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CEO's year in review

Photo of Comcare’s Chief Executive Officer, Susan Weston PSM.

Susan Weston PSM

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

As the CEO and accountable authority of Comcare, I present Comcare’s Annual Report to the Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, and the Australian Parliament on the performance of Comcare for the year ended 30 June 2021.

As with many other public sector agencies, Comcare has had a key focus on supporting our jurisdiction through the pandemic in performing its roles as a work health and safety regulator, and a scheme manager, an insurer and a compensation claim manager.

We adopted Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) Statement of Regulatory Intent which set out principles Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulators would be using to guide their approach to ensuring compliance with WHS laws during the COVID-19 pandemic. We took a supportive and educative approach to compliance provided the duty holders in our jurisdiction made genuine attempts to comply with legislative requirements.

With the changes to health arrangements throughout the year, employers needed to regularly re-assess hazards and assess risks and put controls in place to support safe and healthy workplaces. It was pleasing to see, through compliance checks undertaken by Comcare through 2020–21, that employers in our jurisdiction largely had the necessary processes and procedures in place. The pandemic has raised awareness of the importance of risk assessment to workplace safety.

Acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of public sector and company employees in our jurisdiction, we have taken a forward leaning approach to supporting mental health through the accelerated release of a low intensity cognitive behaviour therapy coaching service. The service has been made available to 16 participating Australian Public Service (APS) agencies with up to 120,000 APS employees. We worked with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), and its APS Chief Operating Officer Committee along with our self-insured licensee client managers to develop and distribute mental health and other workplace health and safety materials and resources including webinars to our jurisdiction.

Within Comcare we took the time to develop a fully consulted flexible work policy, aiming to take advantage of the benefits we gained through remote working necessitated by the pandemic, while emphasising the individual responsibility that the policy required. This work served us well as a national organisation as it provided the framework for moving back and forth from home and office work as local state and territory arrangements changed. We also developed our ICT tools and used new learning techniques established through the pandemic to better reach target audiences, stakeholders and our own staff.

We have been able to progress a significant improvement agenda, along with our important business as usual activities throughout 2020–21. We have established an Enterprise Portfolio Management Office to oversee the portfolio of programs and projects underway and to ensure our effort remains focused on our purpose.

One of Comcare’s core functions is managing claims for Australian Government employees, people suffering an asbestos‑related disease, federal parliamentarians, and employees of organisations who have contracted Comcare to provide claim management services. We are focused on understanding the needs of our clients (employees, employers and service providers), the kinds of claims we receive, our performance and the impact it has on our clients and the broader community.

As part of our improvement agenda, we have been progressing a Claims Management Improvement Program through 2020–21 that is designed to achieve a capable, high performing team, reinforce strong, documented governance over our claims management function, claims information and data, and embed continuous improvement in Comcare’s claims management approach. The program will result in the implementation of claims management practices and systems that are customer-led and improve experience and outcomes. This work will continue into 2021–22 and beyond.

Another area of improvement has been in our approach to managing disputes, including those before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). This program which is part of Comcare’s Litigation Strategy has contributed to a reduction in Comcare’s overall AAT case load from a peak of 1,119 matters at 1 July 2018 to 531 open matters at 30 June 2021.

Also, the proportion of matters which are resolved by consent prior to hearing has increased from 68% in 2019 to the current rate of 84%. The proportion of matters affirmed at hearing has also improved from 63% at 1 July 2019 to the current rate of 72%. These improvements reflect our vision to resolve disputes promptly and with integrity.

In November 2020, we established a specialist Major Infrastructure Projects (MIP) inspectorate team that provides enhanced oversight and prevention-led interaction with large infrastructure and other complex construction projects occurring within the Commonwealth jurisdiction. There are several major projects currently under way including the underground rail infrastructure in Sydney and Melbourne, Sydney Football Stadium, Western Sydney Airport, Inland Rail Project and Snowy Hydro 2.0. The MIP team has set up a program of monitoring compliance activities, including both proactive activities based on intelligence and data, and reactive inspections in response to notified incidents and concerns. In 2020–21, the team has undertaken nearly 200 inspections and 29 information and advice activities across the major infrastructure projects.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been able to maintain our strong approach to serious incidents and fatalities, and we have instigated several prosecutions through the year. We have undertaken remote inspections as a tool to observe whether WHS controls were in place and we have undertaken WHS audits while public health orders restricted normal operations.

Our improvement work has also included the expansion of our education offerings to employers and workplaces across our scheme, encouraging higher levels of compliance and applying better practice to their WHS and rehabilitation obligations. We have invested in learning capabilities and technologies, including a cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS), a rapid content development tool and a virtual delivery and collaboration platform.

New guidance prepared by Comcare recognising the positive duty employers have to prevent or minimise workplace sexual harassment has been developed utilising these new offerings and tools. This guidance was developed in collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Commission and recognises the guidance provided by Safe Work Australia.

We have provided a new portal for the Workplace Rehabilitation Providers we regulate in our scheme and improved performance monitoring of them which includes a focus on positive return to work experiences for employees.

Through the year we have also supported the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) and the Seacare Authority with their regulatory roles. This year three national employers – Ramsay Health Care Australia, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) and Bevchain (from 1 July 2021) – became self-insured workers’ compensation licensees under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act). This has led to an increase in the percentage of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees covered by the SRC Act who are under self-insurance licenses (now 55%) relative to those under the Comcare premium paying insurance arrangements.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on improving our core functions along the prevention – early intervention – injury management – compensation and rehabilitation continuum.

We will be working on a new prevention strategy which aims to bring together actions from across our organisation.

A key element to support this and other strategies will be data, and we are progressing our Data Strategy aimed at maturing our data governance, capability and associated technology. Towards the end of last year we established a Chief Data Office responsible for ensuring that we take a more mature and sophisticated approach to the management and use of data. While this is a long-term journey, the immediate priority of the Chief Data Office will be ensuring that our Data Strategy is delivered effectively and works hand in glove with managing privacy.

We are also continuing to progress our ICT Strategy which aims to deliver modern ICT capability that enables continuous improvement across the organisation while retaining the flexibility to adapt to new priorities and support changing business requirements. This includes implementing a platform that can be used by our clients (employees, employers, and providers) to undertake self-service activities and interact with us securely, efficiently and conveniently.

We have been placing additional emphasis on risk-based approaches to regulation including our approach to cost recovery. We are working across our Groups to finalise the development of a Comcare Cost Recovery Framework to ensure our scheme’s sustainability and financial adequacy. We are also continuing our work to ensure that the way our premiums, charges and regulatory contributions are calculated is transparent, risk-based and proportionate, with more consultation in 2021–22.

We will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to deliver on our purpose of promoting and enabling safe and healthy work – to achieve the outcomes set out in our Corporate Plan 2021–22.

Comcare acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and acknowledges their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the people, the cultures and the elders past, present and emerging.