The Office of Industrial Relations recently updated the Medical Assessment Tribunal members Code of Conduct.
This new code of conduct (PDF, 0.26 MB) was developed in consultation with Crown Law and the Tribunal chairs. It is effective as at 1 November 2018 and forms part of the Medical Assessment Tribunal appointment conditions.
Listen to the webcast recording of the code of conduct below.
Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 129 MB)
Hello doctors. Thank you for joining us for this webinar introducing the new code of conduct for medical assessment tribunal members. My name is Janene Hillhouse, I am the Executive Director of Workers' Compensation Policy and Services, and I oversee the policy and regulatory functions of the Workers' Compensation scheme, including the medical assessment tribunals.
I'll be the facilitator for this webinar, which aims to guide you through the background and some of the specific obligations arising under the recently revised code of conduct for tribunal members, as well as the process for addressing any alleged non-compliances and questions about the code.
So why did we need a new code? The new code of conduct was developed in order to provide more concrete and contemporary indicators for the performance of members of the medical assessment tribunals. The purpose of the new code of conduct is to support the tribunals in achieving some of its key objectives. This includes ensuring the effective operation of and public confidence in the medical assessment tribunals, and that all persons appearing before the medical assessment tribunals are treated with fairness and respect.
As a tribunal member, you hold a statutory public appointment. This is an important role. To align with community expectations, this code was based on many of the obligations and standards of conduct expected of all public servants in Queensland. These obligations and standards were fine-tuned in consultation with not only tribunal chairs but with crown law.
The new code was then approved by Cabinet and the Governor in Council in October 2018, and officially came into effect on the first of November 2018. From this date the code forms part of your formal terms of appointment, and is publicly available on the WorkSafe website.
What are the key components of the code? The code's primary role is to provide comprehensive standards of conduct and active obligations for you, the tribunal members. And it does this by outlining how you should conduct yourself within the tribunal setting.
Part five of the code places emphasis on having respect for all persons, including by treating them with respect and courtesy. This extends to workers, workers' representatives, other tribunal members, and tribunal staff. It also prohibits bullying and harassment of any person, and requires members to be sensitive to the needs of persons involved in proceedings before the tribunal.
Part seven of the code deals with integrity and confidentiality, and requires you to act honestly and truthfully in the performance of your duties. It also requires you to treat all information regarding a referred person as confidential, and to use tribunal resources economically and appropriately. For example, iPads.
Part four of the code establishes requirements around conflicts of interest and impartiality, and stipulates that you must perform your tribunal duties independently, impartially, and free from external influence. You must also inform Tribunal Services of any conflict or potential conflicts of interest, including where you have previously treated the person being assessed or a spouse or family member of the person being assessed, or if you have undertaken an independent medical examination of the person being assessed. You also must not engage in activities, interests, and associations which will impact on the impartial and efficient performance of your tribunal responsibilities.
Part six of the code requires diligent, efficient, and timely performance of tribunal responsibilities, including undertaking the necessary preparation prior to hearings to meet legislative time frames and procedural fairness requirements. This specifically includes perusing and reviewing reference material relating to each person being assessed by the tribunal before the hearing, and any preparation necessary for the tribunal hearing to operate effectively and to the highest standard.
Part eight details obligations with respect to accountability and transparency for decisions and actions taken as a tribunal member. This expressly includes fully participating in any applicable review processes such as administrative, legislative, and judicial scrutiny of decisions; making and storing accurate file notes of each hearing; ensuring that persons appearing before the tribunal are afforded a reasonable opportunity to put their case; considering any submissions made by or on behalf of the person being assessed before making a decision; ensuring that a tribunal member's actions and comments in the performance of their duties demonstrate the member's impartiality and do not give rise to an apprehension of basis; and providing adequate written reasons for decisions.
The code also prescribes standards of conduct expected of you in your private life which are relevant to maintaining public confidence in the tribunals. Specifically, part 7.6 requires you to behave in a way that upholds the integrity and good reputation of the tribunal, and maintains your ability to perform your duties as a tribunal member. This aligns with the obligations on all public offices, and includes for example part 3.1 which requires you to demonstrate a respect for the law in your private life to maintain public confidence in the tribunals.
It is imperative that you report any changes which may impact on or otherwise comprise your ability to continue your membership with integrity and independence, and as such this is an active obligation under the new code. These reports will be taken seriously, and many may require formal written notification to the minister. For example, where there is a criminal charge of conviction, conflicts of interest, and specifically any private interests that may affect or appear to affect the member's public duty.
For example employment assets, liabilities, or partnerships; bankruptcy; if a member is prevented from managing a corporation; if a member is listed on the registrar of lobbyists, including a member's company; if the member is the subject of a complaint to a professional body in Australia which has been substantiated or had sanctions imposed, including for example to APRA or the Health Ombudsman; or if there are any changes to a member's registration with APRA, including for example the imposition of restrictions or sanctions on your registration.
Ultimately, what constitutes a reportable matter will turn on whether it impacts on the integrity and impartiality of a member's membership with the tribunals. If in doubt, adopt an honest and transparent approach and discuss with the manager or director of Tribunal Services to seek advice on how to best proceed in the circumstances.
Tribunal Services is also introducing exit surveys for workers and worker representatives to gauge participants' experiences during the medical assessment tribunal hearings, specifically with respect to fairness and courtesy. This will help track our progress in these areas and provide a measurable system to inform continuous service improvement in these areas.
If there are multiple complaints identified in the course of these surveys in relation to individual members, these will be put to the member involved for comment and potential management action under the new code of conduct.
So what happens if there are concerns in relation to a tribunal member's conduct under the code? A key feature of the new code is the introduction of an active obligation on tribunal chairpersons to assist tribunal members to perform their tribunal responsibilities and comply with the code through the provision of appropriate leadership, training, and support. This means that chairpersons will be expected to address any noncompliance of the members they are working with directly in the first instance.
For example, if material is not read in advance, or a member is late or not treating a person being assessed with sensitivity and respect, the chair will be expected to raise this with the member and to seek to address the issue.
Continual noncompliance or serious breaches must be raised with the manager or director of Tribunal Services to ensure that procedural fairness is afforded to the involved parties and to ensure the clear processes set out in the code are adhered to where necessary.
It is important to note that natural justice will be afforded to members who are alleged to have breached the code, and any allegations must be formalised and substantiated before any formal action can be taken in response to the alleged breach. To this end we will, in most instances, be reliant on members coming forward to directly report any issues or concerns about alleged breaches they have observed, become aware of, or have been directly impacted by.
For example, allegations cannot be put forward on behalf of another member making the allegation or complaint. They must be conveyed firsthand by the person who has witnessed or been impacted firsthand.
This is a new and unfolding space for the medical assessment tribunals, and matters will be treated on a case by case basis and with due process. We urge you to contact the manager of Tribunal Services, Yvette Norris, or the director of engagement Insurer and Tribunal Services, Rachel Hawkins, if you have any questions or complaints in relation to the new code of conduct or if you are unsure of any of the obligations in the new code.
Thank you for the integral work you undertake for the medical assessment tribunals, and we look forward to continuing the high standards of independence and integrity. Thank you.