EDITORIAL: Coalition’s election challenge

THE steady exodus of NSW MPs continues, with Deputy Premier and National Party parliamentary leader Andrew Stoner announcing that he won’t contest the general election next March.

The announcement came as another Coalition MP, former resources minister Chris Hartcher, also confirmed he wouldn’t seek re-election in March.

Premier Mike Baird welcomed Mr Hartcher’s departure but expressed regret that Mr Stoner would be quitting.

Mr Stoner said he wanted to spend more time with his family, denying that his decision had anything to do with this year’s hearings in the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Mr Stoner told the ICAC that, as shadow minister for ports, he had six meetings with representatives of companies associated with coal deal-maker Nathan Tinkler, who was pushing to be allowed to develop a coal-loader at Mayfield. But there has been no evidence suggesting any wrongdoing on his part, unlike some other MPs.

Mr Hartcher, for example, has been accused of soliciting illegal donations for a slush fund to help the Coalition’s election campaigning.

The former minister was one of several MPs forced onto the crossbenches and one of a group of Central Coast and Hunter representatives caught up in the ICAC hearings.

It is fortunate for Premier Baird that his majority in Parliament is so commanding. It would require a big swing in a lot of seats to cost the Coalition power.

Even so, the election will present Mr Baird with many challenges. On the Central Coast and in the Hunter, he will have to find fresh candidates for Newcastle, Charlestown, Upper Hunter, Terrigal, Wyong and The Entrance. And in Port Stephens and Swansea, both former Liberal MPs are now sitting as independents, following the admission by one that he failed to declare some donations and caused a sham invoice to be created to disguise their source, and by the other that he accepted money from a banned category of donor.

The approaching byelections for Newcastle and Charlestown might have been seen as a kind of gauge of the public response to the Coalition’s ICAC woes, except that the Liberals chose not to field candidates.

Presumably, they will endorse candidates in those seats for the general election, and it remains to be seen whether alterations to electorate boundaries between the two polls make a difference either way.

One big challenge for the Coalition, and the Premier, is to cut through the noise of continual reminders of the ICAC – and like it or not, these latest departures are such reminders too – and getting a clear run into the general election.

It’s starting to look as if that might not be possible at all.

Sione Mata’utia happy to rub shoulders with stars

Sione Mata’utia. Picture: Jonathan CarrollEVEN if he does not get to play a game in Australia’s Four Nations campaign, Knights whiz kid Sione Mata’utia is primed for the time of his life.

Mata’utia will live out a dream when he joins Greg Inglis, a fellow former Hunter Sports High student, and other childhood heroes in camp with the Kangaroos in Brisbane on Friday.

“I can’t imagine being around him and having a joke,” the 18-year-old rookie said.

“It’s gonna be awesome, being with players I see week to week and on TV. I can’t wait to brush shoulders with them and just talk to them about playing Four Nations, playing for the country, and how I can get a few tips off them and take this whole experience in.

“In the Prime Minister’s XIII team, I got to talk to Greg Bird and Robbie Farah, and the youngsters like Josh Mansour and Matt Moylan, so I got to learn a lot.”

After just seven NRL games for Newcastle, Mata’utia is one of 11 debutants in Australia’s 24-man squad for games against New Zealand, England and Samoa in the next four weeks.

Ten first-timers were named in the original squad on Tuesday, but Moylan made it 11 when he was called in on Wednesday to replace Jarryd Hayne, who has quit rugby league to pursue a gridiron career in the NFL.

If he plays, Mata’utia will displace Israel Folau as the youngest to represent Australia in a Test.

Australian coach Tim Sheens has made no guarantees but, since taking over from Ricky Stuart in 2009, has always used every player in his squad for at least one game in Four Nations tournaments.

The same applied in the World Cup last year.

Naturally, Mata’utia wants nothing more than to play at least one Test in the next month, but as the freshest face in a new-look squad he accepts his position in the pecking order.

“If I get picked in a team, I’m going to be truly honoured and humbled by it, and if not, I’ll be truly grateful for the opportunity I have been given,” he said.

“To even get in the Prime Minister’s XIII, I thought that’s as far as I’ll go, so to get this achievement, it’s awesome.

“If there are better players in the squad than me that make it in front of me, I’ll let whatever’s best for the team happen and I’ll be there cheering them on and supporting.”

Sheens will pick his best 17 for games against New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium on October 25 and England at AAMI Park on November 2, so the game against Samoa at WIN Stadium on November 9 looms as the most likely opportunity for Mata’utia.

Should Australia win their first two games, they will have already qualified for the November 15 final in Wellington, giving Sheens a chance to blood any unused rookies.

“I know who my family is going to be supporting,” Mata’utia said of the prospect of playing against older brother Peter in that game.

“If I do get to play Samoa, it’s going to be a real good experience for me. I’m sure that the players will know I’m Samoan background, but I was born in Australia so I am Australian.

“I had the option to go to Samoa or Australia, but I pledged to Australia first, because being an Australian myself, I would like to represent my country and it’s always been a dream.

“I was going to represent Samoa for my mum because she wanted me to support her family and her heritage . . . but I pledged to Australia and now this opportunity has come.”

Sheens said on Wednesday that Mata’utia was capable of playing anywhere in the backline and, in the absence of so many veterans, deserved a chance.

“He’ll be in the back end of the group, along with young Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston, as back-ups to the senior guys, but his versatility, his strength and his talent is there for all to see,” Sheens said.

“He can play fullback, wing and centre, and I went looking for that type of player. Dylan Walker’s that sort of player as well, and Johnston has played wing and fullback, so we needed to cover all those positions and it was a good chance to give these young guys an opportunity.

“Better judges than I have seen it coming, too, with these kids. In fact, I’ve not had anyone say to me, ‘What the hell is he doing in the squad?’ So that’s a good sign.

“Whether it’s in club land, when you see the young guys coming through, or at international level, they’ll inject that enthusiasm into the squad and keep the old guys in the squad honest.”

Sheens was not the only influential figure Mata’utia impressed in the Prime Minister’s XIII game against Papua New Guinea at Kokopo last Sunday. Bird, who captained the side, was voted players’ player after the win, but he voted for Mata’utia.

Power workers seeking pay increase and job security ahead of privatisation

Power industry workers are seeking greater job security and a wage rise that analysts say could devalue the Baird government’s proposed sale of the state’s distribution and transmission network.

The Electrical Trades Union is seeking a 4 per cent wage rise, which, based on the McKell Institute’s economic modelling, would add $5.27 or 10¢ a week to the average power bill.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said the union was also trying to negotiate greater security for workers on an average salary of $78,878 ahead of the government’s planned privatisation of the Ausgrid “poles and wires”. The union wants redundancy entitlements of three weeks per year of service in the company policy to be formally included in an enterprise agreement.

“These job security measures have zero cost impact but provide workers and their families with certainty and security,” Mr Butler said.

“Given the government wants to privatise Ausgrid, we are hoping that the Premier and management will take this into consideration during negotiations and offer workers greater job security.”

UBS utilities analyst David Leitch said any contractual obligations for higher costs will reduce the value of the asset.

“If the company can demonstrate that the wage outcomes are fair and they have done their best effort to control them, you can normally recover those through the regulatory process in prices,” he said.

“But I can’t see the regulator or any reasonable person allowing a regulated business to recover costs that are just part of its normal sale process. Why should ETU people get greater job security than workers at BHP or a coalmine?”

A spokesman for Energy and Resources Minister Anthony Roberts said Networks NSW understands job security is important for employees and containing electricity price increases is important for households and businesses.

“While Networks NSW is in the early stages of the good faith bargaining process, Ausgrid has offered a three-year agreement without forced redundancy in recognition of employee concerns around job security,” he said.

“Networks NSW is committed to delivering on its promise to customers that it will contain increases in its share of electricity bills to less than CPI for the next five years. All costs, including labour, must be held to CPI or less to deliver on the promise to the state’s households and small businesses.

“Networks NSW has explained to the unions that one of the most important ways to secure jobs is to safely improve the productivity and competitiveness of the enterprise agreement.”

Staff at Sydney Ferries negotiated a one-off bonus of up to 30 weeks’ pay for going to work for a private operator that started running the ferries in 2011.

The offer included a provision for no compulsory redundancies for at least two years under the private operator and a 3.25 per cent annual pay rise for two years.

Jarryd Hayne: Taking off

Jarryd Hayne speaks to media during a press conference to announce he is quitting the NRL to pursue NFL in America.NRL chief Dave Smith says there was nothing he could have done to keep Sam Burgess, Sonny Bill Williams and Jarryd Hayne from leaving the code, after the trio claimed their decisions were not based on money.

