Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 4258 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
for the same injury in two different jurisdictions. This bill will allow the minister to determine that the changes occur at the same time as in New South Wales, which I understand will be 1 January 2004.
I also note that the bill clarifies arrangements for volunteer workers who work for non-profit or charitable organisations. The certainty provided means that these groups will not have the additional burden of having to cover their volunteer workers for both workers compensation and public liability insurance.
I have spoken on a number of occasions before about the financial strain placed on community groups by skyrocketing public liability insurance premiums. This bill does nothing to rectify that situation but it will ensure that these organisation will not have to cover their volunteer workers twice and hence pay two sets of premiums.
The bill also provides certainty about the treatment of trainees and work experience placements for workers compensation. This can only assist in job placement and training, particularly for young people and workers with disabilities. The bill provide a clearer framework for the relationship between employers and insurers and sets out the responsibilities of each in terms of the duty to report and manage wages and injuries in the workplace. I believe that this is a welcome addition to the act, but I do have a number of concerns with the use of strict liability offences in the bill.
Members will note that I have prepared an amendment to this bill that deals with some of the issues around strict liability, and I will address those issues more comprehensively in the detail stage. However, I would like to raise some general issues now.
I have decided to bring into this debate the question of strict liability as this is the first bill to go through the Criminal Code harmonisation process in its entirety. I also note that the effect of these offences is potentially far greater than other uses of strict liability we have seen so far.
This bill affects every employer in the territory, and even very small businesses that employ only one or two staff will have to comply with its obligations. I note the minister will be moving amendments to remove the worst of these cases where strict liability applies to a custodial sentence. I am supportive of those amendments.
But since the passing of the Criminal Code, the Assembly has been presented with numerous bills that classify offences as strict liability under that Criminal Code. The scrutiny of bills committee has repeatedly alerted the Assembly to the fact that strict liability offences have been put forward in various acts and that these alter the way that a court could deal with the offence and often reduce the ability of a person charged with an offence to defend against prosecution.
The concept of strict liability has been discussed at length in a number of scrutiny reports since the passing of the Criminal Code. I will not repeat that detail now, but I will simply say that labelling an offence as a strict liability makes it considerably easier to achieve a successful prosecution and far more difficult for someone charged with the case to mount a defence. Under the Criminal Code, our courts are given far less leeway in determining what level of proof is required for either the prosecution or the defence to establish.