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Chapter One: Overview

Performance highlights

Infographic of Performance highlights included under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act; with a total of 396,440 full time equivalent employees, 54 per cent were in licensee organisations and 46 per cent were from Australian Government. Under the Work Health and Safety Act, with a total of 416,556 full time equivalent employees, 60 per cent were in public sector organisations and 40 per cent were in licensee organisations. Commonwealth average premiums over the 5 years were down by 54 per cent equating to approximately $190 million savings for agencies. Commonwealth average premium rates in 2018–19 was 1.06 per cent and 0.85 per cent in 2019–20. Scheme liability figures were $1,665 million in 2018–19. Percentage surveyed workplaces with improved WHS outcomes following regulatory services in 2018–19 was 86 per cent. Refer to link provided for the 2018 Comcare’s Work Health and Safety Awards which recognise and reward excellence in workplace health and safety, recovery at and return to work achieved by individuals and organisations covered under the Comcare scheme www.comcare.gov.au/conference/awards

About Comcare

Comcare is the national work health and safety regulator and workers’ compensation authority.

We work with employees and employers to minimise the impact of harm in the workplace, improve recovery at and return to work, and promote the health benefits of work through good work design.

Figure 1 below details the purposes and priorities which we are focussed on to achieve our outcome of supporting participation and productivity through healthy and safe workplaces that minimise the impact of harm.

How we work

Comcare’s cultural priorities are embedded in our business and focus our efforts to achieve our outcome. Our four cultural priorities support the Australian Public Service (APS) values. Our focus has been to embed these priorities in our business through the leadership behaviours of every individual.

Our governing legislation

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) establishes Comcare and sets out its functions and powers. The SRC Act also establishes the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) which has powers in relation to the self-insured licensees operating under the SRC Act. Comcare has functions and responsibilities under both the SRC Act and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), which include regulatory functions and powers for compliance and enforcement. Comcare manages the Commonwealth asbestos claims under the Asbestos-related Claims (Management of Commonwealth Liabilities) Act 2005 (ARC Act). Comcare also administers compensation claims for members of parliament and the Prime Minister’s spouse under the Parliamentary Injury Compensation Scheme (PICS) which was established under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990.

Roles and responsibilities

The SRC Act establishes a national workers’ compensation scheme (the Comcare scheme) that applies to certain employees and employers in both the public and private sectors around the country.

Comcare is the national work health and safety regulator under the WHS Act. Comcare has regulatory functions and powers in relation to workplace rehabilitation under the SRC Act.

The Comcare scheme supports participation and productivity through healthy and safe workplaces by:

  • designing and delivering initiatives informed by research to prevent harm, promote work health and safety and improve rehabilitation outcomes
  • working in partnership with employers and their employees to prevent workplace injuries
  • appropriately using regulatory sanctions for any demonstrable failure of the employer’s duty of care
  • empowering employers to support their employees with a workplace injury to safely recover at and return to work
  • providing those employees with a workplace injury with a statutory package of economic and non-economic benefits.

Insurer role

Comcare is the claims and liability manager for premium paying employers (Commonwealth departments and agencies, and until recently the ACT Government) in the workers’ compensation scheme.

This role includes the setting and collecting of premiums for the premium paying scheme, including premiums specific to each agency. Comcare’s role as an insurer and fund manager has the power under the SRC Act to apply premiums to meet Comcare’s liability and claims administration costs in order to maintain a financially viable scheme.

Regulator role

Comcare is the national work health and safety regulator. This role also has some functions and powers in relation to workplace rehabilitation. Our compliance and enforcement activities are based on finding the right balance between:

  • fulfilling our responsibilities as a regulatory agency, being firm but fair
  • making full use of intelligence and data so that our activities are based on analysis of risk
  • enabling regulated entities to take responsibility for their own compliance, aiming to increase their levels of capability and commitment
  • being aware of the financial and other burdens that regulatory activities impose on regulated entities’ operations.