Parramatta superstar Hayne told Smith on Tuesday night he was quitting the NRL to try his luck in the US in what is a big blow for the game after Burgess and Williams moved to play rugby in England and New Zealand respectively.

Smith admitted he was disappointed by the players’ departure but said the game was strong enough to cope.

‘‘I am of course disappointed, but I quickly realised that Jarryd is a young man who wants to do something else as part of his career path,’’ Smith said on Wednesday. ‘‘It’s not about money – it’s about chasing a dream – and there isn’t much we can do, but I wish him well.

‘‘It’s the same for Sonny and Sam. They are very talented guys who are great representatives for the game, but they are trying to develop their lives, and that’s a good thing.’’

Smith says he expects criticism of the NRL from some quarters but believes the level of talent still in the game is good enough to compensate.

‘‘Ideally, it wouldn’t happen, but it’s three out of 450-odd players, so it’s a very small proportion,’’ he said. ‘‘You only have to look at the talent coming through like Luke Brooks, Matt Moylan, Dylan Walker, Alex Johnston. The game is still very strong.’’

Parramatta have kept the door open for Hayne, who has vowed never to play against them, if the NSW fullback fails to make it in the tough world of the NFL.

The Eels signed former Canberra custodian Reece Robinson on Wednesday and he is expected to line up in the No.1 shirt next season.

Robinson will be paid significantly less than the $800,000 a year Hayne was believed to have been earning and, if a return to Parramatta was in doubt due to salary cap restraints, Smith has the power to step in and use his marquee player discretion.

‘‘If I wanted to, I could have used my discretionary powers to keep him, but money wasn’t the issue with Jarryd or Sonny, and Sam, for that matter,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But if he wanted to come back, then potentially we could do something that would allow him to return if that issue was to arise.’’

Smith also believes any success Hayne has in the States will have a positive effect on the NRL internationally.

‘‘Jarryd has always been a great ambassador for the game and will shine a bit of a torch for the NRL,’’ he said.

‘‘He is a great player and a great young man who will always be welcome back.’’

NSW coach Laurie Daley said Hayne’s exit was a big setback for his side.

‘‘Jarryd’s decision is obviously a blow but, as he said, he’s not ruling out a return, and hopefully one day he’ll be back in Blue, too,’’ Daley said. ‘‘He’s a tremendous athlete and will be remembered by Blues fans as one of the best to pull on a NSW jumper in State of Origin.’’

Can Hayne make it in the NFL?

MP Peter Walsh urges super funds to ‘show leadership’ and invest in agriculture

Food bowl: MP Peter Walsh believes Victorian agriculture can become “Asia’s high-end deli”. Photo: Glenn Hunt Food bowl: MP Peter Walsh believes Victorian agriculture can become “Asia’s high-end deli”. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Food bowl: MP Peter Walsh believes Victorian agriculture can become “Asia’s high-end deli”. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Food bowl: MP Peter Walsh believes Victorian agriculture can become “Asia’s high-end deli”. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Australian superannuation fund managers should “show some leadership” and invest in agriculture, says Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh.

Mr Walsh said capital investment would help Victoria significantly increase food and fibre production and that would come from a mix of sources, including domestic and foreign money.

“The super funds are an interesting creature,” he told a Rural Press Club of Victoria. “I’d like to see them invest more in the production systems. I could be cynical and say they effectively drive the sharemarket and the CBD property market in Australia. It would be good if one of them actually broke out and showed some leadership and went into something a bit more productive than those two particular markets.

“But that is up to them, because they’re playing with yours and my super, so we don’t want them to risk it too much,” he said.

Mr Walsh said some exciting joint ventures had occurred in recent years involving foreign investors and local agriculture/food projects, and that would continue.

Later, he told Fairfax Media that large superannuation funds could make a “substantial investment in agriculture”, even by allocating to agriculture just a fraction of their overall money.

Brent Finlay, president of the National Farmers’ Federation, joined Mr Walsh in encouraging super funds to invest in agriculture.

“We’d certainly like to see superannuation money invested,” he said.

“Capital investment into agriculture is really important and I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to invest in agriculture. We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

Presently, superannuation funds seem to have only a small connection to Victorian agriculture. However, the $13 billion superannuation fund VicSuper, which says it has more than 240,000 members, owns farmland in north-west Victoria near Swan Hill. Considerable investment and improvements have been made to some of this land, with a landmark cotton crop grown there recently.

Mr Finlay said overseas pension funds had also recently invested in agriculture in Queensland.

