Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 8 Hansard (27 June) . . Page.. 2336 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
The scheme runs for two years and expires in October 2004. That is really the crux of the matter. If workers compensation, like public liability and other essential insurance products, is to remain a function of business, then we need to think carefully about how we manage it. If some aspect of the business suddenly became costly or unprofitable and they could pull the rug on it, the injured individuals would be the ones left to carry the can. That is a fundamental point for the Greens, and it is not a satisfactory arrangement. Long-term solutions need to be pursued at a national level, at the very least, in order to give the large international reinsurance companies greater confidence in the Australian system.
Nonetheless, workers compensation stakeholders, including the insurance companies, seem to have the view that, on this issue, reinsurers are likely to come back into the market, hence the two-year timeframe for the scheme proposed by this bill.
Of course, there is no fundamental reason why essential insurance services need to be run by business. There have been, and there are, government insurance schemes in Australia. ACT government resources are probably too limited to run schemes here, on our own. But, clearly, over the next couple of years, given that there are many insurance issues to deal with, we must move towards a more effective national or interstate approach. We should not rule out any options at this stage.
In the meantime, let us deal with the introduction of the ACT's new workers compensation scheme, as well as this provision for terrorist acts. This bill also includes some necessary clean-up amendments to the act as passed last year. At the same time, it makes good the ACT government's commitment to the insurance industry to deal with the reinsurance issue. It will also ensure that the risk will no longer be carried in its entirety by the ACT government, which we understand is presently the case.
Finally, there is the issue of Commonwealth involvement. It is arguable that any significant terrorist acts in Canberra would most likely affect Commonwealth facilities and employees, and that if the impact of such an act were truly catastrophic, the Commonwealth would undoubtedly provide support. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth has made it clear that it will not involve itself in workers compensation in any other situation. It is clear, therefore, that the ACT does need to take all necessary precautions to ensure that private employees in the territory are also covered.
MR CORBELL (Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services, Minister for Planning and Minister for Industrial Relations) (12.35), in reply: Mr Speaker, I thank most members for their support. I am very disappointed and somewhat concerned that Ms Dundas, who has spent some of her time working for the union movement, believes it is appropriate to vote against a provision which would guarantee workers compensation protection for workers in the territory. That is an extraordinary move.
Let me set Ms Dundas right on a couple of points. The federal government was approached on this issue. In fact, the ACT government-as with all state and territory governments-was in discussion with the federal government about a national approach to this problem. However, the federal government decided it did not want anything more to do with it. It was in those circumstances that we had to move to enact our own response. A little more research by Ms Dundas would have made this apparent.