Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 3076 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
special provision in respect of children concerning claims relating to health services. The amendment was requested by the ACT branch of the Australian Medical Association.
The amendment is based on the statute of limitations adopted in Victoria, which for straight-out injury cases limits the commencement of actions to six years from the date of the incident, and for cases where symptoms do not appear for some time, six years from when the symptoms first appear but no more than 12 years from the date of the incident claimed to have caused disease or disability. The 12-year limit can only be extended by the court in the interests of justice. In determining whether the court considers the interests of justice, the court will be required to consider the expert medical evidence, along with other evidence.
Subsection (6) clarifies that section 30B applies to a cause of action that arises on or after 1 July 2003. Under section 30B (7), if the cause of action arose prior to that date then the cause of action is not maintainable after the first to occur of the periods found in paragraphs (a) and (b). Paragraph (a) is the period that would apply to the cause of action under section 30B. If section 30B applied to the section, the period in paragraph (b) is the limitation period that applied to the cause of action before 1 July 2003.
MS DUNDAS (6.13): I will opposing this new clause. I believe that new section 30B is the most retrograde of the set of provisions proposed by the government to change the Civil Law (Wrongs) Bill. In the in-principle bill, damages payable to compensate for an injury to minors can be reduced if a parent or guardian fails to inform affected parties of the possibility or likelihood of a tort action. But it appears that the government is not content with this. They want to erode the long-standing rule that the limitation period for minors does not commence running until a minor has reached adulthood. The reasoning behind this rule is obvious. Children cannot commence their own legal actions and, of course, this argument is as strong now as it was before the recent insurance crisis.
Different laws apply to people under the age of 18 and they should have the opportunity to take action when they are legally an adult and can make legal decisions for themselves. Although most parents are vigilant in seeking justice for their children when an injury is caused, there are some who have lives that are too chaotic or, for other reasons, they do not want to pursue a course of legal action. Language barriers or disability may prevent a parent pursuing a claim on behalf of their child. If this bill is passed, some children may be severely disadvantaged. The interests of minors should not be overridden in the interests of increasing certainty for medical practitioners and their insurers.
So I seek the support of this Assembly in voting against this amendment. We have been having a debate for a while about the control that insurance companies that represent our doctors have over this government, and unfortunately this has resulted in this amendment being put forward by the government. It is a retrograde amendment, it will not make the situation better for our children, and we have no evidence that it will make the insurance situation better for our doctors.
I find this amendment put forward by the Chief Minister quite harsh. It impacts on those who are very vulnerable in our community-those under the age of 18; those who are children-and, hence, I cannot support it.