Meanwhile, in a bid to develop closer ties in some key Victorian agricultural export markets, Mr Walsh announced that should it win the November state election, the Coalition would hire three food and beverage trade specialists, to be based in Japan, Thailand and the Middle East, a move immediately welcomed by the Victorian Farmers Federation.

These staff would “play an important role in connecting businesses with buyers and positioning Victoria as a producer of high-value, high-reliability produce”, Mr Walsh said.

The recent Victorian Food and Fibre Export Performance Report revealed that the state’s food and fibre exports were valued at a record $11.4 billion in 2013-14, a 12 per cent jump on the previous year.

Mr Walsh predicted that by 2030, Victorian agricultural production would be double what it was in recent years.

He forecast that in 2030, Victorian agriculture would be “Asia’s high-end deli. We’re not actually their Coles or Woolies … We want to aim for that high-value end of the market; we’re not going to supply the mass market.”

Painting a bright picture of how Victorian agriculture would look in 2030, he said: “Our industry is the heartbeat of the Victorian economy and the envy of the world.”

Canberra Girls Grammar School buys waterfront sites for $1.78 million

Canberra Girls Grammar School has bought two waterfront development sites in Yarralumla Bay for $1.78 million.

The Land Development Agency auctioned the two blocks of land next to the YMCA Sailing Club on Wednesday.

Both blocks, each about 680 square metres, are covered by the National Capital Authority’s Yarralumla Bay Recreation Hub Master Plan.

The plan sets a tight framework for the development of the bay, and limits uses to those related to aquatic recreation and tourism.

It does not allow for any accommodation to be built.

The permitted use of the two blocks of land sold on Wednesday is for an aquatic recreation facility and an ancillary restaurant.

Canberra Girls Grammar School purchased Block 15 Section 17 for $860,000 and Block 16 Section 17 for $920,000.

Jones Lang LaSalle ACT’s Greg Lyons said it was the first time land at Yarralumla Bay had been sold in a public sales process, with most sites directly granted or sold in the past.

He said it was unlikely more sites would be offered for sale.

“We’re told there’s not going to be more land released down there,” Mr Lyons said.

There were six registered bidders for the blocks.

Mr Lyons said some interested parties had been existing site owners looking to upgrade their facilities.

Canberra Girls Grammar School principal Anne Coutts said the purchase was an exciting phase in the school’s development.

She said it would not only add to the school’s current world-class facilities but would also build on educational offerings and enhance curriculum development and co-curricular opportunities.

The school will adhere to the National Capital Authority’s Yarralumla Bay plan and consult with the community over the sites’ development.

JLL ACT managing director Andrew Balzanelli described the sale as the final jigsaw in the puzzle for the development of Yarralumla Bay, and said it was a good result for the community.

Hunter to become mega-region under health care reforms

The Hunter is destined to become a mega-region under health reforms to be rolled out next year.THE Hunter will become a mega-region taking in most of the New England and Central Coast regions when the Federal Government’s primary health care reforms are rolled out next year.

The new geographical boundaries, announced by Health Minister Peter Dutton on Wednesday, will transform the 61 regions currently serviced by Medicare Locals into 30 Primary Health Networks.

In NSW, 17 regions will become nine.

At stake are services including the GP Access After-Hours Service, which provides advice and treatment after-hours, diverting less urgent patients away from emergency departments.

Mr Dutton said the government will release an ‘Invitation to Apply’ process later this year to select Primary Health Network operators.

Hunter Medicare Local has indicated it is keen to continue running services and will participate in that tender process.

Dr Trent Watson, Hunter Medicare Local chairman, welcomed the announcement saying the new larger boundary had been anticipated.

“We appreciate that the larger size of the network may create some logistical challenges but we are very confident that the consolidation of financial and administrative functions will provide efficiencies that can be used to fund the type of innovative programs that our organisation has built its reputation on, Dr Watson said.”

‘‘Programs such as GP Access After Hours, Aged Care Emergency and Connecting Care are currently reducing unnecessary hospitalisations and improving health outcomes and we look forward to continuing the delivery of these programs and the development of new initiatives as a partner in the new Primary Health Network covering our region.”

The new mega-region reaches from Taree in the North to Gosford in the south, and west to Tamworth and Qurinidi.

The health minister said the new primary health networks will aim to drive efficiencies and better direct health funding to the delivery of frontline health care services.

