Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (18 June) . . Page.. 2038 ..
Having investigated figures for Victoria, I have found that the rise in public liability cases in the last 10 years is actually quite small. New South Wales has banned advertising of no win, no fee deals on electronic media or in hospitals and nursing homes. So lawyers in New South Wales have to find other ways to advertise that they offer a no win, no fee service.
As I stated when debating the government's last package of tort law reform, the Sydney Morning Herald contained a report that a Queensland law firm, Baker Johnson, operating on a no win, no fee basis, claimed $5,000 to compensate for a plaintiff's back injury. The law firm kept the $5,000 and issued a bill for a further $7,000. In fact, the legal fees were 245 per cent of the total claim. The client with the injured back would surely have been better off not seeking the legal recourse.
So I do have concern with this part of the reform package. Lawyers may advertise tastelessly and encourage a litigious society but they also give people the knowledge that they do have legal rights and that, if they have a legal case, they can have their day in court.
The final piece of legislation and the main part of the insurance reforms put forward by the Smyth-led opposition is the establishment of a no-fault scheme, similar to that of workers compensation or perhaps compulsory third party insurance, in the area of public liability and medical indemnity insurance. This type of reform could have delivered a fundamentally different approach, and I believe it is an idea worthy of support. The focus on early intervention, rehabilitation and quality of life are priorities similar to that of workers compensation. This is the same focus of most people who have been injured. They wish to have their medical bills paid and their quality of life returned, and it is difficult to do that under the current system.
I understand that the Stanhope government have been in negotiation with the ministerial councils in respect of Australia-wide reforms. I believe that I have worked hard and productively with the Attorney-General's office to ensure that rights are protected and that injured people are able to get help. Today I am happy to support the Insurance Compensation Framework Bill 2002. However, I will oppose the other bills put forward by Mr Smyth.
I understand it would be difficult to implement from opposition this fundamental change in how we approach insurance, especially since all other jurisdictions have headed down the road of tort law reform. But there are some alternatives worthy of debate and support, and hopefully discussion will lead to bringing about the end of this insurance crisis so that people can continue to get on with their lives in a way that they recognise is safe but, if need be, allows them recourse.
MS TUCKER(4.23): The Adventure Activities (Liability) Bill is not now particularly relevant following a number of legal cases over the past year or two, while the Legal Practitioners Amendment Bill is simply a decorative reinforcement of the idea that lawyers are out for themselves and so a part of the problem we face in dealing with public liability issues.