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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (19 August) . . Page.. 2869 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

In essence, I have a number of problems with the Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill as presented by the Attorney-General. I believe that it goes quite a long way towards working for insurance companies at the expense of looking after the community, those whom we are trying to serve here. If we continue the push down this route of tort law reform, I think that the impact it will have on the community in the curtailing of individual rights will be quite damaging in the longer term. I hope that the Assembly, as we consider the amendments over the next couple of days, will keeps that in mind, so that we will not end up with tort law that works against the community of the ACT.

MS TUCKER (9.35): There have been and there continue to be conflicting views on tort law reform in light of ongoing public liability and professional indemnity insurance difficulties. Across Australia we are seeing a mix of two strategies to deal with the issues. One approach is to limit the rights and entitlements of individuals to claim compensation for injury and suffering caused through fault or negligence and the other is to contain costs through establishing systems-medical, legal and social-that address concerns and provide treatment and appropriate recompense as promptly and expeditiously as possible.

The ACT has, over the past few years, focused more and more on the second strategy than the first. That is as true of the previous government's reform of defamation law and workers compensation in the territory as it is of the current government's approach to the particular issues in this bill.

There are underlying factors which have not been much discussed in this context, but which are key cost drivers, such as: how we as a society deal with catastrophically injured or disabled people; the increasing capacity, complexity and cost of medicine and the expectations we have of medical and personal care; and a legal system which is often overloaded and slow to reach resolution. No matter which line we choose to take in terms of tort law reform, we are going to be right up against it until we address some of these bigger issues.

One of the propositions before the Commonwealth and state governments at present is to explore a scheme to cover the underlying costs facing everyone seriously or catastrophically disabled, whether a result of negligence or not. It would provide universal coverage for the most expensive cases, and so put a cap on the theoretical risk faced by insurance business, in all likelihood reversing the trend of the past few years of rapidly increasing premiums, and in most cases give those people a better quality of life.

We would be unlikely to bring it about, however, without revisiting the question of the balance between the public and private sectors. The recent shift to private health care has been driven by the conservative ideology of Australia's coalition government. It has seen a boom in elective surgery through the private system, but no reduction in the pressure on the public system for more urgent cases and for long-term care.

The scale of financial payouts that need to be covered by insurance business is, in fact, a reflection of the kinds of health and social welfare systems we have, but the coalition government looks well entrenched and intransigent on the issue. We need to

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