POLICE DEATH AND DISABILITY SCHEME
Mr TROY GRANT:
My question is addressed to the Premier. What action is the Government taking to encourage injured police officers back to their jobs?
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
I say again that the Police Death and Disability Scheme is an important scheme. It provides support for families and loved ones when a police officer is killed or dies whilst on duty and gives assistance to officers injured in the line of duty while they recuperate and get ready to return to their jobs. But it has been allowed to run out of control to the point where injured officers are actually encouraged to leave the force by taking a large payout, rather than being rehabilitated and returning to work either within the Police Force or outside the Police Force. As a result, we now have a scheme that has let down our injured officers, drained experience from the Police Force and left the taxpayers of this State with another sorry mess.
In 2005, 450 police officers were on long-term sick leave. That figure has now blown out to 1,135. At any time 600 to 800 police across this State are on long-term sick leave—that is the equivalent of three or four large local area commands. The sad fact is that many of those officers not only fail to return to the Police Force but they also never re-enter the workforce. That is the worst possible outcome for those officers, for their families and, frankly, for this State. The reforms outlined by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services aim to change that by providing a renewed focus on helping injured officers to return to work. We are proposing investing an up-front $15 million in injury management programs to help injured police to return to work.
We will also purchase income protection insurance for police, and that will put them on the same footing as workers in many other industries. I should emphasise that under our changes there will be no change to death benefits for police who are killed or die at work. But with regards to other injuries, officers will have a period within which their full salary will be maintained. It will step down progressively from 75 per cent for eight months and then remain at 65 per cent for a further five years. Totally and permanently incapacitated police will still receive a lump sum payment but at a rate that reflects the new five-year income protection policy. These changes will ensure that there is an incentive for injured police to return to work rather than simply to take a lump sum payment with their experience being lost to the force and forgotten.
Without the reforms the cost of the Death and Disability Scheme would blow out disastrously—just like that other scheme upon which the Auditor General reported yesterday. A death and disability scheme that was meant to cost 2.5 million a week but which now costs $15 million a week is unsustainable. In fact, Treasury advises that without these reforms the scheme will cost $2.5 billion over the next four years alone. It is unsustainable and provides absolutely no protection for the State's police men and women. I know of one police officer who, four years into the job, was viciously stabbed and his jaw dislocated. Like many police injured on the job, his recovery was neither simple nor quick. He and his family went through many ups and downs. Throughout the process he was continually offered a lump sum payment to leave the force, and he could have walked away with almost $1 million—$700,000 alone from the Death and Disability Scheme. But he resisted.
He wanted to proceed with his original career choice and serve the community as a police officer. He persisted. He fully recovered and he went on and served this State with distinction for another 15 years. But his experience and his service could have been lost because of the lump sum incentives within the current scheme. Our changes to the Police Death and Disability Scheme are desperately needed. They will deliver a better outcome for injured officers and they will be fair for the hundreds of dedicated police who suffer injuries on the job. But we will ensure that New South Wales continues to have the most generous police death and disability scheme in Australia. I thank the member for Dubbo for his question and for those additional 15 years that he put into the police service of this State.