Don't laugh Australia, you're paying for it
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Don't laugh Australia, you're paying for it

Do we really need any more reasons to mock public servants? (and if you're reading this Australian Tax Office auditors, I mean that in the nicest possible way).

Recent revelations a Centrelink worker developed "telephone phobia" after listening to his client's despairing tales joins the case last month of an ATO bureaucrat who went on stress leave after being castigated for absences because she had to find an organic coffee with soy milk.

<i>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</i>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

You wonder who is the mug here? The workers (Most of whom have had their cases thrown out by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal) or the taxpayer paying for other, less notorious, instances of questionable compo?

Don't believe me? Let's not forget the gent flown to an Alice Springs meditation retreat to soothe stress sustained at the ATO. What about the CSIRO worker who claimed a tooth injury sucking a lolly? Or the dude who filed an action following a squabble over a coffee where he was punched in the arm by a colleague?

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Public Service Minister Eric Abetz says reforms to Commonwealth workers' compensation schemes are in the pipeline, with "payouts for psychological injuries, compensation for life, and taxpayer-funded access to dubious therapies" in the Abbott government's crosshairs according to The Canberra Times' long-time observer of these shenanigans, Noel Towell.

The "standard of the reasonable person", somewhat akin to the "pub test", tells you cases like this should never make it to any sort of courtroom or tribunal, yet when you consider the $1.2 billion Comcare insurance scheme lost half-a-billion dollars in the 2011-12 financial year and $98 million in 2012-13, it would seem Ted and Tricia Taxpayer have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for members of our 160,000-strong public service (and their bad backs).

Like the gentleman who experienced paranoid delusions about his colleagues and actually got compo for the trauma of this "persecution". Or the clerk who was compensated for the "humiliation" of being counselled in a private room by her supervisor for underperformance.

"Most public servants are appalled by these sort of claims," says Towell, "but there is no doubt in my mind there's an entitlement culture among a minority where compo is seen as a perk of the job rather than an insurance policy against something bad happening."

"Medical 'professionals' shouldn't be let off the hook in all of this. A lot of people have been encouraged, or 'enabled', by GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists who should know better. Many of them, pharmacists too, made good money while they were doing it," says Towell.

The watershed moment in frivolous claims, he says, was the notorious "sex in a motel" case where a public servant was injured in a Nowra motel room after a glass light fitting fell on her head during a "vigorous" sex session while on a work trip.

While the incident has only a 50-50 chance of making it into the next Judd Apatow movie, it did get all the way to the High Court before sanity prevailed and it ruled the "government should not take financial responsibility for public servants having sex in motel rooms".

Phew.

"There's much, much more rigour applied to processing claims these days," says Towell, however, that doesn't mean we won't see an Australia Post employee claiming he was injured during horseplay because the government never trained him as an equestrian.

Twitter: @Samdebrito

Sam de Brito has spent more than a decade writing for TV, film and newspapers. In his books, No Tattoos Before You’re Thirty and No Sex With Your Ex, he offers advice to his unborn children. In his offerings The Lost Boys and Hello Darkness, he takes the pulse of Aussie manhood.

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