Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (19 August) . . Page.. 2862 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
In more recent times, even in Australia, we have had examples of the ease with which people have been able to sue organisations and others for negligence over what lots of people would just consider to be mishaps, part of the tapestry of life, the risks one takes. We were very much in danger-and, to an extent, probably still are-of becoming an overly litigious society. There is a real need for people to realise that accidents do happen, things do go wrong, and it is somewhat unrealistic to expect to be able always to sue somebody or some thing to compensate for the mishaps of life.
In recent times, Australia has experienced some ridiculous instances of people being compensated and one has wondered why. For instance, a fellow who was dead drunk when he fell off the Muswellbrook bridge sued to local council over the fall. Having lived in Muswellbrook for three years as a young solicitor, I am sure that it would be very difficult to fall off that bridge in crossing it. I cannot quite imagine how that could possibly happen and how it could possibly be the council's fault, yet this person succeeded there.
We had the interesting case of someone diving into the ocean and hitting their head on a sandbank and, tragically, being badly injured as a result. That one was overturned on appeal. It seems now that there have been a number of cases in which the courts have been starting to wind back the clock, to realise that some activities are inherently dangerous and people have a responsibility to themselves not to do stupid things, to take care, and they cannot necessarily accept that there will always be someone there to pick up the pieces and someone to sue.
The Chief Minister has made much of why we are at this stage. Other states largely have legislated already and we are very much following suit. In fact, we probably will be one of the last jurisdictions to get a lot of this legislation in place. A lot of the legislation is based on the Ipp review, the review of the law of negligence, and the Chief Minister has introduced a bill-the bill itself is about cut No 12-in terms of tort law reform. He certainly has come a long way in terms of introducing this particular bill and this particular lot of reforms.
I must say that I was a little concerned by a recent press release in which the Chief Minister grudgingly and rather petulantly said, "But the combined forces of the medical profession and the insurance industry require that we ensure that the community's access to doctors and health care is protected,"and therefore he is going to go down the path-we are yet to see the details-of thresholds and caps which have been introduced in about five states and territories to date.
The Chief Minister stated that this reform gives him no pleasure. Maybe some of this reform does go back to the collapse of HIH, FAI and UMP and maybe that collapse was largely caused by some unrealistic policies being adopted by those companies-unrealistic insurance premiums and the charging of fees which were far too low and were not particularly representative of what the charge should have been. By the same token, I think a lot of this reform probably was coming, that a lot of it was due to people just sitting up and saying, "Maybe we have gone too far and we do need to refine our tort law."