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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 10 Hansard (26 August) . . Page.. 4399..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

and that the cut-off threshold can be negotiated by the professional association. But economic loss is not simply an accounting construct. It is also, especially when we are talking about consumers, small businesses and microbusinesses, something very concrete and lasting. A householder may not recover from the loss of a house, and people developing a microbusiness can too easily lose all their savings on poor advice.

You cannot cut the exposure of professionals and their insurance companies without someone carrying the can. While bigger businesses may have sophisticated risk management systems and their own specific insurances in place, people at the other end of the scale, including consumers, would be vulnerable. Given that there is no evidence that these changes will affect the insurance industry's preparedness to offer affordable products, it seems very poor public policy, indeed, to trail along behind the rest of Australia, simply as a matter of course.

MR STEFANIAK (8.44): Thank you, Mr Speaker-and, Mrs Cross, if you want to speak you had better get in on clause 8. The opposition will not be supporting the crossbenchers, the Democrats and Greens, on this. We are supportive of the bill. I reiterate what I said briefly earlier: it is national legislation. It was agreed on after a lot of work by the Standing Committee of Attorneys General. We faced a real insurance crisis, and schemes like this are very important to implement right across the country, for consistency. This has been done elsewhere, and it is important for the ACT to do it.

It fits the need of the various professional groups who have been consulted. There is also flexibility in the scheme for people doing difficult matters to take out top-up insurance-even greater risk insurance-so that that can be covered. Surely, with something like that, the flexibility benefits everyone, including the actual consumer. We will be supporting the government on this. It is merely implementing national legislation.

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs) (8.45): I seek leave to move amendments Nos 1 and 2 circulated in my name together.

Leave granted.

MR STANHOPE: I move amendments Nos 1 and 2 circulated in my name together, and I table a supplementary explanatory statement [see schedule 3 at page 4466].

As I indicated, the ACT Law Society has raised an objection to the strict liability nature of the offences in clauses 29 and 50 of the bill. These offences were made strict liability offences to encourage compliance, protect consumers and maintain the integrity of the scheme. For example, if a consumer is seeking advice in relation to a matter that involves an amount greater than the cap set on the professional's liability, failure to provide a copy of the scheme by the solicitor could prevent the consumer from taking other risk management strategies, like obtaining top-up insurance cover or requesting the solicitor to consider contracting out under clause 20 of the bill. Similarly, the strict liability offence in clause 50 was included to strengthen the ability of the professional standards council to carry out its functions and to prevent it from being sidelined by the powerful professional bodies.

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