Kennett plans cuts to public transport, Workcover

November 25, 1992

By Sean Lennon

MELBOURNE — A ministerial briefing document produced by the Public Transport Corporation (PTC) for Victorian transport minister Alan Brown has outlined drastic cuts. Under the plan, which the Liberals are quite likely to adopt, public transport would be decimated.

Options being considered include some train services in Melbourne closing down at 8pm and being replaced by buses. Some tram services would be scrapped. Sunday train services could be reduced to one every hour instead of the 40 minute service currently available, or replaced by buses. Sunday trams would be replaced by buses.

Other options in the PTC report include reducing student concession fares to 75% of the normal fare instead of 50%, reducing the three- hour ticket to a two-hour ticket and introducing transfer fees for people using different modes of transport. It is also proposed that subsidies currently paid to private bus companies be ended.

Though the Liberals have not yet taken up any of the options listed, they have announced some changes of their own. These include privatising all MET buses and contracting out all work done by the PTC. The transport minister has publicly threatened to shut down the entire public transport network in Melbourne indefinitely if the unions try to resist these attacks. This threat was made in a meeting with unions on November 6. Brown has told public transport unions that he plans to cut PTC staff by two-thirds, according to Australian Railways Union president George Zangalis.

In another attack on workers' rights and living standards, the Kennett government has introduced a new Workcover bill under which a worker is not considered to have sustained a "serious injury" even if she/he loses a hand, an eye or a lung, undergoes an amputation below the knee, suffers coughing and shortness of breath due to asbestosis or a back or head injury preventing the lifting of more than five kilograms.

Most injured workers would be defined as partially incapacited and receive far less compensation than they are currently entitled to.

For the first 26 weeks after an injury, the "partially incapacitated" will get 95% of their former earnings, less "notional earnings" they are deemed to be able to earn, even if they do not have such a job. Compensation drops by 15% after 26 weeks, and payments end after two years for all but the totally and permanently incapacitated.

This explains some of the anger of the 5000 Workcover patients and their supporters who attended a rally against against the changes on November 9 and why Uniting Church minister John Bottomley described the bill as "sinful" and "evil".

The legislation also abolished most claims for degenerative diseases developing over a long period. In heart disease, stroke and stress claims, employment must be proven to be a "significant contributing factor" to the injury.

Medical expenses will not be covered after a year, unless the new Workcover Authority makes an exemption. Rights to legal representation in hearings under the act are restricted. Common law claims will be denied to all but those defined as seriously injured, and the damages that can be claimed under common law have been reduced.

Punitive damages and damages representing the value of domestic and nursing care provided by the families of injured workers have been abolished.

Originally the bill was to apply retrospectively to all common law claims not resolved by December 1, but this was withdrawn in the wake of the outrage at the rally. n

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