“Primary Health Networks will deliver better health outcomes for Australians over time by improving the links between local health services and hospital care, and through the better targeting of available funding on effective health programmes,” Mr Dutton said.

Naked truth about a titillating show

Dating is awkward when you are both naked.Imagine you were a television network executive, and an eager-beaver producer came to you with a pitch for a new series. ”So,” he says, ”we get a bunch of naked people …” And you stop him right there, because you are already rummaging through your safe for bags of money to hurl at his face.

I imagine this is how Dating Naked (Eleven, 8.30pm) came to exist. For those unfamiliar with the premise, and who find that title a little too cryptic, the show is about people dating naked. And … yep, that’s it. The participants are people who are unlucky in love, people who have tried everything to find that special someone. Well, everything except allowing cameras to film them going to an island and hanging out with strangers without any clothes on.

As a concept, it’s novel and fresh and has one big thing going for it, and that is, and I can’t stress this enough: they’re all naked. Oh sure, the rude bits are blurred, but it remains an exciting development in the field of looking at nude people on TV. On Thursday’s episode, the first date is between statuesque blonde Taryn and weedy Aussie Steven, who are as comfortable in each other’s company as you’d expect two people who have never met and are being forced to eye off each other’s wobbliest districts to be. To make matters worse, Steven is a self-described ”nice guy”, ”nice” in this case apparently meaning ”incapable of speaking for 10 seconds without making a joke about genitalia”.

Things don’t get any better – or they get much much better, depending on your proclivities – when Steven goes on his second date with southern belle Ashley, on an ATV: not a vehicle especially suited to minimising jiggle. Frankly, one is not baffled about why Steven is single, although it is puzzling why he thought he’d be in with a better chance if he was naked. Meanwhile, Taryn is being photographed on the beach by a towering bearded Israeli, whose habit of standing with crotch thrust forward is not putting her at ease. It’s a compelling insight into the dating rituals of the modern nude young person. I’m not saying it’s the greatest show ever, but I am saying that everyone is naked, so it’s close enough.

Disappointingly, the contestants on Survivor (GO! 9.30pm) are not naked, unless their swimmers fall down during a challenge, which is always a possibility. There’s not an awful lot of dating going on in this ”Blood vs Water” season but there is lots of potential for the destruction of families. The venerable reality giant has always been more about naked greed and betrayal than titillation, and it’s not stopping now.

Success surprise for sharp shooter

Newcastle Hunter guard Freya Roebuck.NEWCASTLE Hunters sharp-shooter Freya Roebuck is happy to keep juggling basketball with her medical studies for as long as she can.

The 20-year-old, 169-centimetre guard led University of Newcastle to victory at the Australian Uni Games in Sydney this month and was named in the all-tournament merit team.

Playing alongside Hunters teammates Jill Morgan, Kelsey Moss and Cassie Pentney, Roebuck top-scored in Newcastle’s 61-30 victory over Griffith University in the division two final to cap a perfect 10-0 record for the tournament.

‘‘I’m pretty sure they picked seven girls from division one and only three from division two, so I was really flattered to be recognised when we were playing division two,’’ Roebuck said.

‘‘Because I’d been between the end of the Hunters and the start of Uni Games, I’d been working on my fitness and back-to-basics core stuff rather than fine-tuning my basketball, so I wasn’t surprised that I was a bit rusty at the start of the week.

‘‘We didn’t do a lot of team training either, with people being busy towards the end of the semester and stuff, but towards the end of the week I got on a roll and in the grand final when it mattered I guess I stepped up and surprised myself a little bit.’’

Newcastle coach Rohan Stevenson said Roebuck benefited from the extra defensive attention opponents directed towards Morgan.

‘‘They double-teamed Jill in the post and that made life easier for the shooters, and Freya made her shots,’’ Stevenson said.

The University of Newcastle men’s team were silver medallists, going down 66-65 to Victoria University in the final. Power forward Tye McGann, who plays in the Waratah Basketball League for Central Coast Crusaders, was named in the all-tournament team.

‘‘For Newcastle to be competing for the first time in 12 years and getting those results, a gold and a silver medal and two players named in the all-tournament teams, it shows that we punched above our weight and caught some of the bigger schools off guard.’’

Originally from Bathurst, Roebuck has just completed her first season with the Hunters. She played for the Waratah championship and Youth League teams, and hopes to be selected for both again next year.

‘‘Having that year of experience under my belt will be good,’’ she said.

