Thousands of people who have suffered a psychological injury whether at work, as a result of a horrific car accident or following a criminal assault are increasingly cut out of state compensation schemes. But the rules seem different for the State’s Finance Minister when he needs time off for stress.
Over the past three years the NSW Coalition Government has had compensation schemes across the State in its sights.
So far there have been drastic cuts to workers compensation, slashed payments to victims of crime and injured police and there is a fresh plan to cut benefits for people injured on the roads.
These cuts have had many common features. They have all been designed to save money and they have all achieved this through cutting benefits. In every case benefits for physical injuries have been stripped back.
However, the bigger cuts have been to payments for psychological injuries, in many cases these benefits have been removed entirely.
The number of people affected by the removal of payments for psychological injuries is potentially very large. For example approximately 80 per cent of police hurt on duty have suffered a psychological injury alone. Another 10 per cent of injured police suffered a combination of physical and psychological injury.
These high injury rates are understandable because policing is a high risk, high stress job. Yet to cut costs, the O’Farrell government changed the law in 2011 so that most police who suffer stress-induced injuries will no longer receive death and disability payments.
Earlier this year the NSW government changed the victims compensation scheme to remove any compensation for the psychological impact of a crime. Under this harsh new scheme it is irrelevant if a victim of crime is suffering from terrible ongoing psychological consequences. Victims are now given tiny lump sum payments based on the crime that was committed regardless of its impact.
Given the reason advanced for cutting victim’s rights was financial it was remarkable that Greg Pearce, the NSW Finance Minister, did not even speak during the debate. Even more confronting is the fact that he was drinking alcohol while the bill was being debated, became in his words “exhausted”, and was sent home with a pair to cover him.
Following the outcry about this behaviour and reports of rorting of travel expenses, the Premier Barry O’Farrell sent Minister Pearce on one month of paid stress leave. He made this decision having spoken with Minister Pearce’s GP and specialist who had recommended that he “would benefit from a period outside of the workplace to improve his health”.
When announcing this, the Premier said that stress-related illness should be considered seriously within workplaces and appropriate support provided. I absolutely agree. It’s just that all his actions in government suggest he doesn’t mean what he says.
It must be asked why a Minister suffering from the effects of stress is provided with paid leave and other resources, while other workers or victims of crime get no such support.
I don’t suggest that Minister Pearce should not get the support he needs to cope with highly stressful and difficult work.
However, we can all see the fundamental unfairness of Minister Pearce taking advantage of a benefit that he has ensured that others do not have. Double standards that benefit only politicians have an ugly history in NSW and most of us have well and truly had a gutful.
David Shoebridge is a NSW Greens MP.