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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (17 June) . . Page.. 1904 ..



Certainly, the ACT government has responded very significantly to issues around public liability insurance and medical indemnity insurance. Members of this place, those that paid attention to the debate at the time, would be aware that the Assembly has passed the first tranche of reforms in relation to public liability and medical indemnity cover. These reforms have already been implemented.

We have imposed a cap on compensation for loss of earnings of three times the average weekly earnings. That is a significant diminishing of a person's capacity to seek compensation for loss of earnings as a result of a negligent act. We have restricted legal costs that can be claimed in relation to the majority of claims pursued for negligence. We have instituted a number of procedural reforms to permit the bifurcation of a claim, allowing liability and damages to be considered separately, designed to reduce costs by dealing with matters as early as possible.

The government has removed prohibitions on awards of damages by way of annuities, permitting a court to make an award by way of a structured settlement. That was a very significant reform to the way that settlements can be structured and made. We have also protected volunteers and good Samaritans from the risk of being sued.

Also, I announced in April of this year that drafting had commenced on the government's stage 2 reforms. That legislation will be tabled next week. I am sure that all professionals in the ACT, including all members of the medical profession, are fully aware of my announcement in April. I claimed in that public announcement in April that the legislation to be tabled next week would include without prejudice apologies and that any apology made by a defendant would not constitute an admission of liability and would provide for early notification and open disclosure rules which will put an obligation on legal practitioners to notify doctors or other defendants within 90 days of a client's instruction to proceed with a claim.

We will also introduce amendments to provide for court-appointed expert witnesses to be available to prevent personal injury claims becoming a debate about which of several conflicting medical opinions should prevail. We have agreed to review the statute of limitations. We have agreed to reintroduce the reasonable prospects of success test and we have agreed to legislate for court-ordered mediation. As I said, I foreshadowed that that legislation will be introduced next week and it will be.

The review of the statute of limitations seems to be the issue which has excited the greatest interest in the doctors that are threatening to withdraw their services on 1 July. The point that needs to be made, and I make it-and it is of great concern to me that the point is not resonating with those that take, as the opposition does, the automatic and immediate side of the medical profession in relation to this issue-is, of course, that it impacts significantly, in some cases severely, on existing rights.

I think that each of us needs to be very clear on what we are doing in relation to this major tort law reform exercise. We need to be aware that we are legislating away existing rights. Let nobody in this place be under any misapprehensions about what this major tort law reform exercise involves. It involves us, as an Assembly, legislating away a raft of currently existing rights to action in circumstances where citizens of this

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