‘‘Our team really gelled well this year, and we probably got on even better off the court than we did on the court, so hopefully we can build on that for next year.’’

Roebuck is in the second year of a three-year biomedical science degree and plans to study postgraduate medicine in Sydney.

Her father, former Wallabies fullback Marty Roebuck, is studying the same course in Sydney and she said they often swapped notes.

Marty is no stranger to Newcastle after captaining the now-defunct Wildfires in the NSW club rugby union competition in the mid-1990s.

‘‘I’ve learnt a lot from him, and a lot of it is relevant to what I’m doing,’’ she said.

‘‘He was a physio for 20-odd years after he finished up with his rugby, then in 2012 he decided to go back to uni.’’

She would prefer to stay and play in Newcastle beyond the end of next year but was sure her studies would take her to Sydney, where she hoped to continue playing in the WBL.

‘‘Studying medicine will be really intense, so I’ll probably have to decide between basketball and that, but when it comes down to it, if I’m going to be in Sydney doing medicine I can always hook up with a club down there and see how I go from there.’’

She said it would be great if she could go further in basketball, but is happy playing at this level for the moment.

Public service workers’ compensation reforms are ‘harsh and unjust’, say Labor

Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor.Public service news: full coverage

Federal government reforms to public service workers’ compensation are “harsh, unjust” and “gratuitously mean”, according to the federal opposition.

Labor says changes planned by the Coalition would leave 160,000 public servants and hundreds of thousands of other workers with less cover than the rest of the Australian workforce.

Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor says changes to federal workplace insurer Comcare directly risk the health and safety of Australian workers and leave injured employees without access to compensation or medical benefits.

But Employment Minister Eric Abetz shot back on Wednesday, accusing Mr O’Connor of being content to let “rorts” against the system continue.

Before it lost office, Labor pledged to reform the Comcare in a bid to control its spiralling costs and the Coalition has continued the push since winning government.

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Senator Abetz has legislation before Parliament that will make it easier for private sector companies to join the Comcare scheme and put a stop to compo pay-outs to workers injured while on breaks from their jobs.

It will also block claims for employees seriously hurt or killed while engaging in serious misconduct or who voluntarily assume “abnormal risk”.

The Canberra Times revealed in September that a second tranche of reforms is also in development which would address some of the most controversial aspects of public service workers’ compo: payouts for psychological injuries, compensation for life, and taxpayer-funded access to dubious therapies.

But Mr O’Connor told a union workplace safety conference in Melbourne that Senator Abetz’s reforms were “a series of exclusions from compensation that will make Comcare an outlier in Australia for the harsh and unjust way that it would treat injured and deceased workers”.

Mr O’Connor said the abnormal risk clause would hurt police officers or medical workers who put their health or even their lives on the line to protect the public.

“There is no protection for vulnerable workers who are asked or directed to do dangerous tasks by their co-workers – the young worker or older worker afraid of losing their job,” the Labor frontbencher said.

“There is no protection for police, for nurses for workers who respond throughout the day and are exposed to risk, but must perform tasks to ensure the health, safety and well-being of others.”

Provisions banning compensation pay-outs for workers hurt while on an “ordinary recess”,  or a break from their work, bring the scheme back to the days of WorkChoices, Mr O’Connor told the ACTU conference.

“In 2007, under John Howard’s WorkChoices regime, recess claims were removed from the scheme,” he said.

“In 2011, Labor reinstated the protection to return equity to Comcare and to provide coverage to injured workers under Comcare on a similar footing as provided to the vast majority of the Australian work force.

“Another provision in the Bill that underlines what this Government stands for is the removal of protection and compensation in cases of ‘death or serious and permanent impairment’ if ‘wilful misconduct’ is alleged.

“This is perhaps the most gratuitously mean proposal in the Bill, because the Government acknowledge at best negligible savings from this measure in its Regulation Impact Statement.

“There are no individuals or organisations that we know of that have called for this change.”

Senator Abetz rejected Mr O’Connor’s position, and said his reforms would bring Comcare into line with the schemes that cover most Australian workers.

“These reforms will help bring the Commonwealth workers compensation scheme into line with the rules under State schemes and will remove loopholes that can be rorted when injuries occur that are not the responsibility of the employer,” the minister said.

“Mr O’Connor should be upfront and admit that he would rather see such rorts continue to exist at taxpayers’ expense and that he opposes common sense reforms to the system that will help keep it affordable.”