Comcare claim takes 26 years

Comcare says a woman who has had a compensation claim stretching back 26 years will not receive a payout for permanent impairment on the back of advice from an independent review. 

Budget Senate Estimates heard this week Comcare has 15 long-term cases, although the case of a federal public servant who lodged an injury claim 26 years ago has ended. 

Grandmother Kathy Excell said a customer threatened to shoot her and other counter staff with a sawn-off shotgun and she feared for her safety after she blew the whistle on corruption in her office when she worked for the Department of Social Security in Tasmania.

She said compensation for permanent impairment only became available at the end of 1988, several months after she received her mental injury, which was later diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I think the other long-term claimants could have been waiting for more years than me," the 59-year-old said.


The agency had collated several thousand pages of documents regarding Ms Excell's case.

In the Estimates hearing, Senator Catryna Bilyk said she was not happy with the way Ms Excell's case was dealt with, or with the result. 

"There is plenty of evidence - in fact, I have a file probably eight inches high - about things that have gone wrong," she said. 

"What you say is that you cannot support the call for an act of grace payment because there is nothing identifying unreasonable lapses or failure of administration. Well, that is completely incorrect with regard to this specific case." 

In response, Comcare chief executive Paul O'Connor said: "In all fairness, it is not that our officers or senior managers or the independent experts were sitting idly in this matter.

"They have been engaging with your constituent, with her rehabilitation case manager and with the employer.

"In some cases, it was up to a daily or near daily interaction. The difference between now and 2011 is that we have gone back to a complete review of every element of that file and that entitlement."

Last year Senate Estimates was told a draft report had been written and the agency was "actioning a range of the very strong recommendations" in regard to long-term claims.

"To make sure that these claims and the plight of the individuals who are the subject of the claim are not lost – that people's stories do not get lost," Mr O'Connor said at the time.

Not all 15 of the people with cases Comcare classes as long-standing had been contacted and asked their thoughts for the review.

The review was not intended to deal directly with existing drawn-out claims but to avoid the problem of delayed claims in the future, the hearing was told.

But Mr O'Connor took the advice of Senator Bilyk and said he would make the offer available to the others. 

"What we are doing is taking a further step and offering to those people whose claims we have reviewed, the opportunity to meet with [Comcare]," Mr O'Connor said.

"Then we can take a further learning gain, because there might be some insight given, from the personal lived experience of the particular federal worker."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to an Estimates hearing from last year and said Comcare was reviewing the case of Kathy Excell when in fact it had been independently completed and found she had received all her entitlements.  It also said reviews into the reasons behind longstanding compensation claims was ongoing, when it was completed.