Well that’s probably a better headline for the story than The Age selected. It really sucks when some great investigative journalism is buried under a bland almost non event headline.
I think our headline is a better reflection of the facts and would certainly draw more attention, I mean you guys want to sell more news papers and subscriptions right?
Actually the next story is related and if you actually aded the headlines together, it actually becomes a better headline, but still doesn’t quite connect the dots for the would be reader.
Now the first story is exclusive, but then again editgate cyberwar was also.
So in case you have read too much of The Age this month or are other wise stuck behind a paywall/firewall here are the stories sans images.
WorkSafe pays law firms bonuses to minimise victims’ payouts
Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker
Victoria’s work safety authority is paying lawyers millions of dollars in confidential bonuses to minimise payouts in compensation cases brought by alleged victims of workplace accidents.
In at least one case, a firm representing the authority received more than $1 million in bonuses over 12 months on top of legal fees.
The bonuses are paid out by WorkSafe Victoria, which receives its funding from fees paid by Victorian businesses. The bonus scheme has provoked debate inside the legal community because of the potential it will encourage firms to cut corners in order to maximise their bonus payouts, or devise other strategies that may not be in the best interest of victims or the scheme.
But defenders of the bonus system say it encourages lawyers to deal with cases more efficiently and prevents rorting of the state’s workers’ compensation scheme.
Leaked files from law firm Lander & Rogers reveal that it has made about $5 million in WorkSafe bonuses over five years by minimising payouts to alleged Victorian victims of workplace accidents. The biggest yearly bonus payout to the firm was $1.2 million in 2010.
The leaked files also show that the legal firm encourages its lawyers to offer ”entertainment” to WorkSafe Victoria executives at the tennis, musicals and barristers’ functions. A well-placed source said that at least two senior WorkSafe staff had attended events paid for by the Melbourne firm.
The leaked Lander & Rogers files show one strategy proposed by the firm involves creating closer ties, or becoming ”relationship partners” with lawyers representing workplace accident victims via ”targeted plaintiff firm strategies”.
Lawyers who support the incentive scheme argue it encourages law firms to deal with cases in a fair and timely fashion.
They say that maintaining professional relationships with plaintiff firms also leads to fairer outcomes by reducing legal hostilities that can lead to unnecessary litigation.
In defending the bonus scheme, a WorkSafe spokesman said that the extra payouts were offered because the fees defence firms get paid for handling WorkSafe cases ”are significantly less than standard commercial rates”. ”Performance incentives are designed to preserve and protect the interests of the scheme and the amount paid in [bonuses in] 2012-13 represents 0.3 per cent of the total benefits paid to injured Victorian workers last year,” the spokesman said.
Internal Lander & Rogers figures from 2011 show its WorkSafe department made almost $4 million in profit, most of which is later distributed to the firm’s partners. The law firm’s WorkSafe lawyers also generated bigger profit margins – up to 35 per cent – than lawyers from any other section of Lander & Rogers.
The WorkSafe spokesman also said the bonuses were only awarded if law firms ”meet a range of performance criteria, which includes achieving a timely outcome for injured workers’ claims for compensation and reducing the use of the courts”. WorkSafe declined to answer questions on the total in bonuses it paid law firms or how many gifts WorkSafe staff received.
”WorkSafe adheres to the criteria set out in the gifts, benefits and hospitality policy framework 2012 issued by the Public Sector Standards Commissioner and expects all employees to comply with the policy,” the spokesman said.
In response to questions about its bonuses and gift-giving policy, a Lander & Rogers spokesman said: ”Like other firms who provide legal services to WorkSafe, Lander & Rogers is eligible to receive performance incentives where it meets certain criteria, which include helping to ensure timely resolution of injured workers’ claims.
”We maintain professional working relationships with all plaintiff firms and other stakeholders in the workers compensation scheme and always work in the best interest of WorkSafe.”
The law firm threatened Fairfax Media with legal action if it published details from its leaked files.
In other developments linked to the management of WorkSafe cases, it is understood that some defence firms have reduced the hiring of private detectives who conduct surveillance on allegedly injured workers. The practice of conducting surveillance on workers has recently drawn the ire of several Victorian judges because it is viewed as expensive and intrusive.
But several lawyers who spoke to Fairfax Media said that surveillance was a critical tool to prevent rorting.
Disabled Victorians to miss out on disability insurance scheme
Up to 900,000 disabled Victorians will not qualify for the national disability insurance scheme and the state government needs to increase funding to the sector to meet growing demand, the peak body for the sector says.
A National Disability Services submission to the state budget says that while DisabilityCare Australia is a tremendous opportunity to help 100,000 Victorians with a serious or permanent disability, hundreds of thousands more will require help. People with non-permanent or moderate to mild disability will not necessarily qualify for the scheme.
The organisation’s submission says there are about 1 million Victorians with a disability, including 338,200 with a profound or severe disability.
”This suggests that some 900,000 Victorians with a disability won’t qualify for the NDIS and will still require access to mainstream services such as transport, housing, education, health, justice and mental health,” it says.
NDS Victoria state manager James O’Brien said the state government had a role to play building a strong disability sector able to make the transition to the scheme.
”The NDIS won’t be the panacea for all, and we need a whole-of-government approach to ensure that mainstream services are accessible for all Victorians with a disability,” he said.
The Napthine government is also urged to lift annual investment to disability services by $900 million over the next five years. The group argues that with the government’s forecast surplus of $2.5 billion in 2016-17, the fiscal environment would allow the government to do so.
The submission outlines how demand continues to outweigh investment in the sector – it says while funding for the sector increased by 7.5 per cent last year, on the back of the trial of the national disability insurance scheme in Barwon, demand for services grew by 10 per cent. ”The real cost of providing disability services continues to escalate and government indexation fails to keep pace,” it says.
The submission says there should be more public-sector procurement from accredited disability organisations. It also wants the government to build more inclusive public spaces.
Building the capacity of the sector also requires more workers and NDS warns demand will rapidly outstrip supply unless action is taken now. The establishment of the scheme will require 25,000 workers by 2020; currently, there are just 12,000 in Victoria. ”This poses a huge challenge,” the submission says.
The government has welcomed the submission from NDS but will not comment on the budget ahead of its release in May.
So what does all of this mean?
Some great journalism, but journalists sometime can’t really say what they think for a variety of reasons, such is the sad state of our ‘deMOCKracy’. Fortunately we can say what ever we like as long as we feel its true.
The WorkSafe Premiums you are being forced to pay for has now become a slush fund for lawyers and government bureaucrats.
The levy you are being forced to pay for NDIS is just becoming a federal government slush fund.
Denise Cosgrove is embezzling (stealing) money paid by the Victorian tax payer, worst of all she’s using it to bribe lawyers into robbing WorkSafe claimants. She’s only been in the role of CEO for 12 months. This con artist really moves fast.