The Abbott government has backed reform of the public service's troubled workers' compensation system but will not commit to a timetable for change.
In the wake of the unveiling last week of Comcare's $98 million loss, Public Service Minister Eric Abetz said he wanted to see bureaucrats who were claiming workers' compensation go back to work sooner.
But the minister would not commit to implementing the recommendations of two reviews ordered by the previous Labor government into the Comcare scheme and its legislation, and Senator Abetz's office did not rule out even further-reaching reforms.
The insurer's financial results for 2012-13 show an operating loss of $98 million and the scheme's long-term liability for payouts is now more than $2.6 billion, with 35 per cent of it unfunded.
Last year's horror losses of more than $500 million have been revised upward to a paper loss of $670 million after changes to accounting practices. Federal departments and agencies had to find an extra $70 million for workers' compensation premiums in 2012-13 and are looking at another 18 per cent increase in 2013-14 as Comcare tries to finance its long-term liabilities.
A deterioration in the return-to-work times recorded by claimants in the public service has continually been cited as the cause of Comcare's financial woes and the past Labor government ordered reviews of the system by former public servant Allan Hawke and barrister Peter Hanks. But legislation to implement the sweeping changes recommended by the review authors has stalled with the change of government and Senator Abetz's office said the minister was reviewing the reviews' findings.
"The Coalition government is considering all of the recommendations made by Mr Peter Hanks, QC, and Dr Allan Hawke AC in their review of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 in early 2013," a spokesman said.
The minister's office said Senator Abetz was broadly supportive of the main themes in the review's recommendations, turning the focus of Comcare from a compensation scheme to a recovery and back-to-work scheme.
"The review findings reinforced the importance of early intervention and rehabilitation," the minister's spokesman said. "Reforms that will get workers recovering from illness and injury and able to work again in the best possible time frame will reduce the cost pressures on the Comcare scheme and yield the best outcomes for those workers."
The spokesman said the findings of Mr Hanks and Mr Hawke were in keeping with the Coalition's belief in deregulation. "The Coalition government is one that is focused on efficiency, deregulation and reducing red tape and it has placed a high priority on improving the performance within government.''
Comcare had mixed fortunes in the courts last week, winning a High Court case against a public servant injured while having sex in a motel room on a work trip, but losing a case against an ACT firefighter in a Federal Court judgment that will have implications for all workers claiming permanent impairment.