Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (26 September) . . Page.. 3338 ..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
I have to say that the best part of the wrongs bill is part 11.2, concerning the general reporting requirements of insurers. I am glad to see that this vital component of any sort of insurance reform has been so comprehensively addressed. The most vexing problem we have is the lack of data on insurance claims. We do not know how many claims there have been, how many were successful, how much they were worth, and what they were for. It is impossible for a business or a community group with no claims and impeccable risk-management practices to argue with an insurer as to the justification for an increase when faced with increased premiums. It is impossible for us as legislators to know which areas of life are most risky and in need of management and take appropriate action to improve safety. It has been impossible to obtain any useful data in the past, because the insurance companies themselves do not have it.
I am especially pleased that the ignorance of the Treasurer has been surpassed in this part. Mr Quinlan spent a lot of time parading his ignorance of insurance issues, particularly the data collection question, in both the media and the estimates hearings. One hopes that he will no longer have any role in addressing the crisis. I note in passing reports that the ACT will not, as had been asserted many times by the government, be following the national agenda on this issue. I would be interested in knowing the reasons for this particular backflip. As the need to follow the national agenda has been the only substantial criticism that the government has been able to mount against my reforms, I can take this abandonment as tacit approval of my package.
Having read this bill thoroughly, it is clear to me that the Chief Minister has said to his department, "Bring me a bill quickly that looks like it is addressing the insurance crisis. I don't care what it is, but make it look pretty." The department has cast around and found a couple of half-finished reforms here, a pet project there, and bunged them all together in this bill. But I do not believe that it is as comprehensive as the package that I have put forward, nor do I believe that it fully addresses the indemnity issue.
When it comes down to it, Mr Deputy Speaker, this bill, by itself, will not help the situation. However, combined with my bills, we have a truly comprehensive response-a no-fault scheme that allows some access to a tidied up common law system.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (4.26), in reply: Mr Deputy Speaker, the Civil Law (Wrongs) Bill is the first of a three-stage ACT legislative response to the insurance crisis. That is a point I have made before and a point that Mr Smyth continues to ignore. The bill consolidates ACT tort law to provide a satisfactory basis from which to build the types of reforms that are necessary to address the crisis and improve our system of civil justice. The bill adopts a range of desirable technical and procedural changes to ensure that the law reflects current ACT practice.
The bill adopts various measures that will have a positive impact on civil procedure and access to justice, with a view to quicker and cheaper resolution of disputes such as abolishing the common law prohibition of annuities to permit the courts to award damages by periodic payments funded by annuities or other means, which will give a court flexibility in ordering the payment of damages and, in turn, give the parties flexibility in deciding how the funds will be managed; abolishing rules preventing a court from making a determination of liability separate from an order of damages; and