Specific compliance and enforcement activities range across a spectrum from proactively providing information and advice, making authorisation and approval decisions and monitoring the extent of compliance in the jurisdiction, to investigating contraventions. We weigh up many factors depending on the circumstances of each particular case to arrive at the most appropriate response for each situation.

Scheme manager role

Comcare manages the Comcare scheme which covers premium paying employers and self-insured licensees. As the scheme manager we develop, monitor and maintain legislation, policy and guidance that:

  • sets clear expectations of roles and obligations
  • promotes better practice for national schemes
  • creates effective early intervention and return to work practices and outcomes.

As scheme manager we provide quality assurance of ‘whole-of-scheme’ data, identifying trends to ensure we achieve sustainable and better practice national schemes. We also provide oversight advice to the Minister on the operation and effectiveness of the SRC Act.

We manage and monitor self‑insured licensees and outsourced claims management providers (used by the licensees). This includes the setting of annual cost-recovered licence fees and regulatory contributions under the SRC Act and the WHS Act.

We provide support through expert advice and services to the SRCC and the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority (Seacare Authority).

The Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority

The Seacare Authority is responsible for overseeing the Seacare scheme. The Seacare scheme is a national scheme of occupational health and safety (OH&S)1, and rehabilitation and workers’ compensation arrangements which applies to defined seafaring employees.

The Seacare Authority is not a body corporate and does not employ its own staff. Under section 72A of the SRC Act, Comcare must provide the Seacare Authority with secretariat support and other assistance for the proper performance of its functions or exercise of its powers.

On behalf of the Seacare Authority, Comcare:

  • provides secretariat, policy and strategic support to the Seacare Authority, and assistance in implementing its decisions
  • administers Seacare scheme legislation and monitors the operation of such legislation
  • manages the annual appropriation for supporting the Seacare function
  • monitors and reports on Seacare scheme performance
  • prepares an annual report to the Parliament
  • reports to the Minister
  • liaises and communicates with Seacare scheme stakeholders
  • promotes the objectives of the Seacare scheme, particularly the reduction of the human and financial costs of workplace injury in the Australian maritime industry.

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) administers functions under the SRC Act and WHS Act, other than those functions attributed to Comcare.

For more information on its role and functions refer to Part Two of this report—The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission Annual Report 2018–19. The SRCC annual report is supplied in accordance with section 89S of the SRC Act.

Who we cover

The Comcare scheme is diverse covering a broad range of occupations and industries including government services, defence, law enforcement, transport, logistics, financial, banking services, manufacturing, construction, telecommunications and postal services.

During the year our programmes and services were used by:

  • Australian Government agencies, authorities and their employees
  • national companies licensed by the SRCC and their employees
  • members of the Australian Defence Force including reservists and cadets2
  • the ACT Government and their employees
  • individuals making claims against the Commonwealth for asbestos-related conditions.

At 30 June 2019, Comcare’s scheme comprised of 396,440 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees covered under the SRC Act, and 416,556 FTE under the WHS Act. Figures 4 and 5 represent the five-year trend of Comcare’s scheme responsibility and correlate with Figure 3.

Figure 4 note: Australian National University (1 July 2018) and ACT Government (1 March 2019) became self-insured licensees in 2018–19. The FTE for these two employers is counted against the self-insured licensee sector for 2018–19.

Figure 5 note: ACT Government is not covered under the WHS Act (as per Figure 3).

Our scheme's performance

Workers’ compensation

The overall scheme premium rate is decreasing, with a significant contributing factor being the reductions in the incidence of claims received and accepted and serious claims.

Table 1 shows between 2014–15 and 2018–19 these reductions are approximately:

  • 24 per cent for claims received
  • 30 per cent for claims accepted
  • 15 per cent for serious claims.

Table 1: Comcare scheme workers’ compensation data

Financial Year

Under the SRC Act

Incidence of claims received

Incidence of accepted claims*

Incidence of serious claims*[1]

Total number of compensable deaths

2014–15

Premium paying employers

13.6

10.5

6.3

18

Self-insured licensees

24.8

19.6

8.1

6

Scheme total

19.3

15.2

7.2

24

2015–16

Premium paying employers

12.7

8.7

5.3

10

Self-insured licensees

20.6

15.8

7.1

5

Scheme total

16.8

12.4

6.2

15

2016–17

Premium paying employers

11.3

7.2

4.2

18

Self-insured licensees

20.1

15.6

7.2

8

Scheme total

16.0

11.7

5.8

26

2017–18

Premium paying employers

11.1

6.5

3.7

9

Self-insured licensees

19.0

15.0

7.2

9

Scheme total

15.3

11.0

5.6

18

2018–19

Premium paying employers

9.5

5.7

3.6

13

Self-insured licensees

19.2

14.9

8.2

1

Scheme total

14.7

10.7

6.1

14

[1] Serious claims are those claims that reach one week or more of time lost during the reporting period

*All incidence rates are per 1000 FTE employees

Data extracted on 11 July 2019

Note: Australian National University (1 July 2018) and ACT Government (1 March 2019) became self-insured licensees in 2018–19. Claims data for these employers are recorded against the self-insured licensees sector for all financial years in the above table.

Return to work

Despite the decline in claims, improving return to work outcomes remains a key challenge, noting time off work equates to 53 per cent of the total cost of claims (excluding claims management costs). Comcare is working to enhance our partnerships with employers, and we are expanding and evaluating pilots and other proactive initiatives that aim to ensure there are strong processes in place to support workers’ timely, safe and durable to work across the scheme. This includes the development of revised Guidelines for Rehabilitation Authorities this year.

Table 2: Rehabilitation and return to work—median lost time in weeks

Financial Year

Under the SRC Act

Median lost time

Injury claim Median lost time

Disease claim Median lost time

2014–15

Premium paying employers

7.7

6.0

9.3

Self-insured licensees

4.5

4.1

5.5

Scheme total

5.5

4.6

7.1

2015–16

Premium paying employers

7.4

5.1

9.1

Self-insured licensees

4.8

4.5

5.3

Scheme total

5.4

4.7

7.2

2016–17

Premium paying employers

7.0

5.2

9.3

Self-insured licensees

5.2

4.7

6.2

Scheme total

5.6

4.9

7.0

2017–18

Premium paying employers

7.0

5.1

9.9

Self-insured licensees

5.0

4.8

5.3

Scheme total

5.4

4.8

6.5

2018–19

Premium paying employers

8.5

6.9

11.8

Self-insured licensees

4.8

4.5

5.3

Scheme total

5.5

4.9

6.5

Data extracted on 11 July 2019

Note: Australian National University (1 July 2018) and ACT Government (1 March 2019) became self-insured licensees in 2018–19. Claims data for these employers are recorded against the self-insured licensees sector for all financial years in the above table.

Disputed claims

An employee or employer, who is dissatisfied with a decision made under the SRC Act, may ask for that decision to be reviewed through a reconsideration request. The decision is reviewed by an officer not involved in the disputed decision.

If an employee or employer is dissatisfied with the reconsideration outcome, they may apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) requesting an independent review.

Comcare works to resolve these reviews as quickly as possible and monitors their outcomes to inform continuous improvement and effective claims management.

Table 3: Claim disputation rates

Financial Year

Under the SRC Act

Number of reconsideration requests received

Reconsideration affirmation rate1

Number of applications to the AAT

AAT affirmation rate2

2014–15

Premium paying employers

1300

77%

507

59%

Self-insured licensees

1447

79%

703

74%

Scheme total

2747

78%

1210

68%

2015–16

Premium paying employers

1562

83%

624

50%

Self-insured licensees

1609

81%

795

77%

Scheme total

3171

82%

1419

67%

2016–17

Premium paying employers

1824

81%

803

57%

Self-insured licensees

1344

83%

755

72%

Scheme total

3168

82%

1558

66%

2017–18

Premium paying employers

1565

88%

840

69%

Self-insured licensees

1167

83%

543

74%

Scheme total

2732

86%

1383

72%

2018–19

Premium paying employers

1267

84%

656

64%

Self-insured licensees

1107

85%

464

66%

Scheme total

2374

84%

1120

65%

1 Reconsideration affirmation rate is the percentage of reviewable decisions that affirmed the original determination with a decision in the reporting period. Excludes initiated by own motion and withdrawn.

2 AAT affirmation rate is the percentage of AAT decisions that affirmed the reviewable decision. Note that applications withdrawn by the applicant or that have been dismissed are considered to have been affirmed. Excludes initiated by own motion.

Data extracted on 11 July 2019.

Note: Australian National University (1 July 2018) and ACT Government (1 March 2019) became self-insured licensees in 2018–19. Claims data for these employers are recorded against the self-insured licensees sector for all financial years in the above table.

Workplace incidents

The WHS Act defines certain events as notifiable. This requires persons conducting a business or undertaking to notify Comcare of incidents that result in the death, serious injury or illness of a person, or that are dangerous in nature.

Table 4: Notifiable work health and safety incidents—as the national regulator

WHS Jurisdiction

Serious injury or illness

Dangerous incidents

Notifiable worker fatalities

2014–15

Australian Government

247

473

2

Self-insured licensees

127

296

3

Australian Defence Force

149

241

4

WHS jurisdiction total

523

1010

9

2015–16

Australian Government

195

391

5

Self-insured licensees

148

270

6

Australian Defence Force

180

191

3

WHS jurisdiction total

523

852

14

2016­–17

Australian Government

195

395

5

Self-insured licensees

164

234

5

Australian Defence Force

180

152

5

WHS jurisdiction total

539

781

15

2017–18

Australian Government

170

458

7

Self-insured licensees

168

229

7

Australian Defence Force

154

174

0

WHS jurisdiction total

492

861

14

2018–19

Australian Government

223

393

4

Self-insured licensees

183

268

5

Australian Defence Force

140

129

2

WHS jurisdiction total

546

790

11

Notification data extracted on 5 August 2019.

Comcare's Executive team

Names left to right clockwise: Susan (Sue) Weston, Lynette MacLean, Natalie Bekis, Aaron Hughes, Matthew Swainson, Kim Ward, Justin Napier

Susan Weston PSM—Chief Executive Officer
Susan (Sue) Weston PSM was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Comcare in April 2019.

Before joining Comcare Sue was a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science working across many areas and providing policy advice and support to portfolio Ministers. Most recently this included working with the portfolio’s science groups and the Corporate Division. Sue has held the role of Head of the Office of Small Business and has had an extensive career in the Australian Taxation Office covering a broad range of areas including tax objections and appeals and business education and training in implementing the Goods and Services Tax and Pay As You Go reforms.

Sue holds a Bachelor of Science degree, a post graduate diploma in accounting, is a Graduate of the Institute of Company Directors, a Fellow of CPA Australia and a Chartered Accountant.

Lynette MacLean—General Manager Corporate Management Group (Deputy CEO)

Lynette MacLean joined Comcare on 16 November 2015 and retired on 28 June 2019. She has over 30 years’ experience in the Commonwealth Public Sector as the head of Human Resources and corporate areas and has worked in a variety of service delivery, policy and oversight agencies. Lynette has been a senior executive since 2007. She is passionate about understanding the business to build more effective workplaces and implementing good change management practices.

Lynette holds a Graduate Certificate in Public Sector Leadership from Macquarie University.

Aaron Hughes—General Manager Scheme Management Group
Aaron Hughes joined Comcare on 24 February 2014. He has held a variety of Director and Assistant Secretary roles in a number of Australian Government agencies including the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture. Aaron is a qualified lawyer with experience across corporate governance, finance, procurement, policy and program management roles.

Aaron holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Canberra and a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong.

