Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2428 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
Explanations from Australian insurers have been unimpressive. The ACT has actively sought solutions, some of which have required legislation. I thank Assembly members for their support to date. Your support means we now have a fidelity alternative to building insurance. Stamp duty relief has been given to a range of insurance contracts, and terrorism coverage has been maintained in workers compensation legislation.
Today I am presenting a new bill, the Civil Law (Wrongs) Bill, and we are seeking to have it debated at an early stage, hopefully in September. The bill is the first of a three-stage series of ACT reforms. Stage 1, this bill, creates a framework for the existing law of civil torts. It is an essential building block for reform, both now and later this year. Stage 2 will be based on reforms coming from key national bodies. Those reforms will deal with the standard of care and limitation periods. Radical reform will come from open disclosure and long-term care models. Stage 3 will deal with the management of civil claims in our courts.
We have not sat on our hands and waited for answers to emerge from elsewhere. From day one, we have been in there working to find solutions. Together, these three stages will take us through the insurance crisis.
The Civil Law (Wrongs) Bill is about the law of civil wrongs. Civil law deals with the law of wrongs, property and contracts. Civil wrongs are acts and omissions that give rise to legal liability. But a civil wrong is not the same as a moral wrong. Simple deceit, while morally questionable, is not a civil wrong.
Much of our law of civil wrongs is and will remain uncodified common law. Much of this common law has its roots in ancient principles. These principles have evolved over millennia but, not surprisingly, the English common law has not always aged well over the past 800 years.
It has been said that the law has become a mix of exhausted principle and obscured pragmatism. In some respects, the attacks have been well founded. From time to time, legislators have had to step forward and initiate a process of change to ensure that the law serves the community. But this does not imply that the gradual judicial development of the law of civil wrongs is bad. I endorse the sentiments of Justice Gummow about this method. He described the underlying purpose of the judicial method as:
... developing the law, maintaining its continuity and preserving its coherence. Accepted means of effecting those purposes include (i) extending the application of accepted principles to new cases; (ii) reasoning from the more fundamental of settled legal principles to new conclusions; and (iii) subsuming unforeseen instances under a category which, in reason, is not closed against them.
The various statutory changes to the civil wrongs are presently disorganised and fragmented. The bill consolidates this body of law into a robust platform upon which new measures can be added, both now and later.
The bill is organised into a number of chapters. Chapter 2 contains a number of provisions that apply to wrongs generally. Firstly, the law protects good Samaritans. The parable of the good Samaritan is found in Luke, and bears repeating. An expert in the law asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" I quote: