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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 4259 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

It has become increasingly clear that the government has been using the new classification of strict liability extremely liberally and the vast majority of offences that have been legislated since the inception of the code have been classed as strict liability. I think we as an Assembly need to critically examine the government's implementation of the Criminal Code, particularly with reference to the use of strict liability.

I want to make it clear that I am not proposing that the requirements for employers or other entities in this bill should be watered down in any way. I am simply trying to ensure that the offences are only as strong as is necessary to ensure effective compliance. I remain concerned that use of strict liability as currently framed in the Criminal Code is stronger than is necessary to ensure an effective compliance regime.

I note, to begin with, that prosecution has not been an extensive feature of enforcement of compliance with the Workers Compensation Act, with only a handful of attempted prosecutions under the act in the last few years, according to the annual reports of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I would think that prosecution for municipal offences such as those in the Workers Compensation Act would be a last resort and that compliance would be achieved, for the most part, by government education and collaboration with the business community. So in particular, I believe that this Assembly needs to be very careful about introducing administrative penalties that allow prosecution, despite the fact that the defendant made a reasonable attempt to comply with the law.

Given that the whole purpose of creating an offence is to ensure that people act with due diligence to comply with the law, it seems inconsistent that this should not be a defence for these offences. And that is what I will address in more detail at the detail stage in my amendment.

Besides the concerns about strict liability, I do welcome this piece of legislation. It clarifies a number of issues and will bring us into line with New South Wales, which will be of great benefit to a number of industries in the ACT. So I am happy to support this bill in principle.

MS TUCKER (8.07): Given the proportion of Canberra employees who are government employees, the ACT is a small jurisdiction for the private workers compensation scheme. It nonetheless provides a substantial support for families in the event of catastrophic accident and, in addition to a table of maims which offers prompt settlement for permanent injuries and impairment, preserves the common law rights of employees to pursue damages where they feel it appropriate.

This level of support and entitlements ought not be exceptional in Australia. Unfortunately, there are no other jurisdictions where such a necessary level of support is delivered for those who need it most and where the legal rights of employees are preserved.

At a time when our rights at law are being diminished in order to satisfy the actuarial requirements of the insurance industry-the nationwide program of tort law reform being championed once again by Tony Abbott for the Commonwealth government is an example-the features of the ACT workers compensation scheme are important to retain.

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