Justin Napier—General Manager Regulatory Operations Group

Justin Napier joined Comcare on 1 June 2015. He has oversight of Comcare’s inspectorate function, regulatory policy, WHS and rehabilitation audits, WHS authorisations, regulatory intelligence and regulatory education and stakeholder engagement.

Prior to joining Comcare, Justin was General Manager Corporate and Operations at the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and an Executive member of the Establishment Taskforce responsible for implementation of the Fair Work Act, including the establishment of Fair Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Justin holds a Graduate Diploma in Business and Administration from the Latrobe Graduate School of Management and a Bachelor of Arts from Deakin University.

Natalie Bekis—General Manager Strategic Partnerships and Engagement Group

Natalie Bekis joined Comcare on 29 May 2017. With over a decade of experience working across various state and national personal injury compensation systems, including with one of Australia’s largest self-insured employers and more recently within the e-Health sector, she has lead the design and implementation of a range of strategic projects and policy changes to improve the health and recovery outcomes for injured employees nationally.

Natalie’s experience across clinical, operational and executive roles has enabled her to build deep insights and a broad network of relationships and partnerships across government, industry and medical associations within the health and disability sectors. This experience is further underpinned by a Bachelor of Nursing and a Master of Business Management and she is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Kim Ward—General Manager Claims Management Group

Kim Ward joined Comcare on 12 November 2018. She has extensive experience in the management of complex and chronic injuries across compensable injury schemes. Her work has ranged across claims, workplace wellbeing and clinical injury management.

Prior to moving into the insurance sector, Kim worked extensively as a sports physiotherapist for many years. She has taught at several universities at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Kim worked at MLC Life and was an Associate Director with KPMG’s Insurance Claims and Workplace Health Team prior to joining Comcare.

Kim holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) and a Masters of Health Science (Sports Physiotherapy).

Matthew Swainson—General Manager Legal Group

Matthew Swainson joined Comcare on 15 June 2015 as the Chief Legal Officer, Scheme Management and Regulation Legal. In October 2018, Matthew was appointed General Manager of Comcare’s newly established Legal Group and has successfully centralised Comcare’s diverse legal services to create a cohesive Legal Group that is committed to providing consistent legal services and assurances that legal risk in Comcare’s operations is effectively managed.

Matthew holds a Bachelor of Law (Honours), a Bachelor of Arts and is admitted to practice law in Australia, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. He has a broad range of legal experience in the public sector, private sector and international aid consulting.

Additional Chief Executive Officer and General Managers during 2018–19

The table below provides details of acting appointments to Executive positions during 2018–19.

Table 5: Additional Chief Executive Officer and General Managers during 2018–19

Role

Name

Dates

Chief Executive Officer

Lynette MacLean

25 January 2019—5 April 2019

General Manager, Claims Management Group

James McKenzie

2 May 2018—9 November 2019

General Manager, Corporate Management Group

Lyndall Moore

1 August 2018—31 August 2018

1 November 2018—7 November 2018

25 January 2019—5 April 2019

General Manager, Regulatory Operations Group

Anthony Blucher

24 September 2018—5 October 2018

14 January 2019—1 February 2019

General Manager, Scheme Management Group

Michael Duke

17 December 2018—13 January 2019

27 June 2019—7 July 2019

General Manager, Insurance Group

Michele Hamilton

2 January 2019—1 March 2019

General Manager, Legal Group

Louise Close

21 January 2019—29 January 2019

Departed Comcare

The table below provides details of Executive members who departed during 2018–19.

Table 6: Departed Comcare Executive team members during 2018–19

Role

Name

Dates

Chief Executive Officer

Jennifer Taylor

24 August 2014—24 January 2019

General Manager, Insurance Group

Tony Middlebrook

4 May 2015—31 May 2019

Deputy Chief Executive Office and General Manager, Corporate Management Group

Lynette MacLean

4 May 2015—28 June 2019

Organisational structure

Comcare's locations

Map of Comcare's office locations—National office is in Canberra and the regional offices are located in Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

Footnotes

  1. In accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993.
  2. Covered under the WHS Act but not the SRC Act