Victorian Treasurer John Brumby’s defence of the fact that Queensland has the lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country is that “you wouldn’t want to get injured in Queensland”.

This is a hangover from the Bjelke-Petersen years when injured workers were hardly a high priority. When the Goss government came to office in 1989, unions expected that improving protection for injured workers was part of the agenda but nothing noteworthy changed.

As we all know, Kevin Rudd was Wayne Goss’s chief of staff for four years and then director-general of his cabinet office from 1992 until 1996. This gave him eight years as the most powerful contributor to Labor policy in Queensland.

In 1990, Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein, set up a business with Frances Edwards – a former nun and physiotherapist – helping injured workers back into jobs. Queensland was running a compulsory no-fault system of workers’ compensation at the time. The government was the monopoly underwriter so Rein’s business was presumably highly dependent on taxpayers for its revenue.

I was the spindoctor for Kennett’s WorkCover minister Roger Hallam who lamented that the physios, doctors, lawyers and various other service providers wanted his guts for garters after the changes he introduced in 1992.

This academic thesis on Queensland workers compensation poses the following question:

Why has the Queensland model of workers’ compensation been so enduring? The legislation largely remained intact from 1916 until 2001.

It may well be that the Goss government took a conservative approach, kept premiums low and avoided an unnecessary picnic for service providers such as Therese Rein.

However, it is a reasonable question to ask whether Kevin’s knowledge of and influence over the monopoly workers compensation system in Queensland assisted his wife’s government-dependent business in any way.

It’s well known that John Howard’s decision to outsource the CES was the biggest bonanza for Rein, but the appointment of Wayne Goss and Bob Hawke’s former top bureaucrat Mike Codd to the Ingeus board would suggest it is still highly dependent on government.

The AFR Magazine has Rudd on the cover today and reveals that he has been pondering long and hard about what should happen to his wife’s business. A sale of the Australian operation whilst retaining the overseas divisions is suggested. Go for it, Kevin – before it’s too late.

Peter Fray

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