Page 24 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 12 February 2008

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The fact that elements of the Queensland and New South Wales schemes have been adopted for the ACT legislation may also reflect well on our federal system. In an era when national approaches are de rigueur when it comes to industry, competition, school curricula and development planning, it is pleasing to see the different approaches of the states proving to be an actual strength in terms of innovation. However, this was not an unthinking adoption of Queensland legislation holus-bolus. For this I commend our officers.

I am pleased that this scheme does not apply the “table of maims” approach that was taken when the ACT’s workers compensation scheme was adopted and which I understand is used in Queensland. The government has taken the view that direct compensation costs were not the factor that was making our scheme more expensive to consumers and unattractive to business, and that more efficient and transparent procedures and regimes will bring down costs of third-party insurance in the ACT and, by more or less echoing arrangements in New South Wales and Queensland, facilitate competition.

The government has, at least in part, accepted the argument that it is lazy lawyers lining their pockets that has meant that people who are injured in car accidents need to wait longer for larger compensation payouts, too high a proportion of which goes to the plaintiff lawyer. I do not think that is entirely true. While I support the measures in this bill to limit the proportion of a small claim that can accrue to the lawyer, I also believe that we need to acknowledge that the legal system as a whole is not geared up or resourced to process things quickly. Rather than making personal attacks on the legal profession—as with public servants and politicians, that will always raise a laugh amongst people who are not members of the profession—it is more useful simply to address the undoubtedly complex issues behind the problem.

With that in mind, it is pleasing that this scheme, as opposed to the Queensland one, allows the court some flexibility when it comes to lawyers’ fees, time limits and so on. There may still be a provision in the bill which may result in undue harshness. Members of the legal profession advise me that they understand that the bill was in essence non-negotiable. I suspect that a bit of concerted pressure might have softened some of it, nonetheless—for example, the one-month rule for lawyers to give notice of a claim, for which I see we have an amendment. The fact that we have such a raft of amendments, including from the government, perhaps means that people like the lawyers who came along after the original amendmens were prepared were listened to after all. Even though it is late, it is always better late than never in terms of getting the very best legislation that we can.

Key features of this scheme revolve around the settling of claims, which is expedited, and having a much stronger focus on prompt medical treatment and rehabilitation. Consequently, the focus should no longer be on a protracted court case, extracting maximum compensation, but, where possible, should be on a speedy return to health and work.

This is also the key focus of the ACT’s private sector workers compensation scheme, which has not yet proved to be entirely as good as promised on that front. The final report of the review of the ACT workers compensation system, by Australian Health

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