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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (19 August) . . Page.. 2867 ..

MRS CROSS (continuing):

to debate in the detail stage. There are very important points which have not as yet been dealt with the by the government and which I feel are vital to the successful carriage of this bill.

The single expert section is an interesting addition by the government, especially as the Chief Minister has a legal background. I am surprised that he has included this section in the bill as it seems to have the effect of making the expert the judge. I would have thought that this was an anathema for lawyers. It is definitely inappropriate for the community, which is looking for a reasonable and just outcome for its case.

Mr Speaker, there are other major sticking points, including the statute of limitations, particularly for children, and the problems of discretionary powers of the court-another area in which I would have thought that the Chief Minister would have had more empathy with the legal fraternity.

Having a short window of opportunity for the parents of a child who has, unfortunately, been disabled or injured in some way is ridiculous. Those parents can spend years trying to come to grips with life with that child and possibly not even come up for air for many, many years.

I am aware that the issues of litigation, especially in regard to medical adverse incidents, are very contentious and urgent. The government has had plenty of time to address these issues. I am pleased that we finally have a bill to debate. I hope that with some reasonable agreement on the amendments offered the issues will be finalised.

MS DUNDAS (9.29): Mr Speaker, the Democrats have grave reservations about the direction of tort law reform, both in the ACT and across Australia. The recent insurance crisis, which is largely attributable to poor prudential management by insurers, has led to scapegoating of lawyers and of plaintiffs.

I am not convinced that there has been any blow-out in either the number of tort cases being litigated or the amount of damages being paid out through negligence cases. An atmosphere of panic has been manufactured in which the rights of injured people, rights which have existed for over 70 years, are now being severely curtailed.

The main public justification seems to be based on scaremongering by insurers and professionals who claim that, without the right of professionals to practice with little or no risk of being sued for negligence, the professionals will simply shut up shop. Medical specialists operating in the private sector have been particularly vocal.

Obviously, I accept that we need specialists in all fields, particularly medical specialists. However, I cannot accept that anyone should be allowed to operate outside the basic laws of negligence. It is hard to judge the veracity of claims made by some specialists that they cannot afford to continue in private practice if they are required to pay the premiums demanded by insurers. Apparently, insurers are trying to rapidly accumulate cash reserves to prevent insolvencies such as those that affected HIH and UMP. Yes, premiums have risen, but that is not justification to erode plaintiffs' rights.

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