Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (19 August) . . Page.. 2870 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
harness a broader coalition, including the social justice sector and the medical and legal professions, to push for the broader changes necessary. In other words, the split we have chosen between public and private is not geared best to look after people in our society, and we need increased commitment to the social wage rather than depending solely on a business formula to deliver the care we need.
A number of factors have affected those business formulae in recent years. We need to remember that there is no doubt that greed, stupidity, and mismanagement of the corporate leaders of HIH and FAI have certainly put a big dent in the overall insurance pool available in Australia. We need to remember that massive financial deceptions and incompetencies, such as Worldcom and Enron in the US, have assisted in dragging down equity investments and so further eroded insurance business profit. We need to remember also that terrorist attacks such as the one in September 2001 have had and continue to have a mammoth impact on the world reinsurance market.
Nonetheless, profits are looking good, despite the disasters and incompetencies. With a number of governments looking to wind back on entitlements at law in the interests of greater certainty for insurance companies, the insurance industry is very optimistic. In that context, the fact that voices in the media, business advocates and some political leaders have chosen to argue that people seeking compensation are on the lookout for an easy ride, that our litigious society rewards too many of them with massive payouts, and that there are too many lawyers with their hands in the bucket is an oversimplification which, although on individual occasions might be a fair call, completely avoids the real issues.
The front page of yesterday's Canberra Times ran an article reminding us of the number of adverse events that occur in hospitals in Australia-4,500 preventable deaths annually-and the need to create learning institutions that respond positively and openly when errors are made. I accept the argument that the ACT is a fairly small player in the Australian and world insurance market and, without taking big risks or having a very clear vision of how to do things differently, there are limits to what we can do on our own. I also understand that the insurance businesses are flexing their muscles on the issue. It seems that they are threatening to set premiums at a higher level here than in the states because the ACT government is not proposing to change the law in precisely the manner which those companies prefer. It is a sad day for Australia when things get to that situation. So much for democracy!
There is no question that some insurance products, such as medical indemnity and public liability, are essential. It seems fairly clear that the ACT has to make changes to the existing law in the context of substantial pressure and has to make them now. The Greens do not accept all these changes. While, as I said, I am generally in support of the bill, I will be moving several amendments in the detail stage.
Finally, I would like to make a few brief comments on law. At an international level, we have seen that the rule of law has been much eroded-through the acts of terrorism we are all so well aware of and also, very clearly, in the response of Western democracies such as the US and Australia.
At a national and an international level, it is becoming more and more obvious that the notion of ministerial responsibility and, indeed, accountability is being rapidly