Page 4793 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (11.01): The government is happy to support this bill. I have circulated an amendment, which I propose to move at the detail stage, which simply extends the range of potential litigants to be covered by the limitation period in Mr Stefaniak’s bill to incorporate all classes of litigants.

I think we are all aware of the basis of the legislation. Mr Stefaniak, in introducing the bill, outlined the potential for pressure or disturbance to be caused, particularly to bushfire victims, as a result of amendments that were made in 2003. I think we would all recall at that time the nature of the debate that was in engaged by the ACT government, the community and indeed all governments around Australia about the difficulties that were being experienced at the time in relation to insurance and insurance premiums. This government and other governments responded to certain of the recommendations of the IP report, as a consequence of which there were amendments to the Limitation Act 1985 to reduce the period of time in which actions could be commenced. Those provisions were passed by the Assembly and commenced in 2003.

Obviously, all of the issues in relation to the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act and around the steps that the ACT government took to deal with problems around the availability of insurance for particular activities, and indeed the pressure that there was on premiums at the time, have resulted in major tort law reform around Australia and in the ACT. The ACT took a slightly different approach to these issues—in some respects a significantly different approach—to that taken by other jurisdictions.

We have monitored, and continue to monitor, very closely the operation of the legislative scheme that we put into place. Indeed, we continue to compare and monitor the responses of other jurisdictions. In that regard, departmental officers meet regularly with stakeholders to review aspects of the scheme and the performance of the scheme. We have throughout that process been concerned, of course, to identify and then to avoid the diminution of the legitimate right of people to just and timely compensation where they have suffered damage.

It was in that context that the government continues to examine a range of proposals to ensure that claims are brought as early as possible, which, of course, is one of the mechanisms that was put in place in response to the IP recommendations of how to retain the cost of actions and through that to impact on the cost of premiums and the availability of insurance, which is, of course, what the legislation that we are discussing today is intended to do.

One of the issues that has been of some focus in relation to the change of the law, and is of course the focus of the debate today, is that which relates to the provisions dealing with limitations in relation to actions that arose prior to the commencement of the 2003 amendments. At that time, as I have said, the government brought forward as part of a package of reforms, as part of the tort law reform program, that the ACT could vary the time in which a person could commence a civil action. That, of course, reflects the fact that issues in relation to which an action should be commenced are very much a

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