Federal MPs and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's wife Lucy could claim workers' compensation for the first time through a fund a lawyer says may have covered the injury Jamie Briggs sustained tackling Tony Abbott.
The Turnbull government is moving to establish a parliamentary injury compensation scheme for MPs who are injured or contract diseases due to their work as office holders. A bill – introduced into Parliament last week – says the scheme will cover things like medical treatment, inability to work, rehabilitation programs, death benefits and funeral expenses, and lost and damaged medical equipment.
Maurice Blackburn principal Rod Hodgson said that if passed, the scheme could cover injuries ministers sustained after hours at work-related functions. Such a scheme could "arguably" have covered the knee injury Mr Briggs sustained after tackling ousted prime minister Tony Abbott on the night of the leadership spill last year, he said.
Mr Hodgson cited a High Court case, which ruled a federal public servant was not entitled to compensation for an injury she incurred having sex while on a work trip because her employer had not "encouraged the activity that gave rise to the injury".
"Assuming it was at work ... one could argue that if Tony was in the room and [encouraged him] Jamie's knee might have been covered. We'd need to know more about what happened on that momentous evening."
However, injuries sustained from "serious misconduct" during work-related activities would not attract compensation, he said.
Mrs Turnbull would also be able to claim for injuries that arise out of "official activities as the spouse of the Prime Minister".
A prime minister's spouse has a number of official duties, including hosting events for spouses of other government leaders at multilateral events such as the G20, the explanatory memorandum said. "It is therefore considered appropriate that the spouse of the prime minister is covered while performing official duties in connection with the role of the prime minister."
Mr Hodgson said this was "very unusual": "Workers' compensation schemes cover workers or those who are legally deemed workers ... but would not cover the spouses of a worker," he said.
The scheme, said to be modelled on the current Comcare fund for federal public servants and ministerial staff, will also fund equipment aimed at minimising "risks to [their] health or safety." Comcare would run the scheme, which is expected to cost about $1.4 million over the next four years.
Such items were "part of a holistic approach to addressing their health and safety needs", the bill's explanatory memorandum said.
The Remuneration Tribunal recommended in 2011 that the government introduce this measure, describing MPs' lack of workers' compensation as "most unsatisfactory".
The extent of the benefits the scheme offered ministers was still unclear. But unlike federal public servants, they would be able to claim for ergonomic assessments, risk assessments and health screening. Equipment to comply with occupational health and safety obligations would also be covered.
Ministers, like public servants, would generally not be able to sue the Commonwealth for work-related injuries, leaving them to rely on payments under the scheme.