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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17303

Senator WATSON (2:38 PM) —My question is directed to the analytical, popular and successful Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Rod Kemp.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I think this is a very serious question, and we should listen.

Senator WATSON —It is very serious. Will the minister inform the Senate of what actions the government has taken to assist the sporting sector deal with public liability concerns? Is the minister aware of any policy alternatives?

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) —Thank you, Senator Watson, for that very clever, incisive and important question. This is an important question. As senators will know, one of the major problems right throughout the community—and in the area that I have responsibility for: arts and sports—is the rise in insurance premiums. It is an area which has caused concern over a considerable period of time. I wish to pay tribute to the leadership that my colleague Senator Coonan has shown in the area of insurance. Among other things, many senators will be aware that she has convened regular meetings with her state and territory colleagues and counterparts to address the many issues concerning insurance.

The Commonwealth, of course, has taken many actions where it has constitutional responsibility; however, the Commonwealth government can only do so much in this area. I wish to bring to the attention of the Senate two issues which are causing concern, particularly in the arts and sporting areas. The two issues concern the inconsistency of the required reforms to tort law and the treatment of emergency service organisations such as Surf Life Saving Australia. Most of the legislative changes that will ease the insurance crisis require action by state and territory governments, not the Commonwealth government.

A number of problems have been brought to my attention by the sporting sector. I think many senators would be aware of the huge increases in insurance premiums experienced by Surf Life Saving Australia. This has risen by in the order of 152 per cent over the past year. We know that one of the biggest issues for surf lifesaving is the need for consistency of public liability reforms across the various states.

The state governments are Labor governments. The senators opposite, I believe, can play a constructive role—and particularly Senator Lundy—in speaking to their state and territory counterparts and insisting they take action to assist service organisations such as Surf Life Saving Australia. In fact, I have asked Senator Lundy in a constructive way in the past when she has raised this issue with me whether she would be prepared to speak to her state counterparts to see what they could do to ensure consistency in the law that applies in this area. The Commonwealth has sought to get states and territories to agree to exemptions from liability when acting in good faith during emergency rescue operations. I am pleased to say that Senator Coonan raised this issue with state and territory ministers earlier this year. While a number of states have responded, the initial reaction by some ministers was—at least initially—that they were not inclined to do so.

The point I am making is that the constitutional responsibility for this area largely lies with the state governments. It is a continuing problem. I welcome the leadership and the interest that Senator Coonan has shown in trying to assist sport and arts organisations, but it is still a problem. I think this is an area where Senator Lundy, for the first time in her political career, could be a little bit constructive and see what her Labor counterparts can do in the states to try to bring some consistency to the law and deal with the problems that are being faced by bodies like Surf Life Saving Australia.

Senator WATSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the need for consistency in the law, particularly in the area of lifesaving and emergencies. Minister, can you name the states that are dragging their feet in this area?

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) —Senator Watson, this will probably not come as a surprise to you, because your knowledge in this area is particularly great, but certainly your home state has been dragging its feet in this area. There has been an issue with surf lifesaving in that state and the response of the state government has been very lacklustre indeed. It just goes to show that once again we see Labor governments refusing to pick up the ball in this very important area.

Senator KEMP —Senator Lundy does not seem to understand where the constitutional responsibilities lie in this area. I welcome Senator Coonan's willingness to work together with the state Labor governments and the governments of the territories to try to fix this problem. I know that it is a difficult problem but, Senator Lundy, at least on this side we are taking a very constructive approach, unlike the Labor Party.