Written on the 19 February 2015 by Jenna Rathbone


THE Queensland state president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has described the LNP as arrogant and power hungry two traits that contributed to its historical election defeat.

Michelle James (pictured left), speaking at the ALA's Queensland State Conference, says the "slashing of rights" at the hands of the LNP left her and her colleagues shocked and is now looking forward to working with the new Labor government.

"We witnessed an unprecedented attack on our profession, a blatant disregard for the rule of law and the separation of powers and rafts of ill-informed legislation pushed through parliament without consultation," says James.

"All by an arrogant and power hungry government wilfully disregarding convention, the Westminster system, the recommendations of parliamentary committees and proper consultation."

James says one of the most significant and troubling acts of the LNP government were the changes to workers compensation laws that saw "a minimum of 60 per cent of Queenslanders lose the right to pursue common law damages".

"The ALA has continued over the course of the last 12 months both to defend our profession from the attacks of the Premier (Newman) and in particular to ensure that the issue of workers compensation, which is so critical to our clients, remained a live issue in Queensland," says James.

"In short, we did everything we could to ensure workers compensation and other rights abuses by the government were not forgotten (at the 2015 election)."

Labor has committed to restoring Queensland's workers' compensation scheme to its "proper place as the nation's leading scheme", says James.

The ALP will reinstate the rights of injured workers covered by the scheme to sue negligent employers if they are injured at work.

"The challenge now for the ALA is to ensure the reforms that were committed to are addressed early by the new government and ensure the commitment is honoured," says James.

Brisbane compensation law expert Mark O'Connor agrees with James and says changes to the WorkCover scheme, introduced in October 2013, imposed a 5 per cent threshold on all common law claims, which effectively shuts out a significant percentage of claims by workers injured by their employers' unsafe work practices.

The director of Brisbane firm Bennett & Philp Lawyers adds that the WorkCover law changes encouraged some employers to cut corners on workplace safety, in the knowledge that only the more serious injuries to their employees will exceed the threshold to allow victims to sue a negligent employer.

"The system as it stands with the 2013 WorkCover amendments allows employers to take a calculated risk that injuries assessed at 5 per cent impairment or less will not be covered and so the employer will escape liability," says O'Connor

"The cruelty of the 2013 legislation is that it shows that human pain and suffering is regarded as being less important than commercial losses. If a government was to legislate to prevent business from using the legal system to pursue losses caused the actions of a third party there would be an outcry from the business lobby.

"The incoming State Government should pay urgent and close attention to our WorkCover system and roll back the 2013 changes."

Clarissa Rayward (pictured right), director of Brisbane Family Law Centre shares the views of James and O'Connor and says there was a high level of distrust from many members of the legal profession in the former state government.

"The legal profession is grounded in many traditions, some of which have stood the test of much time and many of which were blatantly ignored over the past three years," says Rayward.

"I expect that many of my colleagues, like me, would hope to see some of those traditions return under future governments." 

Rayward encourages the new government to return to a culture of consultation. 

"Under the former government we saw dramatic legislative changes rushed through parliament with little consultation with our profession and little thought about the consequences," she says.

"The laws under which we all operate require significant thought and careful implementation and I expect to see the new government returning to a place where input and consultation with the profession upholding those laws on a daily basis becomes a central part of their agenda."

Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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