
"What appears to be unfolding with regards to Comcare is a two-hit strategy on workers, with ... amendments following earlier proposals by the federal government to open up the Comcare scheme, which are currently before the Senate," Mr Stone said.
"If that bill passes, it will allow more employers to push their workers into the highly ineffective Comcare scheme.
"This will not only disadvantage workers and lead to a reduction in workplace health and safety standards, but will also significantly impact state-based workers' compensation schemes, and in doing so, put smaller businesses and rural businesses not covered by Comcare at risk of increased premiums."