17 April 2023

Labour movement boss to head up Comcare

| Chris Johnson
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Greg Vines

Greg Vines is the new CEO of Comcare. Photo: Twitter.

Comcare finally has a new CEO, following a year of uncertainty about the agency’s top job vacancy.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke announced on Friday (14 April) that he had appointed former union heavyweight Greg Vines as Comcare’s next CEO.

He started on the job immediately – Monday (17 April).

The Commonwealth’s work health and safety regulator hasn’t had a boss since April last year, when Sue Weston resigned from the post (as was first reported by Region).

Aaron Hughes was acting in the role until he left the organisation at the beginning of this year to become CEO of the Public Trustee and Guardian.

“The Comcare CEO is responsible for its day-to-day operations, including governance responsibilities and reporting requirements as a corporate Commonwealth entity,” Mr Burke said.

“Mr Vines brings extensive experience in workplace relations and workplace safety to the role, including the last decade as deputy director-general for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) from 2012 to 2022.

“I’m confident Mr Vines will execute his duties with a high degree of skill and diligence in the role, which follows a merit-based selection process.”

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Mr Vines, who was also Minister (Labour) with the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Geneva, from 2009 to 2012, failed last year in a nominated bid to become the director-general of the ILO.

He was previously chair of the Civil Service Task Force in Timor Leste (2008-2009), Public Sector Standards Commissioner of Victoria (2005-2009), executive director of Industrial Relations Victoria and deputy secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (2003-2005), and State Service Commissioner, Tasmania (2000-2003).

Mr Vines led the public service union movement in Tasmania through the renaming of the Tasmanian Public Sector Association to the State Public Services Federation, and its subsequent amalgamation with the Public Services Union to form the Community and Public Sector Union.

He has a Bachelor of Business from Monash University and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the University of Tasmania.

He completed the Executive Program in International Labour Relations at Harvard University and has been a Fellow at Monash University.

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Mr Burke said Comcare’s regulatory work was more important than ever as it progresses with fostering mental wellbeing and improving compliance in workplaces covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth).

“Comcare also manages the workers’ compensation scheme established by the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, along with claims across several injury compensation schemes,” the Minister said.

In October last year, Comcare was found lacking in its handling of public service compo cases, with the Ombudsman telling it to lift its game.

An investigation was launched in 2021 following allegations made against the agency of ‘doctor shopping’ to deny compensation claims.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Iain Anderson published his report of the investigation, saying Comcare had a number of improvements to make in handling medical examinations under section 57 of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act).

Section 57 gives Comcare the power to require the claimant to undergo a medical examination by a medical practitioner chosen by Comcare, and where an employee refuses or fails to undergo a medical examination without providing a ‘reasonable excuse’, the employee’s rights to compensation are suspended until the examination takes place.

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The Ombudsman’s report focussed on Comcare’s use of its section 57 powers, including alleged examples where Comcare had reportedly selected certain medical practitioners or sent claimants to multiple medical practitioners to get a report it could use to deny a compensation claim or cancel a claimant’s existing compensation payments – a practice referred to as ‘doctor shopping’.

Allegations also included that some claimants were required to attend medical examinations with medical practitioners who did not have appropriate qualifications, or with practitioners who had been the subject of repeated complaints.

While Comcare accepted all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations for improvement, Mr Hughes (as acting CEO at the time of the report) stressed that no evidence was found of unethical decision-making in the agency’s practices.

“The Ombudsman’s investigation reviewed our procedural frameworks and did not extend to our decision-making in practice,” Mr Hughes said.

“Comcare’s experienced claims staff and specialist allied health professionals ensure our exercise of the medical examination power is carefully considered.”

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